Kate Wood is one of the leading raw food promoters in the UK. She has fifteen years of experience in raw eating, and is raising a family of three boys on a predominantly raw diet. She is former editor of Get Fresh!, the worlds most popular raw food magazine, and author of the best-seller Eat Smart Eat Raw. She also runs Raw Living, one of Europes leading suppliers of raw foods, superfoods, and kitchen equipment.
I first embarked on a raw food diet over a decade ago. I had found myself instinctively wanting to eat a lot of fruit and salads, and had heard from friends how health-giving an all-raw diet could be. As the kitchen of the house I was staying in was out of action for three months while it was being renovated, I decided to try it for myself. I took the plunge, and lived on fruit all day, with a big salad and Essene bread and tahini for dinner (neither Essene bread nor tahini is strictly raw, but I didn’t know that then). By the time the kitchen was back in order, I was hooked on my new diet, and have stuck with it ever since. Of course, I have had my ups and downs—it is a huge challenge to stick to 100-percent raw, 100 percent of the time. Raw fooders often talk in percentages, claiming to be “70-percent raw” or “90-percent raw” but just to achieve 50 percent long term can make a vast difference in your life.
Although I was convinced of the health benefits, and had experienced for myself how much better I felt, at first the idea that I would stop eating cooked foods altogether was too much, and I would binge on cookies and chips. But gradually, my body came to recognize these as the poisons they truly are. However much I would think that I loved a cooked treat, even one as harmless as apple crumble, when I indulged I would be disappointed, as the cooked dishes came to taste lifeless and dull to me. My body was adjusting to the new levels of energy and the sense of liberation that raw foods gave me, and cooked foods left me on a downer. I began to realize that of course I could eat whatever I wanted—but what I really wanted was to feel good all the time. The cleaner my system, the more cooked foods left me with a “hangover:” feeling sluggish and irritable. Gradually, the redundancy of cooking food became a reality to me, and the desire to eat it slipped away completely. Anyone who has become a vegetarian, given up smoking, or overcome any addiction in his or her life, will understand that feeling of a part of your daily living becoming an anathema.
Personally, I had experienced a very rocky relationship with food. Some people say that raw food diets encourage or even create eating disorders; for me it was the reverse, as discovering raw foods helped me to overcome my problems with food. Since adolescence I had been trapped in a binge-fast cycle, leading to periods of emaciation, and periods of being overweight. I believe this was due in part to my instinctive recognition that the foods I was eating weren’t right for me: I would reject them, only to be overcome eventually by hunger and greed, which would then be followed by repulsion at all the rubbish I had in my body. Raw foods were a revelation: at last I could eat as much as I wanted, and not feel terrible. Eating half a dozen cookies made me feel sick and tired; eating half a dozen apples left me feeling overfull, but not ill. Over time, as my body got used to being fed, nurtured, and respected, the desire to overeat slipped away. As food no longer disturbed my internal balance, my fear of it disappeared.
Now I am astounded at how little I need to eat. I rarely feel ravenously hungry, and am satiated after relatively small portions of food. Because on a raw diet all our foods are nutrient-dense, the body’s requirements are met quickly and efficiently. This in turn means that the body needs less energy for digestion, fighting toxins, and excreting poisons, so it is much less demanding in its requirements. If you want to lose weight then stop counting calories and start counting nutrients! Over-eating happens when the body is searching for nutrients—the brain is waiting for the signal to say that the body has what it needs, and it never comes, so you keep ploughing your way through that packet of cookies, unconsciously looking for the vitamins and minerals you will not find there. In addition, I used to find it very difficult to wake up in the mornings, and needed eight or ten hours of sleep a night or else I felt terrible. Now, because my body is working more efficiently, I don’t wake up feeling fuzzy, but fresh, alert, and ready to go.
