If you’re new to raw food you may have noticed that even though there are now hundreds, if not thousands of raw food websites on the internet, what seems to be lacking is real basic nuts-and-bolts info about how to get going from a standing start. Only too often do books and websites jump in at step 2 or 3 (food or equipment) before setting the context in which raw food needs to be placed, or explaining how to get going when everything about raw food is new.
Now, even if you feel that you’re personally beyond what you’ll learn about here, this information may well be perfect to pass on to a friend or family member who is struggling to comprehend just what you’ve been getting so excited about, or who may want to hear it from someone other than you! (Don’t worry, this is completely normal!). Either way, the information that follows is well worth a read as you may just get a little boost of much-needed inspiration.
Understand what all the fuss is about. The concept of eating raw food isn’t new by any means, but it has gained much greater popularity during recent years owing to its unquestionable benefits on health, energy and overall vitality, as well as its ability to basically make us look and feel a whole lot better than we’ve ever done before. As old as time itself, raw food was, of course, what we ate before fire was discovered (we must have done OK on it to get that far ;)) and in more modern times, thanks to the efforts of pioneering authors such as health researcher Leslie Kenton and others outside of the UK who bravely waved the flag for raw food in the 1980’s and beyond, we now find ourselves in an era where raw food is no longer seen as the domain of extreme health “fanatics” but instead merrily making its way into the mainstream media, celebrity diets, healing centres and retreats, increasing numbers of health and nutrition books, products and seminars, as well as featuring more significantly in supermarkets, health food stores and much more besides. And not a moment before time – because when you look at it up close and personal, it really does make a whole lot of sense…
So why raw? While I’m the first to admit that the word “raw” is hardly inspiring, if you can get beyond that and see that raw equals pure, fresh, vibrant, enzyme-rich, oxygen-rich, unadulterated, whole organic living nutrition then we’ll all be on the same page! But before we get to the whys exactly, and to prevent ourselves from falling into the common trap of seeing raw food as somehow “less than” cooked, let’s take a moment to look at what cooked food is, exactly.
Cooked food = raw food which has been heated to temperatures where chemical changes have occurred and the food has changed from its original state to something which, depending on the severity of its treatment, can end up looking like and being a shadow of its former self (think of spinach cooked and raw!). While cooked foods may most certainly tantalise the taste buds, this is largely because of their stimulant effects on the body which – in actual fact – doesn’t actually “understand” a lot of what it’s taken in as many of the chemicals within cooked foods are unnatural and therefore the body sees them as foreign bodies! Indeed, fascinating research in the 1930’s showed that when someone eats cooked food without having eaten some raw food first, the body sends the white blood cells (which fight toxins) to the digestive system in order to deal with the perceived “invader”. Interesting, don’t you think? And while yes, we can glean nutrition from this fractured, denatured “food”, every time we cook our food or buy something pre-prepared and cooked in a can, box or bag we lose up to 70% of the vitamins, some of the minerals, all of the enzymes, all of the oxygen, the important plant feel-good hormones and a high percentage of the water – all of which we need to reward us with truly vibrant health. So that’s cooked food!
Raw food by contrast is replete with everything that enabled it to sprout and grow in the first place – life force, enzymes, water, oxygen, hormones, vitamins and minerals and so much more besides. Untouched, untainted, raw food is quite literally honest food – what you see is what you get. No hidden ingredients, nothing messed around with, just pure delicious fresh live food that we are designed to eat – living food for living bodies. And the good news for you is this: when you start dabbling with more raw food, you don’t just understand this conceptually, you actually start to “get it” experientially as your whole body cheers, shifts up a gear and the concept of what real food and nutrition really is about takes on a whole new meaning.
What foods are raw? To give you a brief overview of what raw food means in real terms, here’s a list of the 20+ different raw food groups: Fresh fruits; Vegetables; Salad vegetables; Leafy green vegetables; Herbs and wild greens; Nuts; Dried fruits; Beans, pulses and legumes (sprouted); Grains (sprouted); Seeds; Sprouting seeds; Indoor greens; Vegetable seeds (sprouted); Edible flowers; Mushrooms; Sea vegetables; Algaes; Oils; Fermented foods (e.g sauerkraut, kimchi, miso); Stimulants (e.g. chilli, ginger, onion); Spices; Superfoods; Flavourings and natural sweeteners (e.g. honey, stevia, carob). Rather more variety than perhaps you first thought? Rather than being limiting, I have found that 99 times out of 100 raw food expands a person’s culinary horizons – and if you pick up a good raw food recipe book such as Raw Food, Real World (one of my personal favourites), I promise you’ll be blown away at what can be achieved – “burgers”, pizzas, live milks, ice-cream, cakes, cookies, smoothies, soups, dips, dressings, lasagnes, wraps, crackers and so much more are possible when you know what you’re doing – now we’re talking, right?!
How to get started. An extremely common myth that I’m very keen to bust is that eating raw takes lots of time and energy to prepare. Wrong! I am quite possibly the busiest person I know, and one of the many reasons I choose to eat raw is because when done correctly it’s actually the fastest food on the planet. Getting started and keeping it doable is easy when you adopt the pure and simple approach: whole raw foods, prepared quickly, eaten simply and you must only eat the foods you love! This must always be fun, easy and delicious – that’s rule number one! Rather surprisingly to those new to raw food, the discovery process of what raw food is really all about is a never ending journey – the kind of journey that everyone I’ve ever met wished they had embarked upon sooner. So don’t wait to get ill, overweight or lethargic before you start tending to your body’s dietary needs (like I did) – start your journey to exciting and rewarding pastures new today! These first steps I’m about to outline are very straightforward but will make a massive difference – and even better, anyone can do this!
