By Jessica, Pure Matters
What do Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Jason Mraz have in common? They’re all devotees of the raw, or “living” food diet. I first became interested in the raw food movement during culinary school, when a classmate suggested we visit a nearby raw spot for lunch. I ordered a vegan sushi roll with a side of Asian slaw, and to be honest, it tasted kind of bland. But when we returned to the classroom, I was bursting with energy. It was like a buzz of electricity was coursing through my body. I was 100 percent focused for the rest of the afternoon.
No matter how great I felt that day, I could never be a full-time raw foodist. One, I don’t have a personal chef like the celebrities listed above likely do. And two, I love bacon. A lot. But I do make an effort to incorporate raw foods into my diet on a daily basis, and even more so in the summertime, when it’s too hot to turn on the oven and fresh produce is plentiful. Read on to get the skinny on going raw, along with some easy tips and one of my favorite summer lunch recipes.
The raw foods diet has four main components: fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and unprocessed products made from them, like cold-pressed avocado, coconut, olive, hemp and flaxseed oils; nut butters and milks; and some soaked and/or sprouted whole grains like buckwheat and oats. Nuts and seeds are often soaked before consuming to make them easier to digest. You may be wondering where the protein comes from in a diet free of beans or animal products, but you’d be surprised. Nuts, seeds and grains can contain up to 15 grams per serving, and many vegetables are high in protein, like spinach, asparagus and broccoli. The most important thing about the raw diet, though, is that nothing is heated to a higher temperature than 104 degrees. Above that temperature, raw foodists believe that foods cease to be “living” and lose their nutrients. While most raw foodists are vegan, some do consume raw animal products as well.
There’s a lot of fancy equipment out there for devoted raw foodists, but if you’re just starting out, you can get by with a cutting board, good knife, food processor and blender. Some other fun tools to have include a spiralizer, which can turn vegetables like zucchini into “spaghetti” for “pasta” dishes; a dehydrator for making breads, crackers and burgers; and a mandoline for thinly slicing vegetables for “lasagna,” or for julienning fruits and vegetables for salads.
Who Should Avoid This Diet
The raw food diet isn’t for everybody. Many people with compromised immune system due to illness, chemotherapy, etc. are told to avoid raw foods. If you’re in good health, incorporating raw foods into your diet shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re ill, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before radically altering your diet.
How to Get Started
The best place to start your raw food journey? Your local farmers’ market. Stock up on fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables there, and then supplement with raw nuts, seeds, whole grains and cold-pressed oils.
Salads: Salads are the easiest ways to incorporate all of the elements of a raw food diet without turning your kitchen upside down. Some hearty greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds and a homemade vinaigrette made with healthy oils and apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice can be a healthy, satisfying meal in itself. The classic vinaigrette ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.). Add tahini, miso or nut milk to make a creamy dressing, or blend in fresh herbs and spices for more flavor. Experiment!
Smoothies: Blend up a fruit or vegetable (or both!) smoothie for an energy-boosting snack, or blend with nuts and/or seeds for an easy, filling breakfast.
Soups: Gazpacho is great, but there’s so much more you can do with raw soups. Blend fresh vegetables with water to make a “stock,” and then add chopped vegetables. You can serve your raw soups chilled, at room temperature, or slightly warmed. Adding unsweetened nut milks will give you a creamy consistency. And season! Fresh herbs, spices and sea salt will give your soups vibrancy and flavor. Here’s my favorite:
Spicy Spinach and Avocado Soup
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed
1 avocado, pitted and skinned
1 large clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2-1 cup water
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a blender, mix together spinach, avocado, garlic, lime juice and cayenne pepper and blend until smooth. Add 1/2 cup water and blend to a cream-like consistency, adding more water as needed up to 1 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide diced cucumber between two bowls, and pour 1/2 of soup mixture over each. Stir in cilantro, and serve immediately.