Issue 28

Raw Food: More than a Fad Diet

Raw Food: More than a Fad Diet

There seems to be a new fad diet every couple of weeks, and one that has recently been growing in popularity is the Raw Food Diet. If you haven’t heard about it, you obviously aren’t very trendy – shame on you.

So what exactly is a Raw Food Diet?

A Raw Food Diet is one that consists of 70% or more uncooked and unprocessed foods. This, however, does not mean that all you eat is salad. Though it is true that a major portion of a raw foodist’s diet is comprised mainly of fresh fruits, vegetables and raw nuts, there are countless dishes that can be adapted to fit the raw lifestyle such as lasagna, burritos, crepes, apple pie, cheesecake, scrambled eggs and even fried ice cream. As long as it’s not heated above 104-118 degrees Fahrenheit (more or less) it is still considered raw. Meals can be prepared with a dehydrator, food processor, blender or just good old-fashioned chopping. Preparation difficulty ranges from idiotically simple to annoyingly complex – just like traditional cooking, and like traditional cooking, it gets easier and more intuitive the more you do it. Raw foodism isn’t a diet in the modern sense of the term. It’s more of a lifestyle, just like omnivorousness, vegetarianism, or alcoholism for that matter.

Why Raw Food?

The premise of raw foodism is based on the claim that natural foods are better for the body than overly processed, unnatural food. The over-processing of food in our current culture has been one of the major contributors to the tremendous health problems we have in this country which is evident by the increase in obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. A lot of people don’t realize that nearly all of these diseases can be prevented, or treated, just by changing the way you treat your body. Everything you put in your body is used to repair and renew your cells – it literally becomes a part of you. Hence the phrase, “you are what you eat.” So it makes sense that eating fresh, healthy, nutrient-dense foods would sustain a healthy, well-balanced person, and that the inverse would, essentially, not.

That’s not to imply blame on the individual. I’m all for personal responsibility, but if the information you’ve been given your whole life is faulty, you can’t exactly be reprimanded for your choices. People are constantly subjected to fast-food and soft drink advertising which makes it incredibly hard to avoid them. Your upbringing can also have lasting implications on future choices. I, like many other people in this country, grew up on Hamburger Helper, Little Debbies, and frozen pizza. I never questioned it. They tasted good, they were normal. It also used to be abnormal to see an obese person, whereas now a slender person is rare. In other words, blame your parents.

When I was 20 I was introduced to natural, whole, organic foods and in literally a week I noticed an increase in energy, as well as a positive transformation in the overall shape of my body. This might seem like a bunch of dirty hippie peace, love and organic garbage, but until around the 1950’s everyone ate natural, whole, organic foods; there wasn’t a choice between natural or processed.

Any diet that eliminates synthetic chemicals and preservatives is obviously ‘better’ than one that is full of them, but what is so unique about the raw food diet is its emphasis on purity. When food is processed or cooked it loses enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Why does that matter? We all know how good vitamins and minerals are for us and that’s why most of us swallow a bunch of giant, foul-tasting pills in the morning. Multi-vitamins are definitely better than nothing, but if you’re taking poor quality supplements from the supermarket, you’re probably not getting what’s being advertised. A hidden fact about artificial supplements is that most can’t be completely broken down by the digestive system, which means your body can’t utilize them anyway. Even if they do reach the bloodstream, the body can’t always assimilate synthetic vitamins and they just get filtered out through your excretory systems. Put simply, if you aren’t taking a high-quality, preferably food-derived vitamins, you’re just flushing your money down the toilet in a conveniently literal manner.

So what are enzymes? Enzymes are proteins that act as a catalyst for digestion. When you cook food it destroys the natural enzymes and makes digestion difficult, leading to problems like constipation, bloating, gas and fatigue. It might seem odd, but on a raw diet all of your food gets completely broken down so you almost never fart, which is a pretty nice side benefit.

If you’re one of those people who are constantly looking up bizarre diet plans to lose their love-handles, muffin-tops, or whatever, why not try this one? Google some images of raw foodists online; they are all glowy, svelte and beautiful; looking like shimmering angels sent to earth to make us all feel bad about our dull hair, acne, big butts and back fat. Two words: Mimi Kirk, if one look at her isn’t enough to convince you, nothing is. The woman is 72 and looks better than most people in their 20’s.

What’s really great about raw food is that you can eat as much of it as you want and still lose weight because raw food fills you up much faster than cooked or processed food does, and it satiates you for much longer. Your body naturally knows how to utilize and absorb the nutrients, as opposed to processed or cooked food, so you don’t end up with all the waste that attaches itself to your body in the form of cellulite. The lack of waste lingering in your body also pretty much guarantees that you won’t get sick as often and that your body is running at its highest efficiency.

You might be concerned that this seemingly restrictive plan would get boring. It can if you don’t mix it up, but so would a diet consisting of all hamburgers. I know we all get a desperate burger urge from time to time, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to give up that pleasure: a lot of raw foodists have the occasional cooked meal. The idea of raw foodism is to be healthy and happy, constant denial doesn’t really suit the program. It wouldn’t be much fun to habitually turn down a friend’s invitation to go out because you’ll ruin your diet. The ideal is to do it ‘mostly’ and many people adopt a raw-until-dinner system which gives a lot of freedom while still maintaining most of the benefits.

The whole concept can seem daunting, especially in Nebraska where beef is big, but again, going all-raw isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of willpower to change your life so drastically and I wouldn’t recommend going all raw initially. It’s a process that takes time. You can start by drinking fresh juice every morning or swapping out one meal for a raw one or even just snacking on raw trail mix instead of crackers. These things, in and of themselves, can make a huge difference in your health and disposition and will prompt you to make more changes as you realize the benefits.

Though it may seem hard at first, the change in how you feel will be enough to keep you going. You’ll begin to realize how much the things you used to eat effect how you felt and you won’t want to go back to the Standard American Diet. A raw diet doesn’t have to be any more expensive than a standard diet either – there are plenty of ways to be a frugal raw foodist. Though it might not seem like there are many places in Omaha to get the components necessary for a raw diet, local businesses like Jane’s Health Market in Benson and No Name Nutrition have a lot of products that can’t usually be found at the normal grocery store. Organic produce has become a lot more prevalent and affordable and stores like Baker’s and HyVee will usually have everything you need. Besides, there’s always Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for more exotic yuppie goods. If you do want to go out for a meal or if you’re just curious about the concept, McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe has a lot of raw options and Jane’s Health Market has been doing a Raw Food Brunch for over a year every Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.


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