In the raw

G Magazine

It’s often floated as an example of taking a diet to an extreme, yet devotees rave about it. Just what does a raw food diet entail?

In the raw

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In 2005 Jenna Norwood booked herself in for a three-week raw food detox program. A self-confessed ‘junk food vegetarian’, Norwood had a weakness for refined carbohydrates and sugary foods, and was shocked into action after seeing a not-so-svelte version of herself in a showgirl Halloween costume.

Inspired by the film, Super Size Me, Norwood decided to be the anti-Morgan Spurlock and hired a camera crew to follow her 30-day journey, which eventually became the film-length documentary Supercharge Me! As we all know, 30 days of fast food left Spurlock 11 kg heavier, with a damaged liver and in a depressive state. In contrast, one month of raw food saw Norwood’s vitality and energy shoot through the roof and almost 7 kg disappear from the scales.

Junk food bad, raw food good, right? Well, yes, but if healthy living was as simple as that we’d all be eating a raw food diet. As the movement’s popularity becomes more widespread, it has come under increased scrutiny, and like any extreme dietary regime, a raw food diet is not without its potential pifalls.

Where it all began

According to Kate Quinn, a raw food business coach and editor of Living Raw magazine, this style of living has its origins in the natural health movement of the early 1900s. An extension of vegetarianism and veganism, the raw food movement gained attention again in the late 1960s when proponents like Ann Wigmore and Max Gerson began claiming that a raw food diet could prevent and cure cancer.

Led by Californian advocates, popularity for a raw food lifestyle surged again in the late 1990s, a period which coincided with the growth of the Internet. “As information became available online, people started to take control of their health and question the status quo, including here in Australia with our meat-and-potatoes culture,” explains Quinn. “When people started blogging their own experiences, it snowballed from there.”

More recently a slew of feature-length documentaries, such as Jenna Norwood’s Supercharge Me!, Fast Food Nation, Food Inc and Food Matters, have all exposed big-picture issues surrounding food and nutrition to a much wider audience. Including raw-food adoptee Susan Whitby. “My friend Kellie and I decided to try a raw food diet after watching Food Matters,” she recalls. “She was trying to cure her type 2 diabetes and I wanted to see how different I would feel,” she continues.

For writer Shannon Dunn, it was exposure to the Californian movement that encouraged her to go raw. “I was living in Los Angeles when I transitioned to vegan and eventually became 80 per cent raw,” she says. Dunn had given up meat some years earlier but the boost she felt from turning vegan encouraged her to investigate more about holistic health. “I spent hours researching – reading books, scouring the Internet, chatting to people,” says Dunn, who now lives in New Zealand and studies raw food nutrition with renowned expert David Wolfe.

What is a raw food diet?

Exactly what constitutes a raw food diet is a contentious issue. “To put the raw food label on you it’s generally considered that you would eat 75 per cent raw food and 25 per cent cooked food from the healthy end of the spectrum and which may include some meat,” says Quinn. (To be considered raw, food should not
be heated above about 42ºC.)

But Quinn prefers to accept the less rigid definition promoted by natural health expert Charlotte Gerson in Food Matters – which is 51 per cent raw food and the rest made up of cooked, unprocessed food. “Gerson argues that if you’re eating real food, you’re on your way to a decent path and it doesn’t have to be 100 per cent or nothing,” Quinn explains.

The rationale behind why raw food is better for you is similarly controversial. Some, like academic Dr Edward Howell, argue cooking kills the enzymes in food, while others say heat destroys its nutrients. Kate Quinn is not a fan of the enzyme theory but does believe that nutrition is compromised with cooked food.

Sonya Stanley from the Dietitians Association of Australia doesn’t wholly agree. “Some vitamins such as vitamin C can be lost during cooking. However cooking some foods is important to kill potentially harmful bacteria… and heat can actually increase the absorption of key nutrients in some foods, for example lycopene in tomatoes,” she argues.

Disagreements of science aside, Kate Quinn believes the most important reason to adopt a raw food approach is because it puts an emphasis on conscious eating. “Raw food is mostly about eliminating processed foods and bringing ourselves back to the most basic, healthy foods we can have – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouts
and seaweed,” she argues.

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