A Lifestyle Adventure with Food
By Chloé Taylor-Blais
A few years ago I found myself reading, all the time, about the dangers of packaged and processed foods. That reading led me to additional reading— about hormones in meat, indigestible dairy products, EDTA in canned goods, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and GMOs. There was more and more bad news.
And reason for concern, right? It wasn’t long before I found myself standing in the grocery store, empty basket in hand, wondering just what the heck I could eat. Having already dabbled with vegetarianism in my early 20s and having suffered a dairy intolerance for years, I was prepared to give up some of the yummy stuff for the sake of my health. Is it possible, I wondered, to live well on uncooked fruits and vegetables? I had given up ice cream and yogurt, but could I give up french fries and pasta? It turns out it is possible to eat an entirely raw, plant-based diet and thrive, and for the next two years I went on a culinary adventure.
Raw veganism is not for everyone. It is a lifestyle change as well as a diet change and “cooking” becomes a complex process. While some people choose this lifestyle for ethical reasons (don’t eat anything with a face!), others, like me, want to correct digestive problems and be in better health. For foodies and creative types, it can be fun too. After all, there’s no such thing as burning dinner; recipes are both easy to adapt and hard to ruin. It’s also empowering to know that, each day, you’re nourishing your body with wholesome, nutrient-dense fuel.
Now that this particular adventure is over, I’m grateful that, by going raw, I learned some valuable lessons about myself and my ability to take care of my body. Not only did the raw diet amount to hitting a reset button on my digestive system, it also improved my understanding of the food and nutrition required to be healthy.
But I don’t regret returning to cooked food, including meats and dairy. Eventually, I found the preparation of raw foods too time consuming. What once was a diet and then a lifestyle became a hindrance. So I gradually re-introduced cooked food and found that foods I once hated (tomatoes) were suddenly delicious. Still, I have kept many of my raw food habits and I think I’m healthier for it.
Raw veganism isn’t just skipping pasta and eating salads. In order to get a complete and balanced diet from raw food, certain items should be included and there are a few tools you’ll need too. Here’s a list of stuff you’ll require to give this lifestyle a try:
Tools for a raw food diet:
1) A good blender. Sauces, dressings and marinades make the raw diet palatable and you’ll need a solid blender that can munch through lots of uncooked items. I included a green smoothie in my daily routine and dreamt of owning a Vitamix blender.
2) Food Processor. Grinding nuts, seeds, sticky dates and figs is a crucial part of many raw recipes. Dates and figs are used for binders and sweeteners.
3) Dehydrator. This tool is essential for taking a raw diet from boring to amazing. Eating raw means learning a whole new flavour and texture profile, and without the added crunch of dehydrated food I would have really missed some cooked items.
4) Sprouter. Sprouting grains and beans makes them much more digestible and sprouts are packed with a surprising amount of protein.
Adapting your palate to new flavours is part of the fun of raw veganism. Experiment with combinations of foods you wouldn’t normally try. The key to making enjoyable raw food is to include a balance of sweet, salty, bitter and sour in every dish. Varying the textures of your foods will keep you from craving cooked items. And whatever you do, make sure your diet is balanced and you are getting enough to eat. If you aren’t sure what you need, consult a registered dietitian. You can also check nutritiondata.self.com. I found this site to be a great resource for explaining the nutrient values in foods.
Foods to include in a raw diet:
1) Nuts. Nuts contain protein, fibre, minerals and essential fats and are great for heart health. To list just a few, almonds have lots of calcium, vitamin E and flavonoids. Brazil nuts contain selenium and cashews have protein, iron and zinc. Chestnuts are low in fat and contain B vitamins, hazelnuts are a good source of folate and all nuts are good sources of omega fats and fibre. Nuts are hard to digest, and soaking them overnight and then dehydrating them again will make them much easier for your stomach to handle. You can flavour your soaking water with Braggs (a vegan soy sauce) to add flavour and even more protein. In a raw diet, nuts are often combined in the food processor with dates and figs to create sweet and healthy desserts. You can easily make your own almond milk with just water and blended almonds strained through cheesecloth.
2) Figs and dates. Figs are a great source of potassium, calcium and soluble fibre as well as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Dates contain protein, potassium and antioxidants and can help boost energy and regulate blood sugar levels. Often used as binding and thickening ingredients, figs and dates can be soaked overnight to make them easier to blend with other ingredients.
3) Greens. Greens are packed with nutrients and are not limited to lettuce. Everything from kale to beet tops to good old romaine will become part of the daily experiment in flavours. You can dehydrate them for tasty chips, blend them up in a smoothie for an added boost of nutrition or eat them in any salad you can imagine. I recommend buying organic greens if you’re going raw—you’ll be consuming a larger quantity of fresh vegetables of all kinds, and there’s no need to add extra pesticides to your system.
4) Sprouts. Believe it or not, you can sprout almost any grain or seed, including rice! Sprouting takes grains and seeds from good for you to great for you in just a day or two. The digestive enzymes (proteins that help your body extract nutrients and minerals from foods) in sprouts outweigh those of unsprouted grains by over 100 per cent. Vitamin, fibre and protein levels are also dramatically increased by sprouting grains and seeds. You can purchase sprouters, which are leveled watering trays, from your local health food store. I bought mine at Rainbow Foods.
5) Avocados. Adding soft texture, nutrients and flavour to the raw diet, avocados can be used as a substitute for butter and they also blend well to make creamy dressings for salads Touted as the world’s healthiest food, avocados are full of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. A dehydrated cracker made from sprouted grains and dates and spread with avocado and lemon juice makes for a great afternoon snack.
6) Lemon. Lemon juice can be combined with a variety of other raw ingredients to make delicious salad dressings. Adding a sour element to raw foods enhances the flavours, and lemon slices in your water help digestion.
7) Steel cut oats. Soaking whole rolled oats in warm water will soften them and make delicious soft oatmeal. Add a few dates and some berries and voila! Breakfast is served.
Go to our www.ottawafamilyliving.com/category/family/recipes/ for Chloé’s raw food favorites.