On raw food
Raw food is served on many retreats and it’s getting easier to buy cold pressed juices, green smoothies, raw chocolates and raw cakes in our everyday lives. But what exactly is it, and why should we bother with it? We asked raw food expert and chef Dr Claire Maguire of Raw Horizons to explain.
Simply put, raw food is food that hasn’t been heated to more than 42°C, the temperature that raw foodists believe when vital nutrients within the food are destroyed. Uncooked, unprocessed, vegan and usually organic, raw food retains the live enzymes our bodies need to aid digestion, boost our immune systems and raise our energy levels, and a menu of it, if only for a short time, can help us feel fantastic.
The earliest pioneers of raw food date back to the 1800s. Figures such as Reverend Sylvester Graham, a 19th-century Presbyterian minister and vegetarian, and Maximillan Bircher, a Swiss physician and a pioneer nutritionist credited for popularizing muesli, would have included fresh raw vegetables and juices into their diets as ways to treat health.
These pioneers wouldn’t have seen themselves as ‘raw fooders’, of course – raw food as a movement gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s, through the work of holistic health practitioners Ann Wigmore and Viktoras Kulvinskas, who together opened the Hippocrates Health Institute in the USA; of British businessman and nutritional health pioneer Norman Walker, who popularised juicing; and of author Leslie Kenton, whose 1970s book Raw Energy was one of the first on the subject and who introduced to the British public concepts such as eating raw vegetables, avoiding processed foods, and the importance of drinking mineral water and detoxification regimes.
When people hear the term raw food, they think of lettuce leaves and carrot sticks, of being deprived and feeling hungry and unsatisfied – but in reality, raw food cooking offers a plethora of tastes, textures and dishes that are incredibly satisfying and can include warm food as well as cold.
Mushroom stroganoff made with a cashew nut yoghurt and marinated mushrooms warmed in a dehydrator and served on wilted spring greens is very substantial and delicious, for example. Or there’s Beetroot in a Mexican mole sauce (which includes raw chocolate and maca) served with “refried beans” made from sunflower seeds, a pico de gaio and guacamole. For dessert, how about Banana crème pie made with banana, tahini and coconut served with a dusting of raw chocolate and dried mulberries?
Some people feel that a raw food diet doesn’t suit all constitutions, but fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens not only contain sustainable amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fat, they have in them everything we need for optimum human health. When people integrate a proper raw diet with other healthful living practices, they rarely, if ever, develop weight control problems, chronic or even short-term illnesses. It isn’t for absolutely everyone all of the time though – as there is a slight risk of food poisoning, a raw foods diet isn’t recommended for pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions like kidney disease.
Going on a retreat that serves raw food is a great way to experience the abundance of this cuisine and to find out what it’s all about. By eating only raw food, it gives us a chance to monitor our bodies too – to question why we are missing certain foods – from cooked meat to coffee – and to understand what we’ve picked up as a habit that might not be serving us. Why do you eat things that aren’t great for your body? Are you after energy, is it a stress release, is it to relieve boredom or something else? When you start eating more raw food, you’ll notice an energy shift, and you can slowly start to tweak your eating habits for the better.
Once back from a retreat, you can start to experiment with food and see what gives you a long term energy boost and makes you feel good. For me this is the porridge I make with chia, oats, maca and almond milk.
To find what yours is, try different foods and see how they make you feel and how they affect your energy levels – keep a food journal and track how the food affects you.
By eating raw foods, you’ll also discover what foods gives you instant gratification followed by a crash, and make you feel bloated and not so good. For me it’s croissants – for you, it might be something different.
Here’s 5 easy ways to introduce raw food into your diet at home:
1 Sprinkle foods such as chia seeds, flax seeds, maca powder, raw cacao nibs and add fresh fruit to your cereal in the morning.
2 Make a green smoothie with a combination of your favourite fruit, vegetables and green leafy vegetables.
3 Add a big side dish of raw veggies and salad to your evening meal.
4 Make a raw food dessert.
5 Eat raw chocolate.
Food is powerful stuff that affects not just our waistlines but also our emotions. Once you start to unearth how it affects you, it becomes much easier to create a diet that is truly satisfying to you on all levels – emotional, physical and spiritual. There is no need to stick to one particular philosophy – you can create your own rules and dig deep into the food that works for you.
© Queen of Retreats
Claire is the founder of Raw Horizons Wellbeing Retreats, which runs year-round retreats that feature raw food. Her 5-night Nourish Your Body retreat is designed to help you experiment with and understand raw food. Read our review of Raw Horizons or check out rawhorizons.co.uk.