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Interview with a Raw Food Vegan

October 26, 2009

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with a vegan raw foodist who lives in my city. We got together at my favourite cafe and wound up spending three hours chatting excitedly about health and nutrition. The time flew by and I’m sure we could have easily continued talking for the next three hours, swapping stories and ideas and research. It was one of the best possible ways to spend a Friday afternoon.

I went to our little interview knowing very little about the raw food lifestyle. I’ve learned some from reading Hanlie’s blog (she of the motto “Eat Produce, Not Products” that I adore), but aside from that, I knew virtually nothing. I’ve learned over the past couple years that many people in the medical profession don’t know much about nutrition, and that people who are interested and passionate in nutrition and health can be better informed than doctors or registered dietitians. Some experts in the field, such as Janel and Nicole and Gina, give fantastic advice and are incredibly knowledgeable. But I find that sometimes “experts” in health aren’t interested in considering alternative nutrition plans or working with what individuals feel comfortable with, and this is highly problematic. That is why I found it so refreshing to meet with Amanda and hear her views on raw foodism.

Amanda has a background in science from some of her university studies and she shares my passion for health and nutrition. She has been vegan for two years and a raw food vegan for one and a half years. Her 15-month-old son is also a raw food vegan, and her husband has just started this plan within the past month. The reasons why a person might choose a raw food diet are numerous, but one of Amanda’s reasons for it is because the living enzymes have a stronger nutrient content than cooked food.

The raw food diet creates even more controversy than the vegan diet. Some say that raw diets are very healthy; others say that raw diets are completely ridiculous and unnatural. I’m doing my best to keep an open mind when it comes to health and nutrition, and so I’m very interested in learning about alternative nutrition plans. My position on the nutrient content of raw vs. cooked food places more of an emphasis on balance: for many foods, the nutrient content might not necessarily be better or worse if the food is cooked or uncooked, but the nutrient content is different depending on how the food is prepared (raw or cooked- and if it’s cooked, the way it is cooked also has a dramatic impact).

A few years ago, if someone asked me what I thought about vegetarianism, I would have likely scoffed and said that being an omnivore is the most well-rounded, healthy way to eat. Once I learned more about vegetarianism, I came to the conclusion that if done correctly, it can be very healthy. After that, the issue of veganism came up; I was convinced that veganism is not a healthy option and that it is deficient in many nutrients. After my month-long vegan experiment, I realized that I’d been wrong: if done correctly, veganism, too, can be very healthy.

During my vegan challenge, I joked to others that I was thinking about trying out a raw food diet. The most common response from others was, “Ew. Really? Don’t do that. It’s not healthy.”

But I’ve learned my lesson, after my initial presumptions about vegetarianism and veganism. I’ve learned that most of the time, if we think that a diet/lifestyle is unhealthy, it’s because we do not know much about it. Being able to speak to Amanda was wonderful because I learned so much about the concept of a raw food diet.

I would now like to pose a question to everyone who maintains that raw food is “not healthy”: is the way that most people eat now, with eating some kind of processed food from grocery stores every day, “healthy”?

Even if the “processed” foods are things like loaves of bread, which most people would not consider to be all that processed, is it really “healthy” for us when we don’t know what half the ingredients are? We don’t have to chow down on bags of chips and fast food to still be eating food that isn’t healthy. I recently gave a speech for one of my classes about the misleading claims on nutrition labels, and I found it fascinating that a loaf of bread from the Safeway bakery counter contained 43 ingredients and half a dozen kinds of sugar, whereas if you bake bread yourself, you’ll use about five well-known ingredients with one kind of sugar. To me, that’s not healthy, if we eat bread which contains ingredients we don’t recognize.

Amanda told me that people concerned with her raw food vegan lifestyle never once approached her with concern when she ate processed foods. It wasn’t until she took an interest in nutrition and began to eat really healthy that the people around her began questioning her choices.

I found this interesting because the same sort of thing has happened for me. I went through junior high without anyone batting an eyelash at my intake of trans fatty packaged sunflower seeds, microwavable popcorn, Subway sandwiches, Slurpees, and KitKat bars. When I made the effort to lose a bit of excess weight and was eating Special K vanilla crisp bars and Cup-a-soups every day, people were still supportive of me. However, choosing to forego processed food as much as possible has led to an uproar of disapproval. It boggles the mind. Can anyone explain this phenomenon to me? Because I do not understand it. “Live a little! Enjoy yourself! You don’t have to be healthy all the time!” Well, guess what: I don’t have to eat crap all the time, either.

