Wednesday, October 20, 2010
RAWbstacles; things to keep in mind when considering a raw foods diet
When I first heard about raw foodism, I was intrigued. I started my raw inquisition shortly after becoming vegan; I read about a vegan bodybuilder who subsisted on nothing but fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I hadn't realized such a lifestyle was possible, especially for an athlete. I googled raw foodism and was inundated by countless accounts of people reversing disease, increasing energy, losing weight, curing serious digestive ailments, and essentially looking RAWmazing. From my totally non-expert analysis, the basic theory supporting a raw foods diet is that when you eat food in it's most natural state, our bodies are better able to take on and digest those nutrients. Not only are the raw foodies adamant about eating unprocessed food, but they are proponents of eating uncooked foods. Interestingly, raw food CAN be heated, just not above a certain temperature; either 115F or 105F depending on who you talk to. The hypothesis is that once a food is exposed to too much heat, the nutrients and digestive enzymes are destroyed and we're depriving ourselves of all the nutritional awesomeness we want and DEFINITELY deserve. Basically, the raw foods lifestyle sounded RAWsome.
However, there are many things to be aware of if you're considering experimenting with a raw foods lifestyle, and I found out many of these things through extensive trial and error and research over the past few months. When you're unprepared, navigating your way through a lifestyle of raw foods can be a figurative RAWbstacle course. Because I don't cook very often (Aaron is the AMAZING cook of the household, I steal bites of whatever food he creates mwahahah) becoming a raw foodist sounded ridiculously easy. All I had to do was not heat my food! Right? Wrong. I was so. Very. Wrong.
COLD food does not equal raw food. That fact alone sent me into a tailspin. Clearly, I'm no great chef, but it really blew my mind when I realized how many COLD things I could eat that I THOUGHT were raw, but weren't! Example: My typical breakfast used to be steel cut oats, frozen blueberries, unsweetened cocoa powder (don't judge! Who doesn't want chocolate for breakfast!) and a glass of brown rice protein powder (blerg). If I was feeling a bit saucy I might even add flaxseed meal or almonds. Anyway, my RAWsumption was that since I had to COOK my oats in the morning to get my bowl of creamy chocolately blueberry goodness, it meant that when I bought my oats they were raw! So in order to follow the sacred raw commandments, I soaked my oats overnight to get them mooshy and ate them uncooked like all the other raw foodies do. Or so I thought. Apparently when oats are first harvested, they're kind of spherical or cylindrical, and then they're flattened out by machines until they look like what we buy in the store. Get this: When oats are pressed, they're simultaneously steamed so they're more pliable and can be squashed by the massive roller dealy-bob. Because they're steamed, they're not raw. Oats=cooked=evil. After 2 years of eating oats every morning (literally) for breakfast, I quit cold turkey. Lord help me, the first few days were hard. I went through some serious oat withdrawals.
Clearly, my oat misinformation was just a single example of the many foods that aren't raw that I thought were. Obvious foods that aren't raw include bread, soup, anything processed, meat, dairy (unless you have it special ordered), beans, pasta, tofu, and protein powder. Less obvious foods that aren't raw: coconut oil (unless it's cold pressed and specially ordered), olive oil, dried fruit (unless it specifically says raw), a lot of the more common spices, any kind of sweetener, and yes....my beloved unsweetened cocoa powder. We'd been through a lot, me and my decadent chocolate love. My Hershey's cocoa powder and I had been through a lot together; it carried me through numerous cravings, low-energy days, emotional traumas, and "girly" moments. I gave it up for the cause...but it wasn't pretty. It's possible to buy raw versions of these "non-raw" products online or from specialty stores, but it can get expensive, and for me was ultimately not worth it. I just gave them up and made substitutes.
One of the challenges to eating raw is the inevitable integration of "exotic" products into your diet. Raw cacao nibs. Raw energy bars. Raw coconut oil. Lots of nuts. Lots and lots of dates. Food processors. Dehydrators. Juicers. Depending on how much "uncooking" you want to do as a raw foodist, it can get intense. I read the new raw gourmet movement. There are a surprising amount of world-renowned raw chefs; and since that's their passion I can understand them shelling out money on equipment, but personally, I can't foot the bill. I have a blender. And my mom mercifully got me a food processor for my birthday. But that's it. The full spectrum of raw foods won't make it into my kitchen because I'm too cheap.
What surprised me more than anything was the wide range in beliefs that come from raw foodism. When I first looked into it, I guess I just assumed raw was raw was raw. Much the same way I assume people think vegans eat like all other vegans. Which, of course, is like assuming all omnivores eat the same. I shouldn't have been so naive, but I guess I thought that raw foodism would be the end of my never ending quest to find the "right" way to eat. I wanted the absolute and final word on what was THE healthiest way to eat. I drove myself crazy with research.. and never found it. In fact, the more I looked into it, the more confused I became. The range of raw food theories is phenomenally wide: some raw foodists theorize you should eat 80 percent carbs, 10 percent fat, and 10 percent protein. Basically your entire day revolves around eating serious amounts of raw fruits and veggies. Some gourmet foodies, like Ani Phyo, advocate eating hearty portions of fat because vegetable fats in coconut oil, avocados, and nuts are the "good" fats. She states that these fats are nourishing for your body and that you won't gain weight on them. Some raw foodists believe in subsisting almost entirely on smoothies. Some advocate "sprouting" your food because it's "living" and more nutritionally complete. Some people eat ONLY fruit! And no one can prove what the "best" way to eat is.
For now, I'm surrendering. I give. I can't find the answer. Maybe there isn't one. If there is, I don't know if (for me) it lies in raw food. Maybe I'm not doing it the "right" way, but I know that the more raw food I eat, the colder my body temperature tends to get, and it's been bothering me for the past few days. I'm afraid of the implications of eating a raw food diet in Colorado in the winter, and I'm slowly backing away from the raw foodism bandwagon. Truly, I might be going about everything wrong, and maybe that's why I'm feeling slightly lightheaded and cold, but it's enough to scare me into eating some cooked food tonight and seeing how I feel. It's not something I've totally discounted, but I'm not sure if it's perfect for me at this point in my life.
Of course, I'm not like eagerly sprinting towards vegan pizza, pastries, and cookies right now (not that I ever liked those things very much anyway!) it just means I'm taking a step back from my previous commitment to a month of eating only raw foods. I'm still fascinated by many things the raw foods movement suggests. I'll definitely continue to stay away from processed food as much as possible. Also, I've started to look forward to my amazing green smoothies in the morning, and have been drinking them for lunch and dinner whenever I crave them! I don't go bat-crazy over cocoa powder any more, and I feel like that's a great thing! Overall, I'm returning to anywhere between 75 and 90 percent raw, mostly because of my deep love for fresh fruits and vegetables. If I feel inclined to eat more raw, I'll go for it, but I'm sure I won't be buying a dehydrator any time soon. I won't be making raw brownies. I'll just continue along the nutritional path that feels right, and hope to grow through my experiences.
Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."