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The Beginner’s Guide to the Raw Food Diet

HealthWorks Voices is where our guests post their take on healthy and happy living. In this post, raw food enthusiast Hui Min shares some practical and easy steps on kickstarting a raw food diet lifestyle.

Beginner's Guide to the raw diet

What’s a Raw Food Diet? 

It’s actually not all that foreign. You’ve been munching on raw foods your entire life, from the bananas your mom mashed up for you when you were a toddler, to the nuts and raisins you just snacked on. All of these are termed “raw” by raw foodists. They believe that if most of your diet consists of fresh foods, you’ll be healthier, happier, and have more energy.

In a raw food diet context, categories of food defined under “raw” are plant-based, whole foods that exclude meat and fish. All these food should be prepared without heating over 46°C. Learn more about the raw food diet here.

Is the Raw Food Diet for you?

If you:

  • are interested in adding more fresh foods to your diet and reduce the amount of processed food you’re consuming
  • want to avoid animal products and heat-processed food
  • want to improve your physical well-being

Then perhaps you are ready for an introduction to the raw food diet. This handy guide will help you jump start your healthier, raw food lifestyle:

10 Tips to Get Started on the Raw Food Diet

How to get started? Whether you are going to incorporate raw food in your diet for only a meal, a day, a week or a lifetime, strengthening and equipping yourself with the necessary tools, information and the right ingredients will keep you moving and help you stay motivated. So, check out the below pointers, and in no time, you can get started in your raw food journey!

#1: Take baby steps!

Start small and gradually with simple and easy to make recipes that calls for ingredients that you can conveniently get from your local market, groceries or supermarkets. You do not need to go all the way out to achieve 100% raw at one go.

Instead, aim to incorporate some raw ingredients in your food intake for a start. For example, start with having a simple refreshing raw juice or smoothie before your regular meal. Some great choices will be combination of green apple, celery, cucumber, green capsicum juice, or blend of mango plus some green leafy vegetable (yes, raw!) to make a mango smoothie. In the beginning, use a reasonably small amount of green vegetable leaves – you will not taste the green at all! (See this Mango Spinach Smoothie recipe).

Gradually add the greens as you get used to the taste and are ready for more greens in your smoothie. As you advance and feel that you are in for more than a juice or smoothie, start exploring with eating solid raw food. Adding salads are great, but beware of dressings, sauces, condiments and toppings on the shelves that are loaded with additives, chemical-based flavorings and preservatives. Counter this by making your own fresh raw dressing! (See this great recipe for a savoury seed dressing

# 2: Stock up your kitchen, slowly and gradually

When getting started with raw food, it is essential to have the right and sufficient choices of food and ingredients readily available in your kitchen. Shop for fresh whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Take your time to eventually build up your collection of these useful ingredients in your kitchen shelves and fridge:

  • dried herbs (e.g. basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill)
  • powdered spices (e.g. cinnamon powder, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric powder, cayenne powder, black pepper powder, cumin powder, nutmeg powder, coriander powder)
  • nuts (e.g. almond, cashew, pine nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, pecans, macadamia)
  • seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds)
  • grains (e.g. buckwheat groats, quinoa)
  • oils (e.g. cold-pressed olive oil, virgin coconut oil, flaxseed oil)
  • natural sweetener (e.g. stevia, organic coconut palm nectar, raw honey)
  • natural flavor enhancer (e.g. tamari – wheat free Japanese soy sauce, Himalayan salt, sea salt, miso)
  • butters (No, we are not talking about dairy butter derived from milk, but nut butter and raw organic cacao butter!)

These ingredients will definitely come in handy whenever you wish to make some raw food or raw desserts!

#3: Gather essential tools one at a time, there’s no need to rush into getting them all at once

It is interesting to note that in raw food preparation, you do not need to have a gas cylinder, a stove or an oven! Nevertheless, some other tools and equipment will definitely be handy if not essential.

For a start, a good high-power blender will definitely be very useful as you will expect to use this a lot in preparing smoothies, sauces, dressings and other raw delicacies.

Other useful tools include:

  • A good sharp knife (ceramic knives are recommended)
  • Juicer (slow juicer definitely gets the vote)
  • Food processor
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Mandoline
  • Spatula
  • Spice grinder (high speed blender can also do the job)
  • Grater
  • Peeler
  • Glass storage jars
  • Mixing bowls
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Food vacuum pack pump
  • Spiral slicer
  • Cloth mesh bag (or nut milk bag)
  • and more

As you advance into more exciting and adventurous raw food preparation journey, you may want to invest in a food dehydrator. A good dehydrator may cost over a thousand Ringgit or more (so does a good high power blender, a slow juicer or a food processor), so if budget is an issue, it is definitely fine to opt for a lower-end equipment range.

It is worthy to note that a good investment in the right good quality tool will definitely be worthwhile in the long run if you have made up your mind that you are not doing this as a “fly-by-night operation” thingy.

Just remember that you can always get the tools as you venture and progress along the raw food journey. There’s no point rushing to get the equipment all at once only to discover and regret that you are stressed up with the food preparation work involved and give up half way.

#4: Discover the raw food preparation techniques

Similar to cooking, there are various “un-cooking” techniques in raw food preparation. Cooking techniques involve frying, baking, steaming, grilling, boiling, braising, etc. which require high heating of the food.

In raw food preparation, there is no heating up of the food over 46°C. Get familiar with the common raw techniques that you will often hear within the raw food community – juicing, blending, marinating, soaking, sprouting, grinding, grating, pickling, fermenting, culturing and dehydrating.