When I adopted the raw food diet, I found, in common with many others, changes happening on all levels of my life. Primarily, I experienced a great leap in energy levels: my body was no longer expending such huge amounts of energy on digestion, and so I felt an almost immediate improvement in my vitality. Also quickly apparent was a greater mental clarity and focus. I felt sharper, more alert, and after a long time on the diet I am really conscious of having the resources to be constantly on the go without flagging. Along with these more obvious changes, I also became aware of changes on a deeper level; I am now much happier and lighter, as the positive energy of raw foods fills my being. I am less prone to bad moods and depression, and more satisfied and content. I have a greater tolerance of difficult people and situations, but at the same time know better where my boundaries lie, and what I am prepared to put up with. I notice things in nature that I never did before: the trees look more green and alive, and the changing of the seasons is more apparent to me. All these elements combine to increase hugely my zest for living, leading to a more positive and productive lifestyle. Because I am eating food that is pure and undamaged, I feel whole—more at one with myself and the world around me.
Over the years, I’ve experienced all the different angles on being raw. At the start, I dived straight in at the deep end, 100-percent raw, including a two-week apple fast just before one Christmas. Then Christmas came, and I went 100-percent cooked! After a few months I stabilized at about 50 percent, then gradually built it up over the next few years until I was 100 percent again. In the following year I did nine months on fruit only, which was amazing at first, but difficult to sustain. At the end of that year, I found out I was pregnant and it was back down to 50 percent again, gradually building back up to 90 percent where I am now, and I’ve never felt healthier. I have a fruit juice in the morning and a vegetable juice early evening. We have very little cooked food in the house—when I do eat cooked it tends to be on social occasions, if someone has made something specially, or borderline foods such as dried fruits. I cycle everywhere I can, do yoga every day, and swim once a week. I try to eat mainly between the hours of midday and 5:00 p.m. The body has natural cycles. Midday – 8:00 p.m. is the digestion cycle, 8:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m. is absorption, and 4:00 a.m. – midday is elimination. When you eat during the absorption and elimination cycles, you are going against the body’s natural rhythm. For this reason, we have a light breakfast, and an early dinner.
Many leading raw foodists advocate 100-percent raw as the only way to go, but I believe this is too difficult for most people. Undoubtedly, the benefits of being 100-percent raw are huge, but we live in a world where we are constantly coming into contact with cooked foods, and to refuse them continually is both challenging and awkward. I believe it is as important to have a healthy mind as it is to have a healthy body, and the constant denial of other foods can be more harmful than the foods themselves. If you can maintain just 50- percent raw, you will experience a huge increase in your wellbeing. Try eating a side serving of raw food with every meal at first. Then when you are used to this, gradually increase the size of the raw portion to the cooked portion, until you have reached a level that you feel comfortable with (many people find this is around 70 percent). There are so many borderline foods (nuts, dried fruits, olives, seasonings, and dehydrated goodies), that are not strictly raw, it is difficult to be completely sure about what you are eating. Ultimately, so long as you are eating a diet of fresh, organic whole foods, with fruit and vegetables as the main elements in your diet, you can’t go far wrong. One word of warning, however: it is not uncommon for raw foodists to have trouble with their teeth. Fruit acids destroy the tooth enamel and cause decay. Fresh fruit is not too damaging, but the concentrated sugars in dried fruits and juices can cause problems. If you are worried about your teeth, avoid “grazing” (snacking throughout the day) and clean your teeth half an hour after every meal.
Naturally, most of us are unable to incorporate such huge changes into our lifestyle overnight. On a physical level it isn’t hard to do, but food carries deep emotional resonance, and for most of us it is these ties that are difficult to break. Initially, we can be faced by feelings of alienation from our peers, and the sense of missing out on things. But, through perseverance, these feelings fade, and we are left with a vitality and youthfulness that more than make up for anything we may be missing. I still go to restaurants frequently; I usually phone the day before, and state my requirement for a raw vegan salad as my main course. Friends and family may be suspicious at first, but when they see how well you are doing, they may even take on board some of the philosophy themselves. When I eat at other people’s houses, it’s much easier for them to prepare some fresh fruit and vegetables, than to cater for any other way of eating; it’s equally easy for me to bring a dish myself. If you approach the diet with a positive attitude, others will too; if they see you being guarded and awkward, they are more likely to start interrogating you. If the subject comes up in general conversation, I just say that I am a vegan. If people are genuinely interested, then I love to talk about raw foods, but I have learned from experience that if people are not ready to entertain the concept, it is best left alone altogether.
