“Go raw or die young and painfully”. Does that statement rub you the wrong way, or does it sound extreme to you? Good, because the truth is that if we, as a culture, don’t start eating close to 80% of our plant foods in their raw or natural state, we are doomed to suffer and die from the “modern man” diseases that are now considered “normal” (meaning heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune, inflammatory, obesity and obesity-related conditions). So what do we mean by “raw food?”
Mention raw food to people, and the first thing they will think of is something like trail mix or even more extreme, such as eating raw chicken. The raw foods we already eat and are familiar with (so we just need to eat more of them, and then add new ones we learn about) are things like salads, fruits, nuts (no, not the monster tub of roasted, salted nuts from Costco), and vegetables. However, if you scratch below the surface, there’s much, much more to raw food than meets the eye (or the tongue, more appropriately). There’s a cornucopia of gastronomic delights waiting for you in the raw food world. The next time you travel to a new city, do a search before you go and find the raw restaurants for the area and go eat at one – it will be an eye-opening, mouth-watering experience. But, before we go too much further, let’s start with: why raw food?
Well, let’s start at the beginning: Our pre-agricultural ancestors (10,000 – 40,000 years ago) and our rural pre-industrial relatives (250 years ago) ate much of their food in its natural or raw state. It’s no coincidence that people of these eras rarely experienced heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, allergies, asthma, arthritis, constipation, acne, etc. Furthermore, our genetic make-up is the same as those of our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors; so, if we don’t eat the way we are genetically programmed to, we end up with all the modern man or lifestyle diseases mentioned above.
Wouldn’t it make sense if we desire to not be disease-ridden as so many people of modern society are today, that we look back at the lifestyle and eating habits during these successful times to appreciate, to learn from, and to model? Fortunately for us, there have been many bright scientists who have already done this work. These researchers have conclusively shown that in nearly all areas of nutrition, we, as modern yet genetically identical Homo sapiens to those from hunter-gatherer periods, have veered far from the nutritional and lifestyle habits that create and maintain optimal health.
So here are some basic steps to start getting more fruits, vegetables and nuts into your diet. Remember, you want to begin any change to your health regimen by adding something positive first; then later, start removing the negative lifestyle habits you may have adopted.
-Eat a large salad with lunch and dinner. This doesn’t mean iceberg lettuce drenched in Ranch dressing. This means a salad made with green leaf, red leaf, and romaine lettuce, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumber, tomato (I know, tomato is technically a fruit), avocado, radishes, green beans, legume beans (navy, garbanzo, kidney, etc.), miscellaneous greens (kale, chard, mustard, dandelion, etc.), cabbages (napa, savoy, Bok choy – Chinese cabbage), etc. Make salad the main dish for your meals; the protein, if there is one, should be smaller or secondary. Minimize how much starch you eat (i.e. pasta, breads, etc.).
-Have steamed vegetables every night with dinner. This is one of the easiest things to add, even while eating out – almost all restaurants will accommodate your request to add or substitute steamed vegetables to your meal instead of rice, fries, or some other starch that typically comes with a dinner.
-Snack on carrots, celery, raw nuts, and fruit, etc. Take the time to cut up some vegetables, put them in Ziplock™ baggies. In another baggie or Tupperware™ container, put some raw almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts (filberts). Along with an apple, banana, tangerine, etc., you now have some take-along snacks for work or the car (especially if you’re transporting little people). Taking these preparatory steps will enable you to avoid succumbing to eating junk food, fast food, etc.
-Start eating nutritious breakfasts. If you’re not eating breakfast, shame on you – it’s the most important meal of the day (I know your mom told you that!). If you are eating breakfast, what are you eating? Cereal? Bagels? Coffee? (hopefully not with some poisonous, chemical-laced “non-dairy” creamer!) Soda pop? (yes, people actually drink soda pop for breakfast – and we wonder why 55% of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and 1 in 4 Americans will develop diabetes). Start eating organic eggs, green smoothies (made with spinach, chard and kale), quality proteins, and healthy fats for your breakfasts. Another great breakfast suggestion: make a batch of egg-salad (with grated carrots or zucchini, or leftover chopped vegetables from the night before), and eat it straight out of the bowl. Smoothies made with banana, frozen berries, almond milk, lemon-flavored fish oil, and a raw egg are quick, easy, highly nutritious, and can be taken on the go.