The Attraction of Raw Food

A diet in which everything you eat is uncooked has attracted adherents who rave over its
ability to fight age and generate energy. Other people, though, are not so sure.

By Linda Melone

September 2009

As an avid vegetarian for over 14 years, Jenna Norwood, 42, considered herself reasonably fit. But when her health began declining in 2005, she decided something had to change.

“I had a host of symptoms, including aches and pains, fatigue, insomnia and blurry vision. Plus, I had no energy,” said Norwood, who lives in Sarasota, Florida. “I thought my diet was at least part of the problem. I was a junk-food vegetarian. I didn’t eat meat but I was addicted to processed carbs.”

When Norwood struggled to get into a Halloween showgirl costume, it provided additional motivation for her to make a change. After noticing that several of her friends were “going raw” she decided to give a raw-food diet a try. The first step: checking herself into a raw-food “detoxification” center for the transition.

Norwood’s three-week journey turned into the documentary “Supercharge Me!,” a raw-food version of the 2004 Morgan Spurlock film “Super Size Me,” in which audiences watched Spurlock’s health decline after 30 days of eating only McDonald’s food. “We wanted to show the opposite effect,” says Norwood. “I go from a junk-food vegetarian diet to a strict, raw-food diet. After all, what could be purer than raw food?”

Norwood credits her new way of eating for her renewed health. “Everything cleared up,” she says. “All my pains went away and I have an emotional calm and general state of happiness I didn’t have before. Energetically, I feel like I’m 18 years old. And people tell me I look 10 years younger than I did 10 years ago.” Impressed by the results, she gave up her public relations career to spread the raw-food message as a motivational speaker (

Raw Food Defined

Raw food may be as simple as a fresh, ripe pear eaten out of hand or as complex as a raw tomato sauce over a “pasta” of thinly sliced zucchini. “Raw foodism” describes a lifestyle that centers on primarily uncooked, unprocessed and typically organic foods, with fruits, sprouts, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds serving as dietary mainstays.

Many people like Norwood began as vegetarians before switching over to a raw-food regimen. But non-vegetarian foods may also be eaten raw; they include eggs, fish in the form of sashimi and meat dishes such as carpaccio (thinly sliced or pounded beef, veal or tuna with dressing). In addition, non-pasteurized/non-homogenized dairy products such as raw milk and cheese may also be consumed.
Raw eating has garnered a lot of attention in recent years because of the celebrities it has attracted. Demi Moore, Uma Thurman, Sting, fitness personality Jack LaLanne and supermodel Carol Alt (who appeared on the cover of our June 2005 issue) have all hopped on the raw-food bandwagon.

Raw foodists believe that eating a predominantly raw food diet not only promotes weight loss and youthful vigor but can also help prevent and heal many disorders. “Studies dating back to 1958 show the tremendous healing properties of a live [raw] food diet,” says Gabriel Cousens, MD, founder of The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center, a raw-food retreat center in Patagonia, Arizona. “A live food diet turns on the anti-aging gene. You need half as much food on a raw food diet as you would eating cooked foods to get the same nutritional benefits. Plus, when you eat less, you have more energy for other things.”

Raw foodists believe when you cook food you destroy all nutrients, including protein; for most devotees, food processed beyond 114 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit is off-limits. “You start to lose nutrition beyond 105 degrees,” says Norwood. Many experts staunchly disagree, however.

The Raw Debate

“Generally, the concept of a raw food diet is good,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA, “It’s a positive move taken to an extreme form which ends up going in the opposite direction. The science behind the raw-food diet does not support what raw foodists believe.”

For example, raw foodists claim cooking destroys enzymes and is generally bad for your health. “Cooking does not make food bad for you,” says Giancoli. “Sure, most enzymes are denatured when cooked, but it’s the same denaturing process that happens naturally in the stomach.” And, in fact, some nutrients are better absorbed after they’re cooked. Cooking helps release certain nutrients, making them more bioavailable to the body. For example lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant found in tomatoes, is better absorbed after it’s cooked. The same goes for carotene from carrots, Giancoli says and adds, “Biotin in egg whites is better absorbed by the body cooked versus raw.”

On the other hand, some studies support raw foodist claims. In a study conducted by researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, for example, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts were found to do a better job of reducing bladder cancer when eaten raw instead of cooked (Cancer Epidemi­ology Biomarkers & Prevention 4/1/08 online).

