by Anna Soref
Raw is the ultimate, healthiest, good-for-the-planet and good-for-you diet. If you can maintain a raw diet, you have reached the pinnacle of healthy eating.
Or so went the raw food schema in my head whenever triggered. Somewhere, somehow, raw food had become the ultimate level of a healthy diet in my mind. I dreamed of the day when a calm life would allow me to grind, blend, froth, whip and dehydrate my daily meals. I knew only then would I experience true health—the kind where you awake without the need for coffee and experience amazing energy all day long. Raw food held the answer.
Recently, I had the chance to give raw a whirl. My week looked open and I felt motivated. I researched recipes online, noting those that looked good but didn't take too much raw expertise to try and didn't require a dehydrator, as I didn't own one.
I whipped up some red cabbage coleslaw with raw apple cider vinegar. I wanted something warming, since it was January in Cleveland, and opted for a carrot soup made with carrot juice, avocado and cashews. I bought some delish prepared raw meal bars and sprouted lentils, garbanzos, radish and alfalfa sprouts to beef up salads. Then I whipped up a batch of raw energy balls—molasses, almonds, pecans, fresh ginger and cinnamon. Everything was very tasty.
I was ready for raw. Or so I thought.
After eating raw for three days I didn't feel energized; I didn't feel clean and light. I felt like I had been on a nut binge.
Here's the thing: I am not a light eater. I am active and enjoy a hearty appetite. I eat mostly vegetarian, so the absence of meat wasn't the problem. The problem was that I didn't feel satisfied unless I ate nuts and seeds each raw meal. With no meat, no dairy, and no soy products and limited beans, I was hungry.
So you eat a lot of nuts when you're raw'big deal, right? For me this just screamed wrong. I've always favored a balanced diet, so my intuition kept telling me that shoving handfuls of nuts into my mouth throughout the day was not healthy.
I did some online research and apparently going nuts for nuts is a common pitfall for new raw foodies. Some said it balances out over time and you don't feel like you need to eat so many nuts and seeds to feel satisfied. One raw foodie swears by getting your calories from fruit, not nuts.
In my research I stumbled upon the book Raw and Beyond (North Atlantic Books, 2012). Here, three veteran raw food experts and advocates dish on why they've each reached the conclusion that 100 percent raw may not be the healthiest diet after all.
One main reason–too many nuts.
The authors point out that nuts are high in omega 6 fatty acids and low in omega 3s. Almonds, for example, one of the nuts highest in omega 6, contain a whopping 4 to 5 grams per cup and no omega 3s. An imbalance of omega 6s in the diet can be associated with inflammation and obesity.
As luck would have it, I recently had the opportunity to talk with one of the authors, Chad Sarno.
The vegan chef began to redefine his 20-year relationship with raw food after some blood work came back with surprising results. "My cholesterol was really high and my triglycerides were off the charts. But I hadn't eaten meat in 20 years so was totally stumped. I was eating so many high-fat foods though'nuts, cocoa and coconut butter—all these so-called 'superfoods.' I adjusted my diet from strictly raw so that the base was grains, greens and beans, and my numbers plummeted. It was very humbling; for years I thought I was eating the healthiest diet possible. But I guess all those rich raw foods caught up with me."
What he said next spoke directly to my brief foray into raw. "So many people go raw and start eating handfuls of nuts, sugars, and butters and call themselves healthy. You don't realize how much fat, salt and sugar you can get eating an unbalanced raw diet. I do feel that raw foods are the most cleansing diet out there, but you have to do it right. It has to be a balanced with veggies, and lots of greens as your base rather than so nut centric."
Sarno's comments resonated with me: raw can be healthy, but it can't be so nut centric. To me, this means that you really need to do your homework to be a healthy raw foodie, and spend a lot of time preparing foods—the right foods.
Thus, raw can probably be healthy if you devote your life to it, but is it the ultimate healthy diet like I previously believed? I've gone from a hearty "totally" to a bland "meh" on the subject. I'm back to thinking moderation with everything is the best diet. For me this means a plant-based diet roughly 80 percent of the time with some animal proteins (organic, local and free range) thrown in occasionally.
But, I also don't feel done with raw. I would like to try it for a longer period of time and have more nut-free options on the menu. Maybe I'll wait for a raw restaurant to open down the street.