Should you eat a raw diet?
This month, UAE-home-grown Essentially has launched their own raw food program. Much like their juice cleanses and detox progams, the Dubai-based juice bar now delivers a box of food, juices and snacks to your door every morning to last you the day. On the menu is scones and cream for breakfast, cheesecake, lasagna, chocolate brownies, even a burger one evening – the difference is, all food is raw, packed with nutrients and good for you.
“Higher energy levels, mental clarity, reduction of unwanted symptoms, peak performance and feeling generally more vital,” explains chef, Kristin Fraser, of why we should be eating raw. Canadian-born Fraser whips up Essentially’s menu each week, and has some impressive culinary credentials to her name (she’s even completed the Chef’s Training Program at New York’s National Gourmet Institute).
The science behind the benefits of raw food is all in the enzymes. Heating food above 115F destroys the enzymes in food, which are basically the catalysts to every metabolic reaction in the body, from digestion and immune function, to cellular regeneration and building muscle. When you don’t consume enzymatic rich food (that is raw food) your body can become depleted of it’s own natural enzymes, which is essentially the aging and degeneration process. This is why consuming a lot of raw food is considered such a key to staying youthful and strong.
“Eating raw will give you higher energy levels, mental clarity, reduction of unwanted symptoms, peak performance and feeling generally more vital”
So what does a raw diet mean? “A perfect raw meal to me is a large mixed leafy green salad with avocado, vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, nuts and seeds, raisins, hemp seeds, lemon juice, olive oil and maybe a little fresh herbs and some kraut or kimchi,” explains Fraser. “Stick to large amounts of dark leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains and if you can get onto some fermented foods you’re doing amazing.”
But what about meat and protein? There seems to be a fear around not getting enough animal flesh as a primary source of protein when it comes to raw, vegetarian and vegan diets. “There is a growing mass of scientific research showcasing more harm than good to the body with consuming too many animal proteins,” Fraser continues. “Your liver doesn’t know what to do with all the excess protein that people, especially men are consuming and starts pumping out excess IGF-1, which is a cancer promoting growth hormone. With plant-based proteins, even in the same quantities, there is actually a reduction in IGF-1. So, the source of your protein is very important. Coming from plant-based sources is shown to have a lot more benefit to the body. We forget that protein is built in the body from amino acids, which the plant kingdom offers in its highest bioavailable form, from dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds and pseudograins. One of the most protein dense foods on the planet in fact comes from spirulina – a plant based source. We have to remember that some of the largest species on the planet, including elephants are plant eaters. I suggest going to Dominick Thompson for an inspiring example. He’s fully vegan and mostly raw and isn’t your typical “skinny vegan”. That’s a good start.”
I tried the raw food program for five days and while, yes, I was a little hungry after some of the leafy lunch salads, the mid-afternoon snack and nut mylk really helped. I was also incredibly impressed with the innovative and tasty recipes, as each day the menu completely changed. This really isn’t about starving yourself or eating lettuce for five days. The thick berry smoothie was a great breakfast, the chewy brownie tasted way to good to be healthy, not to mention the chocolate cheesecake, made simply from raw cacao, cashews, pecans, almonds, maple syrup, dates and coconut oil. Even the creamy, curried veg with red pepper cream sauce was mightily impressive (the ‘rice’ was a bed of coconut and cauliflower quinoa). By day five I was brimming with energy, despite continuing with my HIIT training throughout the week, I felt clear-headed and while I don’t weigh myself, the jeans were definitely a little looser. So is it for you or do you still feel skeptical?
“We have to remember that some of the largest species on the planet, including elephants are plant eaters”
“I was the most skeptical of them all so trust me when I say I hear you”, Fraser tells me when I ask her to convince you guys out there too. “You truly have to experience it to believe it for yourself. And not just in a “I tried a green smoothie and didn’t like it” kind of way. Or an “I ate salad for a week and didn’t feel like I had any energy” way. I suggest doing a proper seven days either with a coach or through a program to really get a feel for your self. It’s about really understanding your “why” factor and giving it an honest shot. Raw food is in fact the quickest way to eat food. To make gourmet meals takes time yes, but a chia pudding, a few pieces of fruit, a superfood smoothie and a large leafy green salad with avocado and a couple of energy bars in a day doesn’t have to consume your life to prepare. My biggest bit of advice? Keep it simple.”
We also asked founder of DIFC’s D5 Gym, James Heagney, what he thought of the idea, seeing as he’s not only a fully-qualified trainer and sports nutritionist, he’s the biggest meat eater we know. “Simplicity and cleansing would be my reasoning for adopting a raw food diet,” he advises. “Processed, fried, refined highly flammable foods are rife in today’s daily menu so eliminating specific food groups can have a profound effect on your health by giving your digestion and your body a welcome rest. Following a nutrition plan with specific guidelines also offers a welcome psychological release for many. I actually like the use of a 1-3 day raw vegetable modified cleanses performed at specific times throughout the year depending on the individual’s health and goal.” And training? “If you adopt a raw fruit and vegetable only diet then you may want to look at shorter training sessions due to low blood sugar levels. If this is the case look for shorter bursts of output such as weight training and interval training instead of endurance based activities such as group exercise classes and 5-10 km running.”
My advice? Don’t see it as an immediate lifestyle change, see it as a detox but with good, tasty food. And then? Let the results speak for themselves.
Raw food essentials
- Avocados for the healthy fats leaving you satiated and fuelling your brain.
- Dark leafy greens in abundance for the energy factor and pure fuel.
- Superfoods like spirulina that are rich in protein are great in superfood balls, which are perfect to snack on.
- Energy bars made of nuts, seeds, and dates are excellent fuel, especially if you are active.
- Chia seeds should be a staple as well, with over 8g of fiber in 4Tbsp they are also rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
Recipe: Kristin’s walnut taco salad
- Process one cup of walnuts with a three tablespoons of Nama Shoyu (a raw form of soya sauce), 1 Tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp cumin and a pinch of chili powder and you have yourself some taco “meat”
- Spoon on top of a bed of mixed greens with a side of salsa and guacamole and cashew based sour cream (1/2 cup cashews, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup water blended)
Recipe: Kristin’s post work-out smoothie
- Opt for a superfood smoothie loaded with nutrient dense calories for post workout. This recipe will taste like a chocolatey, berry smoothie.
- Throw in a blender, dark leafy greens, almond butter, a dairy free milk (almond milk is great), plant based protein powder, spirulina, cacao powder and some form of antioxidant rich berries (I’m a fan of blueberries) TIP: If you can get your hands on a thai coconut, use the meat and the water in there too.
Book your raw food program at Essentially