The raw food diet has gained tremendous popularity due to its theory that cooking food lowers its nutritional values. But how exactly does one go about a raw food diet? What exactly is it and how is it good for you? We bombarded raw food enthusiast Hui Min with questions on this elusive diet. Answers below:
1. What is the main difference between eating raw and cooked food?
The main difference in eating raw food is the heat involved in the food preparation. The regular food that we eat is normally cooked with high heat. We fry, steam, bake, grill, etc. usually at over 100°C. When eating raw food, the food is prepared without heating them over 46°C and they are usually blended, juiced, soaked and sprouted, dehydrated and fermented.
2. Why do you believe people should pick up eating raw?
In today’s society, people are always rushing on the fast lane. Many do not prioritize their food choices and opt for highly processed fast food instead of choosing whole, real, slow foods. It is understandable that sometimes we are in situations that limit our choices of food, hence this is even a greater reason that people should pick up eating raw whenever they have the option to choose. We need to nourish our body in order to prevent further deterioration through aging and oxidation of cells in our body. Eating raw on a selective basis allows us to ‘take a break’ from the effect of all the harmful substances that our body ingests from the highly processed, chemicals and additive food-based ingredients.
3. Why do people say that eating raw is a healthier option?
From what I’ve learned, cooking food destroys a significant amount of nutrients and life-promoting enzymes. When food is fried or barbecued, toxic compounds (e.g. acrylamide, a potential carcinogen) are formed. Water-soluble vitamins and most antioxidants are lost and phytochemical nutrients are destroyed by overcooking. Thus, eating raw allows better absorption of the nutrients.
According to the Max Planck Institute, cooking not only disrupts the energetic structure of your food, it makes 50% of the protein unavailable, destroys 60-70% of the vitamins, including up to 96% of the vitamin B12, 100% of phytonutrients – which boosts the immune system and other body functions – and up to 100% of the food enzymes. (Note: The Max Planck Institute carries out basic research on life sciences, natural sciences and social and human sciences. It is Germany’s most successful scientific research organization since its establishment in 1948. )
4. How does one start to eat raw? New diets are never easy. What if we don’t like the taste, what do we do?
For starters, do not be overly ambitious on starting a raw food diet immediately. Start with raw foods which are sweet in flavour instead of going all out to take raw foods with a green flavour. For example, when juicing or preparing smoothie, have fruits that are sweet in nature as a base instead of having only the green vegetables in your smoothie. Add the greens a little at a time gradually. When you eventually get accustomed to raw foods, you can start to add more greens. Have a variety of foods planned in advance and experiment with foods spanning all the 5 flavors – sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter. Be patient and you will discover that there are actually a lot of varieties that enable you to enhance the flavour of raw food and subsequently improve your flavour balancing act in your quest of raw food preparation.
5: Are there any challenges in eating raw? Any practical tips on overcoming these challenges?
Sometimes, one who is new to the raw food path may find it very difficult being consistent due to the daily pressure of life and work. Work commitments require one to stay out and it is definitely not easy to find varieties of raw food in restaurants and cafes in our community. This can cause you to be demotivated. One practical tip to overcome this is to constantly remind ourselves that it is perfectly fine, even if only a small portion of your daily meal is raw. Order fresh unsweetened carrot juice instead of a can of soft fizzy drink. If you eat all three meals a day away from home, dedicate one meal for fresh salad greens which is easily available in restaurants. It is about making choices. Sometimes, you may feel obliged to eat out most of the time due to social obligations. Out of five days a week, make it a point to reserve at least one lunch time to bring your home-prepared raw food lunch to work. This will be a good break for your body as you choose to eat a lighter and fresher lunch for that day instead.
6: Noticed any big difference in your life or your body since you start on a raw food diet?
Definitely! Eating raw, together with reading up on this lifestyle had changed my perspective on food. There were many times when I felt sluggish and easily tired after bouts of eating highly cooked, strong flavored food for a long period of time and my body signals for a healthier raw version instead. When on a high raw diet with plenty of fresh natural juices and smoothies (without adding other sweeteners), green vegetables and fruits, my food digestion is better and I definitely feel lighter, better and more energised! Eating raw had also helped me to realise a wish of getting out of the rat race from the corporate world to start a small business and most importantly, an opportunity to be able to have control and flexibility of time, doing what I want and when I want at certain time. It is not an overnight journey, but over time as I learn more (and I am still learning) and gather more knowledge and information, the path going forward gradually reveals itself with affirmation and faith that it is okay to live simple while doing what you like. The raw food culinary world definitely plays a part in carving a small path in my life journey now.
