Monday, September 30, 2013

So Why NOT Eat a 100% Raw?

So. If eating raw has so many benefits, why not go a 100% raw? Why eat only a percentage of your food raw as opposed to eating ALL food raw ALL the time? Most people that I meet in my local raw food community eat raw in variable percentages - 30-80% being the most common bracket. I, too, eat an average of 70-75% raw (and vegan) (average taken over a week, though my daily intake of raw food is about the same as well on most days).

Well, first of all, being a 100% raw IS possible - and sustainable - both physically and biologically. Victoria Boutenko, who I have mentioned several times in this blog, and family, is 100% raw vegan and an inspiring example for today's health science research (and very embarrassing for the pharmaceutical industry!). Kristina Carillo-Bucaram also has been a 100% raw vegan for about 7 years now and is quite a success in restoring her health and running a local, organic food co-op movement in Houston, TX. Annette Larkins, dubbed as the Ageless Woman - boy, she looks fabulous at 70!

Besides, several M.D.s openly advocate the live foods nutritional regimen - Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T., etc. Cherie Soria, who I wrote about before, has a Science of Raw Food Nutrition program taught at her Living Light Institute that draws from the contemporary scientific research and studies on nutrition. There are notable vegan bodybuilders who are also raw to variable degrees. Venus Williams recently went raw vegan to cure her Sjogrens syndrome. However, 15 months into this lifestyle, so far I've chosen to relinquish some of these benefits to eat about 30% of my food cooked. Here are my reasons -

Being raw & vegan is easy and convenient as food preparation is usually fast and cleanup is easy. But it is also hard as the prepared dished don't have much of a shelf-life! Raw juices begin to disintegrate right away and must be consumed almost instantaneously. Green smoothies, when frozen, can last for up to a day, but don't taste quite the same - yuck! Salads become soggy when different ingredients are tossed together, even sans dressing. Raw soups are no longer yummy. Even raw ice cream, stored in the deep freeze, is not quite the same (from personal experience). This 'ephemerality' means that we need bursts of time available at hand right around when we're ready to eat. At times, that can be too much to ask for. And that's exactly when cooked food comes in handy.

Thinking about it, the short shelf-life of raw preparations makes complete sense - there are more enzymes and nutrients, so there is increased 'chemical' activity in the prepared dish! Cook the ingredients and they have lost most of their nutrition anyway - there's little left to spoil the food. Add preservatives, and voila, you have the isles after isles of ready-to-eat foods at the local supermarket. Use genetically-engineered ingredients and you have the 30-day survival kit for the Doomsday Preppers =). While we may not be in for an apocalypse yet, we're still doomed, albeit at a slower pace, if we continue to eat the way we do...

Raw food is nutritionally-dense. But not calorie-dense. Two bananas or a mango or a few peaches (the more calorie-dense fruits), won't fill us the same way as a large, baked potato. But we can't feel hungry all day, everyday, no matter the nutritional density of our food. Today, I simply can't eat the same amount of cooked food as I could before. However, even with my regulated portions, I do feel hungry earlier in the afternoon when I have had a salad for lunch, as opposed to a lean veggie sandwich - with bread. I get past this by keeping around more fruit and raw snack to munch on. But it can be a liability at times. It's unfortunate - just how easy it is to keep non-perishable, junk food around. The bacteria won't eat it, but we do, and expect the bacteria in our gut to just play along!

It's worth noting - a large baked potato, in turn, won't fill us the same way as one greased with oil, and loaded with cheese and salt. That, in turn, won't be the same as a plate full of deep fried chicken wings. In other words, getting enough nutrition and feeling full are two very different things. Lifelong social conditioning plays a subtle but significant role when it comes to feeling full. What can one do if deep fried chicken wings feel more satiating than heck, two avocados (which is too much of fat for one serving, BTW)?! We've all had moms shove three slices of bread down our throats when we really wanted to eat only two. In fact, these are exactly the food fads that our society needs to get rid of.

Further, most raw food dishes can be made more calorie-dense by adding avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut meat, olive oil, and more fruits. 