I believe that raw fooders will become more and more accepted over the next few decades, to the same degree that vegetarians are now. When I was a child, vegetarianism was still highly unusual and regarded as cranky. Now, every restaurant and café has a vegetarian dish, and people are prepared to accept the fact that it is possible, even preferable, to live without meat on a daily basis. I hope that by the time my children are adults, raw foods will be equally integrated into our culture, and people will see the logic of eating food that has not been killed by the cooking process, just as they can now see the logic of not eating an animal which has been killed.
Why Eat Raw Foods?
Raw foods have a long and venerable history, dating right back to Biblical times. In The Essene Gospel of Peace, a reputedly overlooked book of the Bible, Jesus advocates eating raw foods.
But I do say to you kill neither men nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For if you eat living food, the same will quicken you, but if you kill your food, the dead food will kill you also. For life comes only from life, and from death comes always death. For everything which kills your foods, kills your bodies also. And everything which kills your bodies kills your souls also. And your bodies become what your foods are, even as your spirits, likewise, become what your thoughts are. Therefore eat not anything which fire, or frost, or water has destroyed, Fire burned, frozen and rotten foods will burn, freeze and rot your body also.
There have been many different raw food movements across the world during the twentieth century. However, in the early nineties, a whole new generation of raw foodists came on the scene, in particular in the USA, Australia, and the UK. Leading the way are David Wolfe and Nature's First Law, who operate out of sunny California and have the world's largest raw food shop and online superstore. David travels the world promoting raw foods and is a dynamic and inspiring speaker. There are countless others too who are just as passionate and work just as hard promoting the raw message, most notably Brian Clements who runs the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, and Gabriel Cousens who runs the Tree of Life in Arizona.
In 1930, the Swiss physician Dr. Paul Kautchakoff showed that eating cooked food causes leucocytosis, that is, an increase in white blood cells. Effectively, the body recognizes cooked food as a poison, and reacts accordingly, as it would with any poison entering the system. Cooked food is treated as a foreign body, so an immune response occurs; this does not happen when raw foods are eaten. Thus eating cooked foods regularly puts a huge strain on the immune system that eating raw foods does not, explaining why raw foodists tend to have more energy and be less susceptible to illness. Furthermore, the body cannot just distinguish raw food from cooked, but it recognizes how denatured the food is, and produces more leucocytes accordingly. For example, the body reacts more strongly to white flour than to whole-wheat flour, and junk foods such as hot dogs cause a reaction akin to food poisoning. Cooked foods can be eaten without causing leucocytosis if they are eaten with raw foods, and raw foods make up more than half of the meal. Another experiment in 1946 by Dr. Frances Pottenger, conducted on 900 cats, showed the degenerative effects of cooked foods. Half of the cats were fed raw meat and unpasteurized milk, the other half cooked meat and pasteurized milk. Over a ten-year period, the cats fed on raw foods thrived, while those on the cooked diet became progressively dysfunctional. Each generation of “cooked-food kittens” had poorer health and died younger.
