Raw Food & Healthy Choices

Including raw food in our diet nowadays is pretty mainstream. Using a spiriliser to make courgetti isn’t as unusual as it once was and there’s much more awareness of gadgets such as dehydrators and interesting foods such as superfoods, seaweeds and ferments.

I’ve run raw food classes independently and on health retreats for the past 8 years. The majority of people I meet are choosing to eat more raw foods to help with weight loss, boost energy levels, for radiant skin and to improve their overall level of health.  The questions I am most frequently asked include how much raw food to eat, how to combine raw with cooked food, is some raw food better than others, how can we make it easy and is it going to be expensive.....

In a nutshell, excuse the pun, raw food can be really quick to make! It doesn’t have to be gourmet restaurant quality or time consuming in order to taste delicious and lets face it, if it takes too long to prepare, most of us aren't interested. It's straight forward to combine raw food with our favourite cooked recipes and we don’t have to break the bank to do it.  Eating raw food simply means we are eating more unprocessed plant based food no matter what else we include in our diet. Raw also doesn’t mean cold – we can make raw soups, raw curries, warm food up and use warming spices such as ginger, chili and cayenne which means that including raw food over winter in the UK is a much more feasible option.

But before you jump straight in, raw food is not appropriate for everyone.  If we're experiencing digestive issues then the last thing we need is raw food.  You might find a healing program starting with hydration and hydrating foods.  Broths, smoothies and stews are more likely to make an appearance than salad so if you have health concerns, work with a Naturopath or Nutritionist who can support you. 

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Something quite important to consider is that just because a food is termed raw, it doesn’t therefore guarantee that it’s healthy!  A vegetarian or vegan diet can be devoid of vegetables or full of highly processed foods, refined wheat, sugar or heated vegetable oils. Likewise, it is easy to make raw food choices that can put our body under stress or cause inflammation, the most common of which is to eat lots of sweet foods and to consume a high volume of nuts and dried fruit. 

Including a variety of raw nuts and seeds in our diet provides an abundance of nutrients but we can easily overdo it so it's good to be discerning when reading recipes and if you are looking for a guideline then aim to eat less than a handful a day.  If we start our morning with a nut based granola served with nut milk then we are more than likely done for nuts for the day so if later in the day we have nut cheese on almond and flax crackers followed with some cashew cheesecake, you can see how easily we can overdo it.  We're ideally looking at having a diet which is full of vegetables whether they are raw or cooked and sometimes it will be easier on our digestion to have a bowl of steamed veg rather than a snack heavy in nuts.

“Sugar free” is also a bit of a misnomer, especially if recipes are packed with honey, maple syrup or dates which all impact our blood glucose levels.  There isn't a perfect sweetener and we are all looking for something different whether it's low GI, low fibre, the most sustainable or the least processed. Personally I love yacon and raw honey. I'm not a fan of agave due to the high levels of refined fructose that most brands contain - this is not to be mistaken with fructose found naturally in fruit bound with fibre and phytonutrients (have a look at the blog post on sweeteners for more details).  Whichever sweetener you choose, the objective is simply not to consume too much. All these sweet alternatives are however a better option than refined white sugar and can be helpful if we are trying to break away from eating refined foods, wean ourselves off junk food or cut back on the amount of sugar we eat. Berries are a great option when we want to eat something sweet and they are packed with nutrition and anti-oxidants. Rather than searching for the healthiest sweetener, a useful exercise is to ask ourselves how often we are reaching for sweet food and can we spend a few days without any.

I know a handful of people in the UK who follow a high raw diet and it works incredibly well for them. They are inspiring to be around and are a glowing example of high vibration eating.  They’ve been doing it for over 20 years so it’s become second nature and they make sure their diets are supplemented correctly.  

I absolutely love raw food, I enjoy the taste and how it makes me feel. I love periods of eating high raw but it’s not the only food I eat. Some days I don't want to eat a salad or have a juice and that's fine with me.  I often opt for tonics and warm drinks but I also love healthy cooked food and how that makes me feel so I don’t suggest trying to follow a high raw diet unless it feels good, it's working for you and it brings you joy. 

There's so much conflicting information about diet available that it’s no wonder we're all confused about what to eat.  There can also be a lot of judgement associated with eating & lifestyle choices.  We all know that there is no universal diet to suit everyone so it's no use listening to anyone else. We are unique and the food we eat will vary depending on where we are, how we feel, our belief system and what our lifestyle and income allows. 

For some people, raw food is completely transformational in terms of physical and emotional wellbeing. For others, a predominantly plant based diet with good quality animal protein works better than a completely vegetarian or vegan diet so give yourself permission to experiment and find what works right now and know that this may change. 

Most important of all is to enjoy our food and make our meals delicious! Focus on the healthy foods you love, have a few "go to" healthy recipes and experiment with new ingredients adding one new recipe to your repertoire or making one change at a time. Attending classes and workshops can give you a chance to try new ingredients and pick up tips from other people - there's always something for everyone. 

If we find ourselves veering off course with our diet, the best guidelines I’ve found to come back to are to choose real natural foods that are not processed, choose fresh seasonable vegetables free from pesticides wherever possible (whether we eat them raw or cooked), include essential fats in our diet, opt for grass fed and organic or wild animal products if we eat them, include some nutrient dense foods (seaweeds, ferments, sprouts & superfoods) and don’t get stressed if none of this is an option. Keep hydrated, try not to eat when feeling emotional, feel a sense of gratitude for the food we are eating and savour every mouthful.

Bon appetite!