Researchers believe this occurs because cooking reduces or destroys isothiocyanates, anti-
carcinogenic agents found in cruciferous vegetables. Scientists believe that a few servings of raw crucifers a month may lower cancer risk.

Other studies show an association between both raw and cooked vegetable intake and a reduced risk of developing many cancers, with a greater number of studies backing raw vegetable intake. Raw vegetables have been particularly related to reductions in risk for oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, esophageal and gastric cancers (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 9/04).

Concerns about food safety also arise regarding the consumption of raw meat and fish. Cooking foods below 118 degrees may not kill harmful foodborne bacteria, according to the ADA. “You’re taking a big risk contracting foodborne illness by eating raw meat,” says Giancoli. “Raw milk and meat are the most perishable and the most dangerous.” In addition, salmonella may lurk in raw eggs and hepatitis in raw shellfish. Raw foodists agree on the need for vigilance. “Of course you have to be careful,” says Norwood. “If you go on a primal diet it’s important to know where you’re getting your meat and unpasteurized milk and milk products.” (It’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before going on a raw diet, especially if your immune system is impaired because of a medical condition or immunity-suppressing medication.)

Supplements can help round out any nutrients that may be lacking in a raw-food diet. “It depends on the person’s entire dietary pattern,” Giancoli explains. “Calcium may be deficient, so if you don’t eat any dairy, take care to drink fortified soy milk and yogurt.” She notes that phytates, compounds found in some plant foods, can bind iron and zinc, making them unavailable to the body. A diet devoid of animal products also requires supplements of vitamin B-12, found only in animal foods, to help avoid deficiencies that may lead to neurological impairment and anemia. “And vitamin D is a concern for everyone,” says Giancoli.

Eating to maintain proper nutritional balance is also a key to making the raw food diet work. Unprocessed almonds and cashews, and legumes (dried peas, lentils and beans) supply iron; cashews also contain calcium, as do bok choy, cabbage and soybeans. Flax seeds and walnuts (and their cold-pressed oils) provide omega-3 fatty acids.

A New Way to “Cook”

Before diving headfirst into a raw-food regime, consider whether it’s a good fit for you and your lifestyle. “Often there’s too much pressure to stick with any one diet plan, and it gets people in trouble,” says Ron Spallone, DC, a Denver chiropractor who also provides nutritional counseling. “A raw food diet is not for everyone, but you don’t have to take it to an extreme to get the benefits.”

There’s no need to jump straight from charred T-bones to steak tartare. “Start slowly and give yourself a 7- or 30-day challenge,” recommends Norwood. “Take baby steps by gradually increasing the percentage of raw foods in your diet over time.” It’s also not necessary to go all-raw all the time.

“If a person wants to incorporate more raw foods in their diet, a 70:30 ratio of raw to cooked foods is a more reasonable goal [than 100% raw],” suggests Giancoli.

While raw foodists turn away from traditional store-bought processed food, much home-style processing goes on in the typical raw-food kitchen. In place of traditional ovens or stoves, equipment like dehydrators, hydraulic juicers and food processors lend texture and flavor to foods. “There’s definitely a learning curve,” says Norwood. “It requires motivation.” Start with basic items, such as a high-quality blender and clean jars for sprouting seeds and soaking nuts, along with a pot or two of herbs on a sunny windowsill.

Popular raw food recipes include vegetables such as parsnips, which can be whipped with almond milk and pine nuts to become “mashed potatoes,” for example. The same vegetable chopped in a food processor may form the base for a raw-food “couscous.”

Creating tasty raw dishes requires creativity and experimentation if you’re trying to duplicate beloved traditional favorites. Instead, you may want to look up raw food recipes online or get some good raw-food cookbooks and experiment a little. Popular easy options include green smoothies—which may incorporate fruits and vegetables such as spinach, collard, greens, romaine lettuce and bananas—that you can adapt to suit your taste.

Don’t be surprised if your new way of eating draws the attention of friends and family. “People are curious,” says Norwood. “There isn’t the same morality issue with raw food as there can be with vegetarianism. It’s just about getting back to nature and to nutritious food.”

