What is a raw food diet? Simply stated, it’s a diet of unprocessed, raw, vegan foods which haven’t been heated above 118 degrees. Raw foodists eschew ovens and microwaves in favor of a food dehydrator, an enclosed appliance which blows warm air across foods. But not too warm: the apostles of raw believe that once temperatures reach 119 degrees, the food’s enzymes and vitamins, which are crucial for proper digestion, are destroyed. The American Dietetic Association, on the other hand, argues that “cooking food below 118 degrees may not kill harmful, food-borne bacteria.” Sounds like a food fight!
Many people think that a raw food diet sounds a little scary. But Canadian vegan chef Doug McNish, author of Eat Raw, Eat Well: 400 Raw, Vegan and Gluten-Free Recipes, may convince you otherwise. Here’s what he told CL.
What are some benefits that people can expect if they go raw?
Some of the main benefits, which I have experienced as well, are weight loss, increased energy levels, a general feeling of mental clarity, focus and stamina. Athletic people can also expect better recovery times in between workouts.
How is a raw food diet more beneficial than a typical non-raw healthy diet?
A raw food diet will be higher in enzymes, vitamins and minerals. As a result, people will likely be more nourished and experience improved digestion.
Do you have any tips for transitioning to a raw food diet?
People should make the transition gradually, by becoming vegetarian, then vegan, then finally switching over to raw. My biggest tip to incorporate “more raw” into the diet is to drink more nutrient-dense smoothies, which can keep you feeling full for hours.
Can people reap benefits from following a part-time raw diet?
Absolutely. Eating a diet that consists of 50 percent raw foods would be beneficial to many people.
How can you make pizza, nachos and Alfredo sauce on a raw diet?
When I create raw food recipes, I approach them as if I were deconstructing my favorite foods. For example, Alfredo sauce is traditionally made with pure milk fat and other seasonings. In order to create this recipe in a raw manner, I utilize an ingredient that is high in healthy fat; in this case, cashews. Once soaked and blended, cashews can take on virtually any flavor. To create pizza and nachos, I use a food dehydrator and ingredients like buckwheat, sunflower seeds and ground flax.
Do you have any dessert recipes that don’t include coconut oil? Isn’t oil, especially coconut oil, really unhealthy?
Yes, I have many dessert recipes that do not use coconut oil. Coconut oil has, unfortunately, gotten a negative reputation over the years. Early studies on coconut oil’s effect on the body were done using fully hydrogenated coconut oil. As we know, hydrogenated fats (also known as trans fats) are bad for you in any form! But coconut oil contains a medium-chain fatty acid, lauric acid, which is very nutritious. (In fact, the only other source of lauric acid is breast milk!) Lauric acid also serves as advantageous fuel for the body.
Why isn’t soy milk an ingredient in a raw food diet?
Soy beans need to be cooked to produce a milk-like beverage.
Are there different variations of raw diets, including a variation that’s less strict and easy to buy ingredients for?
Absolutely. A raw diet can easily consist of lots of fresh organic produce, nuts and seeds. One of my favorite meals is a large salad with a creamy Tahini dressing and chunks of avocado.
Do supermarkets sell raw food ingredients, or do people need to shop at health food stores?
Well-stocked supermarkets sell most of the required ingredients for a raw food diet. Some ingredients aren’t readily available yet, but are becoming mainstream, and are sold at health food stores, such as Maca and coconut products. Maca, a Peruvian root, is said to be good for boosting libido, balancing hormone levels and managing stress. I like to use maca in recipes where almond butter or almonds play a starring role.
Excerpted from Eat Raw, Eat Well by Douglas McNish © 2012 Robert Rose Inc. www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
“This heavenly dessert is definitely decadent — creamy, luscious and smooth. This is a great recipe to make for people who are new to raw food, because it is so rich and delicious and is sure to make a convert of even the most skeptical guest.” —Doug McNish
4 cups pecans, soaked (see tips below)
1 cup filtered water
1 cup raw agave nectar
1 cup melted coconut oil (see tips below)
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. raw vanilla extract
2 cups whole raw almonds
6 chopped, pitted soft dates
2 tbsp. raw agave nectar
Pinch sea salt
Filling: In a blender, combine soaked pecans, water and agave nectar. Blend at high speed until smooth. Add coconut oil, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Crust: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse almonds until crumbly. Add dates, agave nectar and salt, and pulse until combined, with no large pieces remaining. Press into bottom of 10-inch springform pan and set aside.
Assembly: Pour filling over crust. Freeze for 5 to 6 hours, or until firm. About half an hour before you are ready to serve, remove from freezer (pie needs to be soft enough to slice).
Transfer leftovers to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Makes 16 servings
Pecan Almond Custard: Omit the crust, pour the filling into dessert-size ramekins and freeze.
Pecan soaking tips
To soak the pecans, place them in a bowl and cover with 8 cups water. Cover and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain, discarding remaining water.
Coconut oil melting tips
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but is easy to liquefy. Place a shallow glass bowl over a pot of simmering water.
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