For breakfast, try your best to eat fresh fruit or a dairy-free smoothie every day instead of your usual toast, cereal or coffee. Eat or drink as much as you want (of the raw stuff) but keep it clean. What you eat first sets you up for the day – so make sure you step out on high-energy, revitalising foods rather than charred bread, lifeless sugar-coated grains or caffeine-laden hot drinks!
For lunch and dinner, this is so easy. If you can make at least half of your plate consist of fresh living foods (salads, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, beans or any of the foods mentioned above – but not all of them!) then you’ll be doing fantastically well and will typically start to feel the difference within a matter of days (look forward to more energy, better sleep, clearer thinking and clearer skin). Improve your results even further by drinking as much pure water as possible, eat only when hungry and not beyond full, and keep the remainder of your food as whole and pure as possible (no e-numbers or hydrogenated fats and so forth) and you will feel the benefits all the more. Also, of the raw foods you do choose, make sure that most of them are fruits and vegetables as these are the most nutritious and the highest in water content. Handfuls of nuts just don’t work the same – they’re very dense and fatty, but in small amounts are very good for you. If you can put most or all of the above into practise then you’ll be amazed at the difference!
What you need and where to get it. Raw recipe books tend to focus on the more complicated dishes and therefore often fancy foods and equipment are utilised as part of the recipe creation – but don’t be put off, raw food prep doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive! While it’s by no means imperative that you own every kitchen gadget going, it really does help to own at the very least a table top blender, a cheap juicer and a basic food processor – all of which you could buy for under £100 combined or even cheaper if you visit eBay; but if budget is an issue then a good sharp knife will take you a long way for free! However with the three items listed new and exciting vistas will open up to you, and if and when the time feels right to invest in something more durable and powerful then you’ll be amazed at what’s available in the health world right now. As for foods, I personally find that I can get most of what I need in the organic section at my local supermarket, I also visit a wholefoods shop locally and order everything else in. But what I do need to emphasise if you haven’t cottoned on already is the importance of choosing organic wherever possible – pesticides are never a healthy option, even if they are on raw food!
How to keep it interesting.When you’re new to raw food it’s easy to assume that salads, soups and smoothies is as good as it gets when you’re watching the clock. While it’s true that the more elaborate recipes often do take more time and energy, there are always short cuts and whipping up a delicious dressing, dip or even a nut “cheese” or veggie pate takes literally seconds and can totally transform a meal! When you’ve tasted a fabulous raw food pizza and raw ice-cream (no dairy, no white sugar), there really is no going back! Check out my recipe Books here >
What about eating out? This is one of the most common questions asked – and the answer is – it’s completely up to you. You can choose to eat “normally”, to make healthier choices than usual or to ask for a juicy salad with all sorts of things thrown in, but above all, enjoy what you eat and feel at peace with it! (I go into this in a lot more detail in my “Go Raw with Karen” program.)
Does it have to be all or nothing? Not at all. In fact, very few people eat an exclusively raw food diet ongoing. People tend to talk in percentage terms – such as “I’m 80% raw” which basically means that they eat most of their food raw but not all of it, and they’re guessing that 80% is about right in terms of plate space/meal make-up etc. – but it’s not really that important. What matters more is the quality of the food you choose – if 80% of someone’s diet consists of nuts, seeds and raw food snack bars then that’s never going to be a good thing (way too much fat!) whereas 80% worth of fresh fruits and vegetables is wonderful! What also matters is not just what you bring into your diet but what you leave out. It’s no good eating lots of fresh vibrant food if you “balance” it out with take-aways and aspartame-ridden diet drinks! Much better to do 50/50 and make all of your foods good healthy choices, and then if you want to adjust the proportion of raw foods then you can do so at any time. All that said, the more raw food you eat, for most people at least (those with medical issues need to take professional advice), the better you will look and feel.
What you can expect. When you choose raw, as we have already seen, you choose “life”. Live food will nourish you at a deep level (deeper than any deep-pan pizza will ever reach!) and it will also start to work its magic on your body in a very short space of time. This magic sometimes doesn’t look so magical though! Because as the toxins and debris begin to leave your body as the raw food starts to cleanse your system, you may experience some detoxification symptoms such as diarrhoea, rashes, pimples (spots), headaches, dizziness, coughing and mucous and other similar discomforts. This is usually nothing to worry about, but it may happen! If it does, keep drinking plenty of water and eat even more simply to speed the elimination process up if your circumstances permit it. But if you feel as if it’s all going a bit too fast for you then if you eat something cooked, especially something heavy like meat, potatoes or dairy, then you’ll slow it all down or even stop it completely. You can restart again more slowly or leave it for a few days or weeks and go again when the time feels right. On the flipside, the good news is that when this stuff comes out it means that your body is – of course – all the better for it and this will start to become apparent in your face, your body shape and body tone and your energy levels surprisingly quickly. And if you carry on the good work to any degree for more than a few weeks, then you’ll find it very hard to go back to your old ways because there’s really not a lot of fun to be had there. In fact most people find that very quickly cooked food starts to taste seriously bland and inferior to fresh and raw – especially if they’ve educated themselves in those delicious raw food recipes I keep alluding to!
Taking it further. As mentioned before, the raw food journey never ends, but it does get increasingly rewarding and exciting! Not only is there a whole new world of food and drink waiting for you (which is growing all the time), but raw food tends to attract some pretty amazing people and takes you on an exciting adventure in terms of getting more in touch with your body and your whole self generally.
Wherever your interest in raw food takes you, what I can guarantee is that you’ll be very glad you took the time to investigate it, because you’ll be amazed at how your relationship with food and your body changes and you’ll be beyond fascinated at what you discover along the way.
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