Nori Rolls

1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup sunflower seed kernels, soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves
1 cup chopped celery
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed
lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped lemongrass
1/2 avocado
1/2 large bell pepper
2 scallions
5 sheets raw nori

1. Place the first 8 ingredients in a food processor and blend. Slice the remaining ingredients into long, extra-thin slices.
2. Spread the paste onto a sheet of nori and add the sliced
vegetables. (For a decorative touch, let the slices stick out past the ends of the sheet.) Tightly roll the sheets. (To make the sheets stick better, moisten them iwth a little water or lemon, tomato or orange juice.) Let rest for 10
minutes, then cut into 2-inch slices.

Yields 6 rolls. Analysis per roll: 307 calories, 7g protein, 29g fat (3g saturated),
5g fiber, 12g carbohydrate, 441 mg sodium

Source: Fresh: The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook by Sergei Boutenko and Valya Boutenko (North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2008 by Sergei Boutenko and Valya Boutenko; reprinted by permission of publisher.

* Nori, sometimes called laver, is made from seaweed and is available in several grades.
Be sure to get the raw, dried product instead of toasted nori.


Besides Jenna Norwood’s site, there are a number of other good raw-food resources out there: A good starting place: recipes, books, discussion groups and more. Another site with something for everyone, including a raw-food starter guide and travel tips. A site to share recipes and tales from the raw-food journey. If you’re both raw and hip, this blog is for you.


Curried Carrot Avocado Soup

3 cups carrots, chopped
2 cups water
2 avocados, skins and pits removed
1 clove garlic
3 tsp ginger juice*
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp Celtic salt (sea salt may be used)
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
*Put small pieces of fresh, peeled ginger through a press until you have 3 teaspoons of juice.

Place all ingredients in a blender; process until smooth and creamy.

Serves 2. Analysis per serving: 374 calories, 5g protein, 30g fat (4g saturated), 18g fiber, 29g carbohydrates, 595 mg sodium

Source: Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine by Gabriel Cousens and Tree Of Life Cafe Chefs (North Atlantic Books, Copyright © 2003 by Gabriel Cousens; reprinted by permission of publisher. Photo by Gabriel Cousens.

Portabella Burgers

8 firm, evenly shaped portabella mushrooms
1 recipe Live Garden Burger (see below)
4 thin onion slices
16 leaves lettuce or spinach
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

1. Carefully cut out the mushroom stalks.
2. With the ice-cream scoop, portion out a burger from the pâté and place it on the flat side of the mushroom; flatten with a spatula.
3. Cut a thin slice of onion and add it on top of the burger. Place a couple of leaves of lettuce or spinach on the onion, then a couple of tomato on the leaves.
4. Scoop out another burger and add it on top of the tomatoes; flatten.
5. Add two more leaves and top with another mushroom “bun.”


Live Garden Burger

2 cups sunflower seeds
3 carrots, cleaned and scraped
1 medium onion
¼ cup raisins
2 tbsp raw agave nectar
¼ cup olive oil
1 lemon
1 tsp sea salt
¼ bunch fresh herbs (such as basil, thyme, dill or rosemary)
1 hot pepper

1. Put the S-blade in a food processor. Pour the sunflower seeds in the processor, secure the lid and grind them to a powder.
2. Remove the blade. Using a spatula, pour the powdered sunflower seeds into a bowl.
3. Put the S-blade back into the processor. Cut the carrots into small chunks, approximately 1” thick, and add them to the food processor; grind until puréed.
4. Slice the onion into small square pieces and add to the food processor. Add the raisins, agave nectar and olive oil.
5. Slice the lemons in half, juice them and pour the juice into the food processor.
6. Add the sea salt, fresh herbs and hot pepper. Blend the ingredients for approximately 1 minute.
7. Stop blending, open the lid and use a spatula to scrape down the contents from the walls of the container to ensure that the pâté is evenly blended throughout. Secure the lid and blend for another 30 seconds.
8. Take off the lid and remove the blade. Using the spatula, add the pâté to the bowl with the sunflower seeds. Knead the pâté with both hands until it is thoroughly mixed.

Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 680 calories, 21g protein, 50g fat (5g saturated), 12.5g fiber, 50g carbohydrates, 507 mg sodium

Source: Raw Family Signature Dishes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Essential Live-Food Recipes by Victoria Boutenko (North Atlantic Books, Copyright © 2009 by Victoria Boutenko; reprinted by permission of publisher. Photo by Robert Petetit.