From an ecological perspective, raw food is an incredible relief to the planet’s resources, and a potential solution to world hunger. Raw food requires little or no packaging, and no processing, saving energy and emissions. No cooking also conserves energy, and saves money on fuels. Finally, all the waste is compostable and biodegradable, so not adding to the burden of rubbish that must be disposed of. Then there is the convenience aspect—although some of the recipes need time to prepare, it is possible to knock up a gourmet raw dinner in just a few minutes, and as for fruit, it is surely the ultimate convenience food. Furthermore, our healthcare system would save unimaginable amounts of money in not having to treat so many illnesses: raw foods have been used successfully to treat diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, skin and gut disorders. The Hippocrates Health Institute was founded in Boston, Massachussets in 1970 by Dr. Ann Wigmore, and has a long record of successfully treating people with life-threatening illnesses.
When we cook our foods, we lose a lot of the nutrients. Vitamin C and all the B group vitamins are heat-sensitive, and are considerably diminished by cooking. Enzymes are a much neglected part of nutrition, but just as vital to health as vitamins and minerals. We need them for every function in the body, yet they are completely destroyed by heat. We are born with a large store of enzymes, which gradually gets used up by life’s processes. If we do not replace them with the enzymes found in live foods, our reserves get depleted, we age more quickly, and it gets harder for the body to maintain good health.
So What Do You Eat?
There is currently very little agreement within raw food circles as to what constitutes the correct diet. Most agree that fruitarianism (eating only plants with a seed) is inadvisable on a long-term basis. Some advocate making fruit the main part of your diet, others say to limit fruit and eat more green foods, vegetables and sprouts. Some say avoid juices, as they are not a natural part of the diet, others praise their healing and health-giving properties. Personally, I favor David Wolfe’s Sunfood Triangle, which suggests a balance of fruit, green leafy vegetables, and fats such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocado. I also believe that unfortunately, however well we eat, we cannot get all we need from our food. We lead fast-paced, pressured lives that take their toll on the body. We have to contend with huge amounts of environmental pollution inside and outside the home, that our grandparents did not have to cope with. More importantly, due to intensive agriculture policies, the soil is depleted and even organic produce does not contain the same levels of vitamins and minerals that it used to. To ensure the favorable health of my family, we add to our diet Klamath Lake blue-green algae, bee pollen, and Aloe Vera gel on a daily basis. None of these are supplements—all are foods in their own right—superfoods, in fact. They contain every nutrient and mineral that the body needs – theoretically you could live on them alone. As well as doing a great deal to ensure long term health and increased immunity, they boost energy levels considerably.
I am also an avid believer in drinking large quantities of water. Some raw foodists say that water is unnecessary with the diet, but I have always seen it as a food in its own right. On rising in the morning I drink over a quart of water, and continue to drink water and herb teas throughout the day. We commonly misinterpret thirst as hunger, and eat when in fact we are simply in need of liquid nourishment. Try gradually increasing the amount of liquid in your diet, and you will quite literally feel your body becoming more fluid. However, it is best not to drink with meals, as liquids weaken the digestive juices; drink before meals, or at least two hours afterwards. Contrary to popular belief, mineral water is not the best thing to drink. The minerals in bottled water are inorganic, and can also contain unwanted pollutants. Inorganic minerals are not bioavailable, and so form deposits in the body, leading to diseases such as hardening of the arteries. It is preferable to drink water purified by a reverse osmosis system, which is pure H2O and nothing else.
Most health-conscious people are aware of the principles of food combining. Basically stated, this involves not mixing different classes of foods, such as proteins and starches, to aid digestion and absorption. These rules still apply when eating raw foods, but on a high raw diet you can be more relaxed about them, as the high enzyme content of the foods helps considerably with digestion. But don’t go overboard, for instance by trying to create a traditional three-course dinner, and including lots of nuts, sprouted grains, vegetables, and fruits all in the same meal. Many people who are new to the diet experience problems with abdominal discomfort, bloating, and flatulence because their digestive systems, which have been weakened by decades of eating cooked foods, cannot cope with the powerful action of raw foods. This is one reason why it is best to introduce raw foods gradually, and to consider a course of colonics to help restore digestive action (see page 8).