I believe very strongly that we can all benefit from eating natural, real, whole foods, and that each one of us should experiment with different foods to see what kind of diet best suits us as individuals. We’re all human, so we’re going to have a lot of stumbling blocks and obstacles in our way, but that’s part of what’s so great about it: the constant challenge means that we’re always given another chance to try again and make progress and learn what is best for our bodies and build a better relationship with them.

Amanda has clearly found that being a raw food vegan works for her. She used to wear glasses but no longer needs them. Her skin is clear, she has bundles of energy, and she emits a healthy glow (I sound like an infomercial here, but it’s true! I haven’t seen many people who look as healthy as her). Sometimes vegans and raw foodists have a sort of emaciated look to them, but Amanda has an inspiringly energetic, healthy look to her. She says that her son is equally as healthy and that her immune system has strengthened over the past couple years, too.

One of the common myths of a raw food diet is the length of time it takes to prepare and make food. However, Amanda told me that she can make food in five to 20 minutes, and she used to spend a couple hours each day cooking up healthy meals (just like I currently do- making things from scratch is rewarding but can be very time-consuming!). She has also found that the raw food diet is very cost-effective. She now spends less money on food for three people than they used to spend when there was just her and her husband.

“Raw food is a lifestyle, not a religion,” Amanda told me. I really loved that attitude. If Winnipeg doesn’t appear to be very accommodating for vegans, it is not a raw-friendly city at all. Because of that, a raw food vegan is going to run up against some difficulties in maintaining a wholly raw food diet. This is particularly true because there are no regulations for the label “raw” on food products. All a person can do, if they are interested in adopting a raw food lifestyle, is try to eat as raw as possible but allow that there are going to be a small percentage of meals that will not be raw.

I plan on trying a (virtually 100%) raw food diet for a month, but I think I’ll be waiting until January to do it- right now, things are a little too busy to jump into it completely. Over the next couple months I’ll be doing more research and trying out meals to slowly incorporate a few raw meals into my diet to make the transition a little smoother. A dehydrator and a food processor are two of the best kitchen tools when making the transition to a raw food diet, so I’m going to see if I can borrow those two tools from the mother dear and play with them before I try a raw food diet.

If you’d like to read more about the topic in the meantime, here are some interesting articles arguing both for and against a raw food lifestyle:

- The Science Behind Raw Food

- Raw Food Life

- Is Raw Food More Nutritious?

My personal thoughts, at this stage, are that there appear to be health benefits to a raw food diet, but it might not be for everyone, and if someone were to try it out, they should definitely do their research to ensure that they are consuming a variety of nutrients. I also think that there are health benefits to cooked foods. We should, however, keep an open mind to all kinds of different approaches to healthy diets and lifestyles, and seek to learn more about them before we make wild assumptions about the positive or negative effects.

What do you think of the raw food diet and lifestyle? How much do you know about it? Would you be willing to learn more about it? I’m sure that there is a wide range of strong opinions on this subject and I want to hear all of your thoughts!

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20 comments

  1. From my own experiences, I know that my body doesn’t handle the raw diet very well. I like following a macrobiotic philosophy a whole lot more (I’m not strict about it though).

    A lot of people experience a huge change in health (for the better) after starting a raw diet, but I think that most of the benefits come from cutting out some food that they were allergic to (dairy, for example) or changing from a diet of processed food to a diet of whole foods. I don’t think it’s entirely due to the fact that the food is raw.

    I actually wrote a post about this recently… maybe a few weeks ago. I think that we have evolved to eat cooked food (yes, evolution happens that quickly). Our digestive system is much shorter than the systems of other primates, so we don’t have that much time to digest and absorb nutrients before the food leaves. Cooking speeds up the process and helps us get more out of the food we eat.

    I have nothing against raw foodism, but I don’t think it’s the holy grail of health that it’s made out to be :P

    Great post!


  2. I love your thoughts on this! Dr. Joel Fuhrman says very much the same thing – when people switch to a more plant-based, natural diet they are often asked where they will get their nutrition from. The truth is that in our society mainstream eaters eat calorie-rich, nutrient-poor food (they are over-fed and undernourished), yet nobody wonders where they get their nutrients from!