I Am Lovely Strawberry Apple Cobbler

4 ½ cups dry pecans
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp well-packed, very finely chopped dates

8 cups sliced apples
5 cups sliced strawberries*
¼ cup lemon
1 tbsp vanilla
pinch salt
Optional crème fraiche topping (see below)
*You may substitute local ripe seasonal fruits for the strawberries and apples.

1. To make the crust, fit a food processor with the “S” blade. Add 3 cups of the pecans, cinnamon, vanilla and salt, and process 1 minute. Continue to process while adding the dates in small amounts. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add remaining pecans. Set aside 1½ cups; press remaining mixture into a 12” x 10” x 2½” pan.
2. To make the filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Evenly distribute on the crust, then crumble remaining crust on the top.

Serves 12. Analysis per serving: 273 calories, 3g protein, 21g fat (2g saturated), 6g fiber, 22g carbohydrates, 26 mg sodium


I Am Smooth Sweetened Crème Fraiche

1½ cups soaked cashews
1 tbsp + 2 tsp lemon juice
Pinch salt
3 tbsp + 1 tsp Sucanat*
½ cup fresh water
*A sweetener made of pure dried sugar cane juice.

Rinse cashews and place them along with all other ingredients into a blender. Begin to pulse slowly, and then turn up the speed; add water as necessary to keep mixture pulling down into the bottom of the blender. Makes about 1 2/3 cups.

Source: I Am Grateful: Recipes and Lifestyle of Cafe Gratitude by Terces Engelhart (North Atlantic Books, Copyright © 2007 by Terces Engelhart; reprinted by permission of publisher. Photo by Cary Mosier.

Pad Thai Noodles with “Peanut” Sauce

2 young coconuts
1/3 red onion, cut julienne
1 carrot, shaved with potato peeler
½ red bell pepper, cut julienne
3 red cabbage leaves, rolled and sliced very thinly
½ cup yellow zucchini, cut julienne
½ cup green zucchini, cut julienne
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 small sweet chile pepper (such as anchos or pimentos), cut julienne


Pad Thai Sauce:
1 recipe Ginger Shoyu Sauce (see below)
2 tbsp Tamarind Purée*
1 tsp minced serrano chile
1 recipe “Peanut” Sauce (see below)
* Take the fleshy tamarind seeds out of the shell and soak in water for 1-2 hours. Press seeds into a mesh sieve with the back of a large spoon or spatula. Scrape off the purée.

Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 767 calories, 11g protein, 66g fat (33g saturated),
12.5g fiber, 45g carbohydrates, 704 mg sodium


Spicy Cashew Croutons (see below)

1. To make the “noodles,” remove the young coconut meat from the shells and cut into strips. Prepare the rest of the vegetables and set aside.
2. To make the Pad Thai Sauce, blend the Ginger Shoyu Sauce, Tamarind Purée and chile together until smooth.
3. To assemble, carefully mix Pad Thai Sauce with all the above vegetables. Serve with “Peanut” Sauce and garnish with Spicy Cashew Croutons (optional).


Ginger Shoyu Sauce

¼ cup raw organic sesame oil
¼ cup Nama Shoyu*
1-2 tsp minced ginger
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey or agave syrup
*An unpasteurized soy sauce, full of enzymes, and generally less salty than the traditional soy sauce.

1. Blend all ingredients together until the mix attains a smooth consistency. Yields ½ cup.


“Peanut” Sauce

½ cup raw almond butter
¼ cup water
1 tbsp Nama Shoyu or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
2 tbsp agave syrup or honey
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
jalapeno, habanero, or hot Thai chili pepper to taste

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth, adding more water if necessary. Makes 1 cup.


Spicy Cashew Croutons

1 cup cashew nuts, soaked overnight
2 tbsp honey or agave syrup
½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Celtic sea salt to taste

1. Combine cashews with the rest of the ingredients and spread out on a teflex sheet. Dehydrate until crispy.

Serves 4. Analysis per serving: xx calories, xg protein, xg fat (xg saturated), xg fiber, xg carbohydrates, x mg sodium

Source: The Raw Transformation: Energizing Your Life with Living Foods by Wendy Rudell (North Atlantic Books, Copyright © 2006 by Wendy Rudell; reprinted by permission of publisher. Photo by Geno Perches.

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