What? Is she telling us not to cook? Dream on, kids. I am asking you to explore a new idea to add to your repertoire of healthy eating…raw cuisine. And there's no better time of year than summert to explore some of the finest crisp, vital, lively food that Mother Nature provides.
When I became a vegetarian (about a thousand years ago), raw food meant just that, raw. We ate raw fruit and veggies and that was about it, with some sprouts and juice on the side for variety (she said, sarcastically). Now raw has become a ‘cuisine.’ I rolled my eyes when it first came onto my radar screen. And as with many things in my life…from macrobiotics to running to raw foods…I have been forced to eat my words and explore yet another new (to me) and compelling idea. And the result, as usual, has been amazing.
Now before you get your pressure cookers in a twist, I have not abandoned cooking or my wonderful vegan macrobiotic lifestyle. In fact, incorporating raw cuisine into my life has shown me how perfectly macrobiotics can work…for me. I can’t speak for anyone else. My own approach to eating has evolved so much that I question my personal wisdom on a daily basis. (By the way, when you stop questioning your personal wisdom, well…let’s not even go there.)
When I first learned about the new version of raw eating, I was struck by the rigidity of it, the all or nothing attitude. The people I first encountered acted as though a sprig of steamed broccoli would throw their bodies into toxic shock and I was…put off, to say the least. I thought vegans were a pain! And macrobiotic-types, but these raw-foodists, jeez!
Then I discovered that there are zealots in every lifestyle and I should overlook their extreme attitudes and explore the truth behind the ideology. There was a reason that this style of eating was brought into my frame of consciousness, a reason that I was to become reacquainted with raw food.
Many of you know that in the last 15-18 years, I have become seriously re-committed to fitness. With hard work, I re-discovered the same level of fit health that I enjoyed when I was in my twenties. And for as long as my body is able to push to extreme lengths, I will hold onto it.
Many of you also know that I am a long-time student and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and live my life according to the principles of balance. As my body grew fitter, my muscles tightened. My entire being contracted. At first, I felt great. But then I noticed that the feeling of ‘tightness’ went from comfortable strength to feeling as though my skin was too small for my body. I had an almost nervous energy and had a hard time sleeping. I grew consistently uncomfortable.
‘You’re too yang,’ said my macrobiotic friends.
‘You’re too hot and dry,’ said my friends in TCM.
Both sets of friends said that the solution was to give up my ‘extreme fitness’ (as they called it) and take yoga classes. Well, no offense…I love yoga, but not as a workout. I know; I know; there’s power yoga and hot yoga and fit yoga…and I have tried them all and they’re all nice, but there is nothing, for me, like a great butt-kicking, sweaty, oh-my-God-this-is-so-hard boot camp class to make me happy…but that’s me. I like yoga to relax, meditate and stay flexible. When I work out, I want to work out hard.
So since my style of fitness was not changing, I had to look elsewhere, so I turned to the place where I always found my answers…food. And I paid attention to balance. I realized that in my newly contracted state, I needed foods that would ‘open’ and relax my body, not dry and tighten it.
I put away the pressure cooker (for the moment) and pulled out the salad spinner. I started small and paid attention to my body’s reactions. Boiling grain was better than pressure cooking, but sprouting felt really great. Lightly steaming vegetables in the morning really revved my engine. Sautéing at lunch kept my energy high and focused for my work in the afternoon. But nothing, nothing except raw food helped me to feel relaxed and open and soft in the evening after I had trained.
So I played. I tried various recipes to see how they made me feel. I went ‘all raw’ for a time, but discovered that I could not sustain my strength and I felt cold and tired. Okay, I got it. All raw was not for me. After a few months of experimenting and trying new combinations and ideas, I have made my own personal balance…for now. Eating a diet that is about 30-40% raw seems to keep me strong, happy and comfortable in my skin.
In the summer months, I find that I can handle more raw food as Mother Nature provides some her best ingredients during the hotter months. I use them to their full and yummy advantage.
As the weather cools, I have re-evaluate and move back to a diet that has more cooked foods, heartier fare that keeps me strong and warm. Now there are those who might say that you can achieve that balance with all raw foods and I am sure for some people, that's true. Many do it by adding raw and marinated animal foods to their diets for strength and balance. That is not for me. I can only tell you what I know from my own experience. You must create your own and find your balance within that.
The Raw Foods Approach
The underlying principle of raw food is that food cooked at a high temperature (more than 115oF) result in the food becoming acidic; it destroys some of the enzymes and de-natures some of the vitamins and minerals in food making them more difficult to absorb and be utilized. Some of this is true and some of it, as Jon Stewart used to say, not so much.
Raw foods, as the cuisine stands today is not just about crunching carrot sticks, but about balance. Food is marinated, cured, dehydrated or sprouted to begin the process of breaking it down for digestion. It is their form of ‘cooking.’ No matter how you slice it, the raw ingredients are processed to create food that can be properly digested. In raw food, it is done without heat.
Cooking food begins the process of breaking it down, rendering it easier to digest. Yes, some enzymes are destroyed and some other nutrients de-natured. But that is not to say that cooking makes food toxic. If you are a raw foodist and this is your belief, more power to you. It is not mine. I believe that you must combine both raw and cooked, in varying amounts to suit your health and lifestyle to create the robust health and well-being you crave.
Both approaches break down food to ease digestion. Both rely on balance. When our bodies are receiving balanced nutrition, we age magnificently, feel wonderful and eat like kings and queens.