    I’m toying with the idea of going 100% raw for the month of November again… Most of the time I maintain about 70% raw, and believe me, it makes a difference! The more cooked food I eat, the less energy I have. Live foods really add life!


  3. Interesting stuff!


  4. Haha, yeah, RDs need to learn more about alternative diets (at least I know I do). This is why I read blogs like yours! I think raw diets are fantastic, and if you have the time and money to follow one, that’s great. For most people living in a busy world with kids, it’s somewhat unrealistic, unless they have been following this type of diet for a while. FOr me I try to do a diet that is as raw as possible, but I would never be completely raw, I would just go nuts. I think enough about wha tI put in my mouth already!


  5. “is the way that most people eat now, with eating some kind of processed food from grocery stores every day, ‘healthy’?”
    LOL! This reminds me of how I asked the challengers to my veg. diet on that South African trip, when they questioned me every day at every meal for two weeks!

    I don’t think going raw vegan would be a problem for me as I’m not that far from it. That said, I feel at this point that fish, and the evolutionary role it played in our diets and development, makes it a valuable food source. I don’t want to eat it raw, so I cook it. I understand the induced problems with eating fish, but that’s not the fishes fault! That’s where I am at the present time with my personal diet.


  6. I have read some raw food blogs and seen recipes and pictures of food that I would love to try. I’ve looked at a few raw food cookbooks and will probably buy one eventually because I like to experiment.

    That being said, I can’t imagine ever switching over to a full time raw diet. For one thing, it gets cold here in the winter and there’s nothing like a hot bowl of soup to warm you up from the inside out. :)

    I’m a foodie. I love trying out new things. Good nutrition is important, but I also like to have fun with my food and adopting a restrictive diet would too limiting.

    I’ve no doubt that a raw food diet is a healthy way to eat, but I don’t think it is the only healthy way to eat.


  7. I just found your blog this weekend, and I must comment on this post because I agree completely that it’s so strange that people will comment more negatively when they see someone trying to follow a healthy diet. My husband and I face this from our families, and we aren’t even vegetarians. We try to eat lean meats, fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables, and they think we’re *extreme*. I don’t understand the resistance to eating healthy–to even *considering* it. They all have a number of health issues that could be easily rectified if they ate a healthy diet and exercised, but they refuse to believe it, despite all the research and information that’s out there, even from mainstream sources. They would rather take pills and complain about their ailments.

    I’ve been vegetarian in the past, but never vegan or a raw foodie. Right now I am trying to reduce the amount of meat (chicken and turkey…don’t eat red meat or pork) in my diet, focusing on legumes and vegetables and unprocessed grains. The more I read about how harmful so much of our food production is to so many areas of our lives, the more convinced I am that we must move away from what we think of as a “normal” diet. I think people should read widely about what works for other people, but settle on a diet that works best for them, because I honestly think not everyone does well on the same diet. But people should try to be aware…as we debate about health care here in the U.S., I find it interesting that we continue to act as though nutrition and health are separate. The FDA is a travesty. It’s here to protect businesses, not consumers…but that’s another debate entirely, so I’ll stop there! :)


  8. Maggie- Thank you so much for your thoughts on this! I think you’ve made a great point about how it could also be because people are cutting out processed foods. If you’re eating raw, it’s going to ALL be natural and real, so that in itself will make a huge difference to your body.

    Hanlie- I agree, we’re COMPLETELY over-fed and under-nourished as a society. But we don’t question it. Gah.

    VeggieGirl- certainly gives lots to think about :)

    Gina- any diet takes a little bit of time to adapt to… the beginning is always the trickiest part!

    Dr. J- “that’s not the fishes fault!” hehehe. Agreed. Fish are a fantastic source of nutrients. Mmm sushi :D But it’s wonderful grilled or barbecued or baked as well.

    JavaChick- the cold factor was one of my biggest concerns, as well. As long as it doesn’t reach that point of 115 degrees, it’s still considered “raw”, so I guess that we could still have soup, just as long as it didn’t reach that point! It could be difficult at first to figure out that temperature. I love what you say about it not being the ONLY healthy way to eat- I’m in the same boat. There are a ton of different diets which can be really healthy if we do them right, and if we figure out what works for each of our bodies individually.