As you advance, you may want to further explore and do more research in understanding the basic flavors, making use of the variety of ingredients to balance flavour, discovering how fat influences flavour, using ingredients to develop cooked texture, knowing what are the raw binders/raw thickening agent and also discovering what are the substitutions of raw ingredients for cooked.

#5: Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! (In advance)

Get your self started by preparing some of the food preparation components in advance before you work on the full complete raw dish.

For example: soaking your nuts, preparing pesto and nut cheese in advance before making your raw pizza, making chocolate drizzle in advance of making your raw chocolate cake, etc.

Okay, this may sounds a little complicated for newbies but it merely calls for deciding what recipes you wish to prepare, knowing what components of the recipes that take longer time to be ready, or components that require separate preparation and hence preparing them in advance before having the full recipes assembled together.

#6: Plan your meal and agree on substitution

When you are getting started with raw foods, plan your meals properly so that you are not overloaded with pressure and stress that can happen when you are trying to adopt a new or different diet or lifestyle.

You wouldn’t want to spend hours and hours in the market or grocery stores or in your kitchen, figuring out what and how to go about preparing a raw meal.

It is also important to plan for new substitutions for your snacks and treats whether it is for coffee break or midnight snacks. For example, if you have a habit of having some bites at tea time daily, make it a point to plan for a week or a few days’ supply of raw crackers (e.g. healthy flaxseed crackers or dehydrated fruit slices) instead of munching on sugar-laden over-the-counter cookies, pastries or cakes every other day. So, do make it a point to plan ahead and incorporate some of your favorite raw snacks recipes into your kitchen schedule.

#7: Remember that there are no hard and fast rules

In raw food preparation, always remember that there are no hard and fast rigid rules that you must strictly adhere to.

Unlike baking in which you need to follow very specific proportions of each of the ingredients (to ensure you get the right taste, texture and result or else the end product may be spoilt), there is some flexibility in raw food preparation.

In raw food recipes, there is always an option to mix and match with other ingredients, or an option to omit a certain ingredient. For example, recipes that require certain dried herbs, oils or nuts can be substituted with other ingredients from the same category. If you don’t have almond, use walnut. If you don’t have flaxseed oil, use virgin olive oil. If you have run out of coconut nectar, use raw honey. If you only have two dried herbs instead of all the three herbs required in the recipe, go ahead and just use the two that you readily have.

In raw food preparation, you can always let your creativity run wild. Experiment and explore with the whole foods ingredients to discover what new taste and texture that you are about to create. Raw food culinary is about how you can create nutrient-packed raw foods that mimic the flavor, texture and appearance of cooked food. This is what makes raw food preparation a very interesting and exciting culinary art!

#8: Educate yourself and those around you

A lot of people in our local community may not know much or even heard of raw food diet. However, it is encouraging to know that the awareness is rapidly growing in recent time. Yes, that’s correct – even in Malaysia!

More people here are already showing interest and are keen to learn about the raw way of eating and preparing food. What you can do on your part is to do more research over the internet, read up for more information on raw food diet and equip yourself with knowledge to be prepared to answer questions like where to get your protein, calcium, etc. Note that we can get our proteins from nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, sprouted grains etc. Similarly, we also can get calcium from sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, broccoli, figs, leafy greens etc.

Although it is not necessary for you to adopt this raw food intake entirely and fully on a daily basis, there may be times when you feel that you have to stand up for your choices at certain meals when you choose to eat raw. Having the right information and knowledge about raw food diet will then help you make informed choices about your meal intake and it will also change your perception on food and health in general.

#9: Connect with a strong support system

It will be ideal to have a good strong support system for those who are new to raw food diet and wanting to share and connect with each other in order to help encourage one another to prepare and eat more raw food. Although we cannot always find a group of raw foodists within our local community, it is a good thing we have the internet to connect with others who may be staying far from us so as to provide support and validation to others who are on the same path.

This will enable constant sharing of one’s raw journey and will help motivate each other to continue embarking on the raw food diet. Remember, even a little effort to prepare and eat a small portion of raw food in your daily food intake is better than none! So, never get intimidated should you come across those who work on advanced or raw recipes that seems complicated. Trust us, anyone can master and prepare raw food at the comfort of their home without the need for specific skills as long as there is a will. Having a strong support system will definitely help see you through your raw food journey!

#10: Stay focused on the reward

What reward are we talking about? The reward is your desired goals whether it is weight loss, improved health, vitality and fitness, radiant skin, feeling more energized, or satisfaction from knowing that you are playing a part in being in harmony with the environment and planet, etc.

Engage in visualization and imagine having accomplished your goals and you’ll be filled with positive energy, joy and peace of mind while on raw food intake. A little effort applied consistently goes a long way, hence, as long as you take initiative and work on it, you will be reaping the rewards for sure!

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HealthWorks Voices is a space for Malaysians to share their amazing stories, advice, and experiences. If you have something awesome to share, send it to hello@healthworks.my or check out our Facebook page.

Tan Hui Min - Raw FoodieHui Min is a raw food enthusiast who left her glitzy accounting career to delve into the raw food world. She has pursued multiple certifications on raw food and vegetarianism including the Pure Raw Chef Training Course by Amy Rachelle, and the Vegetarian/Vegan Mastery Program by the Vegetarian Health Institute.
She’s also a supplier of organic products to retailers in Kuala Lumpur. During her free time, she enjoys “un-cooking” for her family and friends. Questions? Email her at DietAngelEnt@gmail.com.
Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Written by: Hui Min

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