7: How does eating raw affect your choices when it comes to buying food?
You will automatically be more interested to start hunting for fresh, whole, natural ingredients instead of packets of instantly prepared fast food. When you are equipped with the information and have the interest to prepare raw food, you will naturally look for the freshest ingredients and possibly selecting organic ingredients if they are affordable. You will eventually realize that the quality of the ingredients used will surely have a difference on the end product that you prepare, so compromising on the quality of ingredients may not be an option. Eating raw will also make you more aware and conscious of the foods that are too sweet, too salty, too fattening, too chemically-based and too highly processed – you will want to avoid these naturally. In other words, you will be more health conscious when selecting your food purchase. This is something positive and worthwhile for the betterment of yourself and your loved ones.
8: Where does one get raw food ingredients?
Organic retailers will be the top choice. These days, many organic shops are mushrooming and they do provide good quality products. As far as I know, there are organic retailers that really care and emphasizes on the philosophy of not only providing and sourcing for good products, but practice good ethics, fair trade and care for the planet and environment. It makes sense to support these retailers. At times, certain products may be available only in organic shops, thus you will naturally be inclined to visit a reputable organic shop to get the ingredients. Having said that, of course it is also good to purchase the ingredients from our local markets that source for their fresh vegetables and fruits directly from local farmers.
9. We love eating out, but if you maintain a raw food diet, the options are probably limited. How do you deal with that?
I am a raw food enthusiast and cannot claim as a true raw foodist because I still eat cooked food just like anyone. I can only initiate to incorporate as much raw food as I can whenever I have the chance. It is true that when eating out, the options of raw food are limited in our society. However, it is also true that fresh juices, smoothies, salad, flourless non-bake treats etc. are available in regular restaurants (well, not all, but it is not impossible to find them). When ordering, ask for pure juices with no sugar added (you may have to pay more for 100% pure juices but it is worth it). It is more important to select a restaurant that serves healthy, good, real foods made from whole fresh ingredients rather than sweating out to select a restaurant that serves only pure raw food. Remember, it is not necessary to choose 100% raw food! Most restaurants serve cooked food, but there are also those that serve semi raw food. It may also be handy to bring out your packet of raw treats while on the go. Raw dehydrated fruits, raw flax crackers, raw chocolate cookies/truffles and many other raw foods are great and healthy for snack and tea time. Advance planning is needed to ensure that you have your supply of fresh raw goodies whenever you want them.
10. Do you have any favourite restaurants that serve raw food or are you bound by home-cooking all the time?
I am very blessed because I can manage to find more time at home now compared to previous years, so I do prepare my meals at home when I have the time. I do not prepare raw food all the time when I am at home, sometimes I prepare cooked food too. However, I will ensure to my best that there are components of raw being incorporated in a meal as much as possible, whether it is a simple raw juice, fresh green or fruit smoothie, simple salad greens to more advanced raw food that require more preparation like dehydrating and sprouting. If I prepare cooked food for myself, it will usually be light meatless meals with organic green vegetables. There are a few restaurants that serve very healthy meals (some are raw, semi raw and cooked) for example Living Food Bistro & Café situated at Jalan Tun Razak that serve a good portion of raw food meals and Fru-T-Pop in Sri Hartamas that serves great food made from fabulous, great quality organic ingredients. Other restaurants that I like are Simple Life Organic Vegetarian Café, Chef Low Organic Kitchen and Green Meadow Health Café in SS2 (yes, they serve cooked food, but there are still portions of raw ingredients in their food!)
11. Do you get cravings for cooked or processed food?
I am quite neutral and simple when it comes to food as I believe food is to nourish our body rather than to satisfy our gastronomical taste buds. Hence, I do not get many cravings. Once in a blue moon when I am really hungry, I love to have a satisfying tasty good meal (which proves that I am just a normal human), whether cooked or raw! I do not fancy processed food like cookies, cakes and fast foods. However, at times I still eat them sparingly especially when they are served at social occasions.
12. What are some of your favourite recipes for a good raw meal?
I personally enjoy most of the raw foods, whether they are merely a juice, smoothie, desserts, snacks or mains. My favourite complete raw meal will comprise a raw mango spinach smoothie, raw zucchini pasta and raw banana ice-cream or raw chocolate brownie for dessert.