Whatever your chosen diet, there are some foods you need to be very careful with. The arguments against meat and dairy products are too lengthy and involved for me to go into fully here. The treatment of animals in farming is increasingly being recognized as inhumane, and the industry itself is uneconomical and environmentally inefficient compared to the production of non-animal food sources. The consumption of meat and dairy products is a major factor in the cause of heart disease and cancer, the main killers in the Western world. And I have great difficulty with vegetarians who condemn meat eating, but happily consume dairy products that still involve great suffering for the animals concerned. If you feel you must eat animal products, buy only from organic sources, where the animals have had a better standard of care. For more information on the benefits of cutting out meat and dairy products from the diet, contact The Vegetarian Resource Group (see Resources on page 163).
One of the hardest foods to give up is bread. Wheat contains a natural opiate, and many people are addicted to bread because of its sedative effect. Unfortunately, wheat has been intensively farmed for too long now, and many people are finding they can no longer tolerate it. If I think back to my childhood, we often ate wheat at every meal: cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta or pie for dinner, as well as wheat-based snacks in the form of chips, cakes, and cookies; it is no wonder my body has had enough and rejects it if I try to eat it now. People think of whole wheat organic bread as a healthy food, but consider how the wheat grain got to the plate: it was harvested, milled, made into bread, cooked, packaged, and then sent to the shops—how much lifeforce can be left in it by then? Far better to buy wheat grain and sprout it—most people who cannot tolerate wheat can eat it sprouted because of the enzymes released in the sprouting process, which turn the starches into more easily digestible sugars.
Although nuts form an essential part of a raw food diet, they should be eaten in small quantities only, and carefully prepared. When nuts are cooked, the fats in them become indigestible. Most commercial nut butters are made from heated nuts, although it is now possible to pick up gorgeous raw nut butters from many health food stores and natural food supermarkets. Nuts that we buy in most supermarkets are very often heat-treated to preserve them, even when bought in their shells. Cashews and brazils are never raw; the only way to be sure about other nuts is to check with the supplier. Peanuts are the worst nuts of all and should be avoided completely—they are highly indigestible and potentially carcinogenic (according to an FDA report), even organic ones—likewise pistachios, which contain a toxic fungus under their shells. All shelled nuts should be soaked before you use them, for two to twelve hours, to release the enzyme inhibitors and make them more digestible. Sometimes it is acceptable to grind them to a fine powder before use, so they are already broken down and more easily utilized by the body. Seeds are easier on the system than nuts. Dried fruits are usually heat-treated, and for that reason shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities. Olives are another food that sometimes aren’t raw—try to buy fresh from a deli rather than in a jar or tinned.
It is best to avoid large quantities of soy, which contains an estrogen-mimicking chemical, and stresses the pancreas. Potatoes also cause great stress to the body, as they are so high in sugar. Rice cakes are thought of as healthy, but there is evidence that the puffed grains may be toxic. If you have an overwhelming craving for a food that you know isn’t going to do you any favors, don’t ignore it. The best way to overcome it is to prepare yourself a large green salad, and eat that first, or as an accompaniment. By filling up on the salad, you will be less likely to overeat on your treat, will minimize its toxic effects on your body, and maybe even reduce the craving for it.
In summer, raw food eating comes naturally and instinctively, but winter may seem more of a challenge. This is when cravings for cooked comfort foods are more likely to hit us hard. In reality, once you adjust to this way of eating, winter is no more difficult than any other time of year. In fact, you are less likely to feel the cold: when you eat hot food, your body has to work harder at regulating its internal temperature whereas when all your food is eaten at room temperature, it is easier for your body to retain its warmth. Some raw foodists find they revert to that childlike state of not feeling the cold at all. If you can’t get over the urge for hot food, there are ways around it: gently heated soups, vegan burgers warmed in the dehydrator, and the extensive use of spices such as chili and ginger. I find myself eating more concentrated foods such as dehydrated goodies, nuts, and dried fruits. In summer, I gravitate towards seasonal fresh fruits that arrive in abundance.