Certain fruits and veggies are best eaten cooked. For example, squash varieties, particularly, acorn. Beans, such as fava, kidney, soy. For others, heating releases nutrients from the cells they're bound to. For example, cooking a tomato releases lycopene, an important cancer-fighting antioxidant. Heating carotenoid vegetables, like bell peppers and carrots increases the bioavailability of their nutrients. Cooking mushrooms can dissipate some of their toxins. So why be headstrong and lose out on the added nutrition by cooking our food occasionally?

Did you know - bell peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamin C. Yes, way more than oranges! Red bell peppers also have a sweet, fruity flavor and taste great in salads and soups. They're the most ripe form of peppers - progressively after green, yellow, and orange. That explains their rich nutritional profile (and high price) in the family.

Another aspect that swings the balance in favor of cooked foods is Ayurveda, the system of ancient medicine from the Indian subcontinent. It might be rather surprising to learn that Ayurveda doesn't quite recommend eating a large percentage of raw foods! Particularly for vata and pitta dosha people. Kapha or kapha-dominant folks are the most suited to raw and vegan eating, according to it. Here's an online quiz, off of Deepak Chopra's website, that you can take to find out your dosha and exercise your judgement if a predominant raw food diet doesn't feel right to your body. For the sake of completeness, I must mention here that I am predominantly kapha. Good to know Ayurveda has my back covered ;).

Next, let's candidly address our selfishness and personal weaknesses - it's just too much of a sensory deprivation to give up all cooked food for the rest of our lives =). Being healthy, living eco-friendly, and riding the crest of the fountain of youth are all very desirable. But so are the joy and pleasure that come from doing (or in this case, eating) what we want, not merely need. For me, I have my favorite cooked vegetarian 'delicacies' that I am not ready to relinquish completely - yet. Maybe raw food will take their place in the upcoming times, or maybe it won't. I don't know. Until then, I will eat everything vegan in the remaining 30% of my diet. No animals will be hurt in the meantime.

Last but not the least, simply put, cooked food is much more accessible. That's what most of the restaurants serve. That's what we're (implicitly) expected to eat in social situations. Even when raw food is available in the form of salads and juices, at most places it's a fixer-upper menu item. No, Jamba Juice is no exception either! This makes eating 100% raw simply too socially restricting! To extend that, no matter how cleanly we eat, we're still exposed to a ton of pollutants and toxins in all walks of life. Do we really want to make our digestive system so sensitive that it can't take anything cooked, greasy, deep fried, even when feeding oneself supersedes everything else? Probably not.

This last argument comes from several personal experiences in the last 15 months. Most recently, while traveling to the western United States, I was appalled by the lack of fresh, organic produce at the local supermarkets. Particularly dismal was the (availability of!) limp, pale, green leafy vegetables. So fruit smoothies replaced my morning green smoothies. Rest of the day was all cooked food =/. 

Before that, I spent most of July 2012 eating 100% raw. Then one day, milk and cereal expected replaced the morning smoothie and yikes, I felt inflamed, heavy, and 'sick' all day. The message from my body was loud and clear - it did not like diesel in place of high octane gas =). There was my lesson - I could not rely on having raw food at hand at all times for the next 50 years of my life; I had to keep my body attuned to cooked and processed foods as well to survive optimally...

So as we end the celebrating cooked foods in this post, I'll leave you with this picture of acorn squash that I baked a couple of weeks back.

  • Cut the squash vertically into two pieces. Be sure to use a sturdy knife. 
  • Scoop away the seeds to roast them later. 
  • Sprinkle salt and lay the pieces face down on the baking tray. 
  • Preheat oven to 400F, bake for 40 minutes, turn the squash pieces over and bake for another 20 minutes. 
  • Bring it out, sprinkle with honey/agave/maple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, and possibly more salt. 
  • Scoop and relish.
  • Note that most recipes call for butter and brown sugar, but hey, don't we know better as raw foodists?! =)

Baked acorn squash with wild huckleberry honey and spices

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