    Priscilla- AMEN. You know what you’re talking about! Glad you stopped by :)


  9. you’re such a great writer and wise girl~~~ l am so glad I met you in person! :)


  10. Loved this post – I can’t wait to see how your 100% eating raw goes in January.

    I don’t think I could do it – I love cheese too much! I don’t think cheese is considered raw :(


  11. That is a very interesting (and true!) observation about what people choose to comment upon regarding food.

    I don’t really know much about the raw food lifestyle, so I’ll be interested to read your posts about your experience with it. Coincidentally, I picked up a package of “cheesey” dehydrated, raw kale chips at Whole Foods the other day. They’re quite tasty. They used only 5 other ingredients for the flavoring (including your good ol’ nutritional yeast!). They go really well with beer, which I think may be defeating the raw purpose, but not mine. (I was looking for a lower carb, healthier alternative to highly processed snack foods rather than attempting a raw diet. :-)) Found a recipe that looks similar, except they use tomato instead of red bell pepper (might be even more exciting with jalapenos!): http://prettysmartrawfoodideas.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/cheezy-kale-chips/


  12. Raw is probably the one diet I have never tried! I’m not opposed to it per se although it does sound like a lot of extra work to me which is daunting at this point in my life. Although I imagine it would get less time consuming as you get used to it. I’m interested to see how it goes for you.


  13. We are mainly vegans with an emphasis on raw foods. That is how I like to explain it. We are not “fantatics” and will eat what we are serves at someone else’s house. We eat a variety of cooked and raw foods, more raw than cooked. I would find it very difficult to eat 100% raw, especially live in cold NY!


  14. Hm. I’m really ambiguous towards the raw food diet. Believe me, I’ve done my share of researching on it, back when…well, I was just plain obsessed. My conclusion is that it can be healthy, but why go through such pains and restriction to be “healthy” when you can be just as healthy eating regular food?

    I think for some people, raw food is ideal because of their allergies and stuff, but for otherwise healthy and normal people like me, I find no reason why I should adhere to such a rigid and restrictive diet. Sorry, I’m not trying to be critical, but practical. I wouldn’t mind enjoying a raw meal once in a while, but I’m not sure I want to incorporate that into my lifestyle.


  15. I don’t see myself doing this but I will be very interested to watch you do it!!

    I have had friends who have gone raw. For some of them they found it very difficult to eat the proper nutrients. I think maybe they didn’t plan things out as carefully as they needed to.


  16. Coco- I’m so glad I got to meet you too!

    Biz319- I can’t imagine you without cheese :)

    Pubsgal- thanks for the link! That looks like it could be a great recipe to try out.

    Charlotte- I think it would be difficult in the beginning, but after a while it would be much easier to do.

    Eating Raw Foods Info- thanks for your input!

    Burpexcuzme- that’s the point of this post (and my blog in general), so that we CAN discuss all points of view- don’t apologize! You make a good point that it could be beneficial to people with allergies and illness.

    Diane- I think that’s a critical step when adopting any diet. At the same time, people might not be ready to adopt different diets; it depends on where we’re all at in life.


  17. You know how I feel about this. I gotta get you that podcast.


  18. [...] the rest here: Interview with a Raw Food Vegan Extend This Post ReachRelated PostsThe Raw Life Health Show and Blog: Traveling on a raw food [...]


  19. I don’t understand this enzyme thing, it seems that every biochemistry class I’ve taken, possibly even my nutrition class, teach that your stomach (pH<2, HCl) unravels enzymes immediately, you'll never use them. You'll break them down into amino acids and make proteins, but they won't live. I'll look at that science article, see if it explains that. I honestly don't see why it would be any healthier, I think people who eat lots of veggies and some fruits are doing well as long as they're not overcooked. If you go to farmers markets, or even natural food stores, you can buy bread with 5 ingredients, I don't have to make it myself. I eat a lot of raw food, including milk once every few months when I want to splurge, I think I currently have raw butter from grass fed cows, or maybe it's just grass fed. Noticeably different from regular. My visiting friend told me I look very healthy and I glow, but that's because I eat 10 servings of produce most days, and I'd actually like to eat more cooked veggies, as most are tastier and easier raw. The other stuff I eat is generally healthy too. Not obsessively healthy, yet I am also given a hard time, or argued with when I just refuse to eat at some places. I don't like to have to defend my eating habits, and am bad-tempered enough to tell them EXACTLY why I won't eat there.


  20. Going raw food vegan not only helps you in losing unwanted weight but also helps you in boosting energy level and making your skin fresh. Raw food vegan boost immunity system and reduce the risk of cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke and certain types of cancer.
    Libertyville Chiropractic



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