My Raw Food experiences

Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 13:43

TriathlonOz - Michelle

A few months ago, I was introduced to some raw vegan foodists and thus began a whole new journey of discovery about food. I've always been interested in nutrition, cooking, and good health so I tend to listen to new ideas with an open mind but this doesn't mean I instantly accept and adopt them into my life. Without writing a whole essay, I will try to briefly (and therefore crudely) outline a few things I've recently discovered and things I'm still struggling to understand (or accept?).

Firstly - I am not a vegetarian or vegan but I love to fill our house with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, & seeds. We rarely (almost never) eat any rice, noodles, pasta, bread (sometimes sourdough wraps). We make our own juices and eat from the 7 colours of the rainbow. And yes, that includes the kids. That's just something we've done for a few years now. Our typical day would be about 80% plant-based foods as we still consume dairy and of course fish, chicken, seafood, & lean red meats, plus quinoa, oats, polenta (for grains). We do however avoid packaged foods as much as possible too. I guess its a bit easier for us because both David & I work from home, and we rarely eat out - so stocking up on fresh food and knowing that we'll eat through it all is never an issue. (Apparently, we eat what's called a "clean" diet).

As triathletes, we tend to view food as fuel, and we are constantly trying to avoid the feeling of fatigue so wouldn't eat something that we knew would make us feel awful. We go to food to gain vitality, to nourish, hydrate, and lay down fuel for the next training session. It's pretty simple really - we just avoid foods that don't make us feel good.

So when I went a nutrition talk recently discussing the "raw food" way, I didn't think I was far off the mark already. Most of us know that if you boil your broccoli or brussel sprouts for too long the green leaches out of the stalks and into the water and you're left with something mushy & tasteless. But raw foodists take it one step further and won't cook their foods above 46ºC - the magic point at which the nutrients, enzymes and vitamins begin to breakdown. So that means no baking. No microwave. No griller or bbq. They use a dehydrator to make raw versions of biscuits, wraps and breads, or to reduce sauces to make them seemed cooked. I looked at that and thought it was all way too hard and most likely not strictly necessary. But, I do buy into the concept of making a preference for raw salad vegies and have experimented with eating a lot of things uncooked that I used to cook just out of habit. The biggest surprise was finding that I do actually like yellow squash when its sliced raw!

To continue the notion further, raw foodists focus on digestive ease and gut health. For this reason, they soak nuts, grains, dried fruits, dried berries and seeds in water to soften them before eating. So think bircher museli instead of raw museli!

I was very excited to be given some kefir grains to begin making my own probiotic and have replaced all commercially bought yoghurt, creams, etc with my own homemade kefir instead and are deliberately making smoothies, salad dressings, dips, and we pour it over our muesli or soak our bircher in it.

In terms of grains, I started to hear about "ancient grains" and their benefits to health. I also found many people are caught up in concerns over organic and genetically modified foods. I have great concerns about the lack of legislation and standardisation for the "organic" industry and I don't trust that I'm getting what I'm buying so I don't bother spending more money on "organic". I buy my fruit and veg exclusively from the markets and don't buy from Coles or Woolies because I believe in getting my produce as fresh as possible from the growers.

"Superfoods" - these nutrient-rich foods are promoted amongst the vegan and raw foodist culture as foods of choice because they offer us many benefits at the same time. A list of superfoods that I have been encouraged to source and try are:

- Goji berries
- Açaí
- Cacao
- Maca
- Chai seeds

Here's a link to a description of some of these and their benefits LINK

In the past, I have not bothered with baking sweets and desserts etc however my kids and husband love to tuck into a bowl of icecream, and I won't refuse the odd bit of chocolate so I decided to experiment with the cacao. Because cacao is naturally bitter it requires other ingredients to sweeten the taste most recipes I found called for fresh medjool dates and I found these very pleasant and everyone loved the "chocolate slices" that I started to prepare. But then I needed to find more variety and started looking for more recipes and kept stumbling across references to "stevia" and "agave" as the "natural sweeteners" so decided to buy in those ingredients to try the recipes. So here comes the issue of sugar and "natural sweeteners"....

Initially I bought into the whole notion of "natural sweeteners" until I started to wonder where the agave came from and could I make it myself from the agave plant in my garden? No I cannot - it is so heavily processed you'd need a factory. So, I started to wonder how different that was to the processing of sugar... I'm still not convinced that agave, or stevia is any better than raw sugar, or maple syrup. If you're a diabetic the low GI might make agave more appealing, and unlike other sweeteners, agave contains iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium but surely you don't consume sweeteners to gain these nutrients? I don't get it and have decided for the small amount of sugar we use (maybe a kilo per year), I'll stick to raw sugar.

I then started looking some more at the ingredients list on the back of certain packaged foods when I was out shopping. "Evaporated Cane Juice" struck my attention - sounds like a fancy name for sugar don't you think? Yep it is. I discovered there are many common aliases for sugar nowdays - evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, and syrup. Take a look at this interesting link on sugar - The Truth about Evaporated Cane Juice

UPDATE 11/3/2013 - I've just found this credible video that ranks natural sweeteners. Really worth watching. See

At the end of the day, it's apparent to me that your body doesn’t care whether you ingest white sugar, maple syrup, honey, or stevia. Once it enters your bloodstream its a sugar.

Sugar doesn't rate high on my list of concerns as we hardly consume any in our diet (especially as we don't use packaged products) but for many people it should be a concern because it is hidden in some many foods. It lurks in commercial salad dressings, biscuits, breads, cereals, yoghurts, and lots of low-fat foods. Of course, cakes, soft drinks etc are loaded with sugar (or if you chose the "diet" versions, it's loaded with far worse - chemical additives). I honestly don't understand how anyone can drink soft drinks or give them to their children. Look around people - its making you fat, and killing you - no doubt.

The problem with refined sugar is that it is made up of two parts — one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Breaking down this compound requires more work from the liver, which is responsible for breaking down most of the glucose in the body. Because many types of cells in the body can process glucose, it’s much easier for the body to process foods containing only this starch, like bread or potatoes. Putting refined sugars in liquid form like, say, soda or juice, means it hits the liver even quicker than eating something with the equivalent dose of sugar (like whole fruit), and requires the liver to metabolize the fructose and glucose more quickly. Studies have found that when a significant dose of fructose hits the liver of some animals very quickly, a good part of it is converted to fat. In humans, this conversion of fat causes insulin resistance (or metabolic syndrome), which often contributes to the development of diabetes.

Do you understand the difference between fructose and glucose? Please read this Link

All types of sugar should be consumed sparingly. Don't be fooled by the marketing - "natural" is not always synonymous with healthy, and some of us have different health concerns (diabetes, coeliac) that preclude us from certain choices.

So where am I now with all this information? Somewhat more informed and enthused to find new ways to keep fruit and vegetables fresh and raw in our family diet but less than impressed by the brands, companies and hype that goes along with getting the "healthy" message out to people and somewhat skeptical of the hype surrounding "natural" ingredients and superfoods. I will stick to my markets and continue to avoid commercially packaged foods. But I am washing my fruit and veg more. I am adding more variety and I am experimenting with the wonderful array of fun recipes that you discover just by Googling "raw food". Tomorrow, I'm off to have lunch with a group of friends at a raw food cafe. I'm sure it will be delicious and fun.

What are your thoughts?

Some wish for it, others work for it!
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