Often raw food literature will make claims that children instinctively love raw foods over cooked foods. In my experience this is not true! All three of my children were raised on raw foods, but they will always prefer a rice cake to a dehydrated cracker, soy dessert to fruit pudding, or chips to salad. But this does not mean that we cannot educate their palates. I am constantly bartering with my four year old—“if you eat a banana you can have some soy dessert,” or “eat some more cucumber and I’ll give you another burger.” All my children eat largely raw foods, and that is what they ask for because that is mostly what we have around the house. But on social occasions I never make a big deal out of it, and let them eat whatever vegan food is offered, so they do not feel too restricted. I always carry bananas, apples, and nuts with me for snacks, and if we are going somewhere where I know there will be foods they don’t eat, I will bring their own treats with me. I also try to hide raw foods in cooked dishes, for example adding some raw vegetables, ground nuts, or sprouts to a dish at the end of cooking. If you are trying to add raw food to your children’s diets, I cannot overemphasize the importance of striking a balance.
Many children in Western countries overeat on junk foods and suffer from malnourishment and constant illnesses. If you can encourage your children to eat just a little raw food a day, you are setting them up with beneficial habits for life. But don’t worry if they are reluctant—don’t starve them in an attempt to push the diet on to them! And consider the benefits of a supplement such as blue-green algae that you can add to their drinks or favorite snacks, which will act as a safety net and ensure they are getting a dose of all the nutrients they need.
Finally, remember that raw foods alone cannot make us healthy. Exercise is essential and should form an integral part of your life. Yoga, walking, cycling, swimming, and rebounding are all excellent forms of exercise which are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Rebounding is similar to trampolining and can be performed while you watch TV. At the same time, make sure that you include adequate rest and relaxation. Too many of us nowadays are constantly on the go, don’t get enough sleep, and so don’t allow the body time to recover and restore energy naturally. No matter how well we eat, if we don’t give the body time for renewal, we become depleted and run down. Further-more, research repeatedly shows that our mental state has a more profound effect on our health than our diet. Keep a positive outlook, a balanced, non-judgmental attitude to life, and seek to develop the self in all things.
Colonic hydrotherapy is a useful treatment, especially when you are embarking on a raw food diet. If your stomach is at all rotund, if you experience a lot of gas, if you are tired immediately after eating, you are likely to have impacted matter in the colon, which is often years old, and rots and decays, preventing efficient food absorption. You can have the best diet in the world, but if you aren’t absorbing the food efficiently, it will do you no good. Have a course of colonics initially to clear you out, and then continue with them at regular intervals.
If you do fall ill, homeopathy is an excellent form of treatment. Find a reputable homeopath who can get to know you and your family, and will know the right remedies to prescribe when you need them. Homeopaths favor constitutional treatment, which builds up and strengthens the whole person, but can also prescribe acute treatments when necessary.
I consider the fundamental precepts of well-being to be a diet high in raw foods, superfoods, water, exercise, and rest, along with a positive outlook, regular colonics, and a sound relationship with a homeopath. I believe that if everyone made these simple lifestyle changes, levels of disease would drop dramatically as we all obtained superior levels of health. Furthermore, these measures are all inexpensive to implement, and our economy would benefit from a fitter workforce, and there would be huge savings for each of us in the cost of doctors’ visits and prescription drugs.
I sincerely hope that you enjoy this book. It has come out of many years of my experience of eating raw, and finding foods that my family, friends, and I enjoy, as well as being easy and simple to prepare in our ever-busy lives. Most people I speak to who are interested in their health know that eating raw is beneficial, but don’t know where to begin in adding raw foods to their diet. With little or no experience of gourmet raw cuisine, it is hard to move beyond the idea of raw foods being just salads and fruit. My wish is that this book achieves that purpose, and in doing so brings you closer to your true potential as a living being.