13. Share with us a typical day of a raw food enthusiast’s life – the meals you eat, the time you use to prepare etc
For breakfast, I usually like to have fresh fruit juices at home. Sometimes it is a simple lemon juice with added organic coconut palm nectar (most of the time, it is prepared without the sweetener). Sometimes I make a cup of pure carrot juice, with some green vegetables added. I use my slow juicer to make the juice and usually it takes about 15 minutes including washing, cutting and slicing up the fruits/veggies and cleaning up the juicer and kitchen. At other times, I prepare a fresh smoothie or eat slices of fresh fruits like papaya, oranges, kiwi, and apples. One of my top favourite is Spain pomegranates – I simply love this delicious sweet fruit! Sometimes, I also make myself a chocolate mix drink using organic raw cacao powder and organic coconut palm sugar for a late morning beverage.
For lunch, I take a simple salad dish (mix of lettuce, carrots, sprouts, cherry tomatoes) with raw dressings (nuts and seeds base, blended with virgin olive oil, tamari and dried herbs), avocado smoothie (one avocado, blended and mixed with coconut palm nectar), plus a few pieces of raw chocolates truffles. This takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
At times, I may snack for tea time if I have some earlier-made flaxseed-buckwheat crackers or dehydrated fruits (made by using my much loved Excalibur dehydrator). I also love snacking on raw cashew-cacao cluster and various types of nuts like almond, pistachio, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamia, etc.
Come dinner time, I make another fresh juice at home (I love green apple-celery-green capsicum-cucumber combo), coupled with organic pumpkin/sweet potato/spinach noodle soup (yes, cooked!) with organic vegetables like choy sum, spinach and broccoli. What I do is I will leave the green vegetables out of the heated stove and only pour out the cooked noodle soup onto the raw greens when the noodle is ready to be served (the green vegetables are not overly cooked in this way). If I “un-cook”, a quick one will be a raw Ratatouille dish, easily prepared in 15 minutes or less. With prior planning done in advance, it may also consist of raw wraps like raw taquitos. This is a more complicated recipe which take longer hours due to waiting time for dehydrating and soaking.
14. What are the problems with raw food and how do you tackle it? (for example: what if it’s not cooked, will bacteria or germs enter our tracts?)
Probably omitted by some raw food advocates in general, it is important to note that while eating raw is an important element for a healthy diet, it does not mean that one’s diet has to be 100% raw to be in great health. It also does not mean that eating raw food is the healthiest way of eating. It is noted that some foods are more nutritious when cooked, for example tomatoes (lycopene in tomatoes are more “bioavailable” when tomatoes are heated in combination with oil). Some foods are also noted to be toxic when eaten raw if eaten in excess (they contain natural toxic constituents). However, note that some of them are not hazardous unless consumed in large quantities, for example kidney beans, grains (they should be soaked and sprouted instead of eating them raw), egg whites, mushrooms, yam, spinach (eating raw spinach reduces absorption of minerals such as calcium. Those sensitive to oxalate, including those with a history of kidney stones shouldn’t eat raw spinach.). You can learn more here.
So, as a layman, how do we determine each and every type of food available whether they are good to be eaten raw or cooked? The key point is to always strike a balance whether you are eating raw or cooked food. Do not overindulge in only one category of food, but always strive for varieties.
Some people may find that they tend to develop a gassy tummy when eating raw food. Some may find that they get hungry faster when eating raw. This is a common situation especially for those who are not used to eating raw and has just started on the raw food journey. This can be alleviated by not going raw 100% all the way. It is good to start small, say 30% raw for a day and gradually increase your raw intake until your body adjusts and adopts to the high raw food lifestyle.
Another aspect is cleanliness of the food. It is important to properly clean the fresh vegetables and other raw food properly with fruits/vegetable cleansers especially if they are not organic. Washing them thoroughly with clean water is a must. (Well, this is a basic food handling ethic anyway!) As long as we practice raw food eating in moderation, we should all be good.
15. Any words of advice for those thinking of taking up a raw food diet?
Do not give up easily. As with any other venture, starting a raw food diet can be an exciting yet challenging journey. If you start to feel disheartened, demotivated or start losing faith at any point of time, always try to connect with the people who are making a difference in raw food culinary – take the initiative to search, ask and connect! Always yearn for more knowledge in this area and you will stay motivated while continuing to discover that there are plenty of things that you can do and explore in raw food preparation.
Try going raw with these awesome raw food recipes by Hui Min: