A raw food diet doesn’t have to be hard to incorporate if you know how to make it taste good. In this article, you’ll find many recipes to get started and enjoy your raw meals.
Raw foods – you hear about them all the time if you visit certain cities and hang out in certain circles, but what are they? Are they healthy? Are they tasty? Is it difficult to be on a raw food diet? There are many questions to be answered, but to sum it up, raw foods are foods that haven’t been cooked above approximately 42 degrees Celsius, so as to keep the enzymes alive and they can be tasty, healthy and, of course, nakedly sexy!
A few years back I took two of my friends to a raw food place in Los Angeles. I ordered a chocolate cake and they ordered a spirulina cake. It was green and tasted like…spirulina.
If you have ever tasted spirulina (algae) you know that it isn’t exactly cake material. You might use it as an undertone, but not as a main flavor. Not if you haven’t combined it very, very wisely with something else to balance it out. This place hadn’t. It tasted like spirulina, plain and simple. It took me weeks to convince my friends that raw foods can taste good.
In the raw foods movement, especially when it was just starting to catch on a few years back, a lot of people focused on healthy ingredients, rather than tasty ingredients. So-called super foods (foods that are more nutrient dense or have more antioxidants than regular foods, or simply help the body in some extraordinary way) were included in everything. Hence, the spirulina cake was born.
A few years ago there were also a lot of places that opened up that weren’t run by trained chefs – raw foods were a new field and few culinary raw food schools existed. Those that did mainly focused on raw foods for raw foodists, meaning that the foods they taught people to make appealed to someone with a raw palate.
Just like those who were brought up eating only Chinese food might find Swedish food strange, so can many people who eat only cooked foods find raw foods odd.
Many times when people make the change from eating a highly processed diet, like fast foods and unnatural sweeteners and flavoring, to a healthy whole foods diet with only natural flavors, they find that it tastes very unusual, but after eating it for a while they find that the processed foods taste strange. As humans we adjust to what we are exposed to.
With the years, as raw foods became more mainstream, many more people have gotten involved in the movement, and culinary institutes, like Matthew Kenney’s, have become more and more popular.
Traditional chefs have started developing recipes that are more suitable for the average gourmet foodie. Whilst there are still many places that make good raw food for someone who eats a mainly raw foods diet, there are also plenty of places that make it in a way that can appeal to the masses.
I recently ate a “Whoopie Pie” at Erewhon in Los Angeles and although I enjoyed it, it tasted noth-ing like a cooked Whoopie Pie. It was definitively a Whoopie Pie for someone with a raw palate and, more to the point; it wasn’t really a Whoopie Pie. It was a double nut cookie with nut cream.
The ice cream sundae at Pure (and the take-away version at One Lucky Duck) in New York, on the other hand, tastes like an ice cream sundae (and I pay incredulous amounts of money every time I’m in town as I love that particular ice cream sundae).
Different places simply have different ideas about how to go about raw foods – some imitate cooked foods and some of those dishes taste like the cooked version, some don’t, others focus on creating unique dishes that don’t necessarily have to have a cooked equivalent.
When raw foods first started catching on, it was often (not always!) a very exclusive movement – you were either in or you were out. If you ate more than 80% raw foods you could consider yourself a raw foodist, but many times cooked foods and heaven help us all, animal products, were frowned upon.
Part of this was because some raw foodists were convinced that raw foods were the healthiest diet on the planet, others were convinced eating animals, or animal products, was wrong. Today there are still many who believe this to be the case, but they accept that other people may have a different view.
Vegans have started acknowledging that the more vegan food people eat, the better. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will stop eating animal products altogether though. Likewise, raw foodists seem more inclined to believe that the more raw foods people eat, the better for their health, even if they don’t choose to be 100% raw.
Many raw foodists who were vegan have acknowledged that switching to a vegetarian raw diet has been better for them, or even essential for their children.
Another thing is that if you are 100% raw all the time and eat cooked foods, you can actually get sick, so people are a bit more lenient with eating it ever so often, so as not to get poisoned if they, at some point, taste something cooked. For many, it’s also easier to stay on a mainly raw diet if they can have some cooked foods, as it’s easier to feel deprived and fall off the bandwagon altogether if you don’t allow yourself any indulgence at all.
It has also become widely known that being 100% raw is difficult for your social life as you can eat and drink very few of the things offered in restaurants and at friends’. However, if you live in Los Angeles and certain other places it is easier as more people follow a raw food diet. Many raw foodists feel fine with the 80-20 rule though and happily eat whole foods on various occasions.
As curiosity peaked around raw foods and the dogma disappeared, more and more raw restaurants or restaurants offering raw items on the menu open up, so a lot of people try them out and start incorporating raw foods into their diet.
Many people eat raw foods because they believe it’s the healthiest diet. Others argue that eating a little bit of cooked foods with the raw foods is better, as it seems some people actually get sick or lethargic from eating only raw foods. This could be because they don’t know how to balance their diet properly or because their body can’t handle it. No one really knows.
What remains true for most though is that in the beginning, switching to eating a mainly raw foods diet seems to leave people feeling more energized and happier (after about two to four weeks of feeling weird when the body is adjusting and, presumably, detoxing).
The problem is likely to occur if a person keeps eating only raw foods and doesn’t get the balance right, leading the body to become depleted of certain nutrients. The downturn can also be because if you eat raw foods only, you become extremely sensitive to chemicals. Your body is clean so it finds it harder to deal with toxins.
Just like an alcoholic can drink a lot more than the average person, so can a person eating small amounts of toxins withstand them better. A raw foodie can literally get high on eating cacao if he or she doesn’t eat it every day, as the body is so sensitive to stimulants.
Another thing you should know is that if you eat only raw foods, chances are you will experience something akin to euphoria. Many raw foodists report this feeling, which, they say, feels spiritual. This is also the reason some stay on a 100% raw diet.
Often, in the midst of this debate of “raw or not” a few other debates erupt. One is the previously mentioned vegan-vegetarian-pescatarian-omnivore diet debate – which is the healthiest?
The other is the high protein and/or fat diet vs. the high carb diet. In there somewhere is also often mentioned the eating right for your blood type diet and the eating right for your metabolism diet (i.e. don’t mix fruit with other foods, nor carbs with protein as it’s easier for the body to break down various food groups on their own).
Dairy and gluten are also heavily debated in the midst of all this and the Paleo and GAPS diets often mentioned. Then to top it off, some people argue we have adapted through the years to certain foods and you should stick to what your personal ancestors ate.
An eskimo who is used to living off something like 80% whale meat may not fare well on a vegetarian diet. Like-wise, something like 70% of Scandinavians can break down cow’s milk properly, as opposed to about 30% of Americans (if I understood it right).
One day, out of curiosity, when I was being overwhelmed with conflicting ideas about what to eat and what not to eat, I started googling average life expectancy to see if it was lower or higher de-pending on a high meat vs. a big carb (especially grains) intake. I was also curious to see if gluten played any role in it.
Of course, you also have to take into account exposure to chemicals and radiation, as well as civil unrest. Then there is the question of exercise and general fitness, sleep patterns, exposure to enough sunlight, alcohol consumption, smoking, sanitation, access to proper medical help, stress, DNA and a few other things; none of which I have a clue about.
What’s more, we can assume that the people who are 90 today were raised on a mainly organic diet free of processed foods, meaning what people eat today might lead to a very different life expectancy in a few years’ time. Even with these unknown variables I found it interesting to see if there could be some correla-tion between life expectancy and diet in any way.
So let’s have a look at the list of top fifteen countries for longevity:
Looking at the food patterns in these countries, well, none are strictly vegetarian and some have a diet high in dairy, grains and gluten. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t live even longer if they became raw foodists, vegans, or cut all grains from their diet.
I don’t know, but what I do find fascinating are the so-called Blue Zones (see Wikipedia Article) on the planet where people live the longest. These zones are Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California), Nicoya Pennisula (Costa Rica) and Icaria (Greece). Looking at common factors, the following have been found:
We can also conclude that they probably don’t sit around eating pastries all day long and that their diet is made up of unprocessed foods, i.e. whole foods rather than chemically prone fast foods.
Another thing to bear in mind is that they are likely to make time for nice meals, many of which are social. That’s a far cry from grabbing a sandwich on the go. So maybe we can assume they enjoy their food more? That could be a contribution to health. Especially if you believe your thoughts are connected to your wellbeing.
If you want to learn more about the Blue Zones, check out Dan Buettner’s work on the Blue Zones on his Wikipedia page and the Wikipedia page for an AARP/Blue Zones project in Albert Lea.
I think that whole foods, especially the ones that come from organic farms, are healthier than processed foods and that incorporating a lot of vegetables and a fair amount of raw foods is healthy. Then add a bit of protein, whether it’s dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes, fish, or meat.
Some fats are needed too, like cold pressed oils, coconut oil (apparently great to prevent Alzheimer’s according to some recent research), fish oils, butter and cream, some fruit and berries. If you want, you can have some carbs in the form of starchy veg or whole grains of your choosing. And, last, but not least, ENJOY your food.
Incorporating raw foods as well as cooked veggies into your diet can be fun and tasty, if done right. You don’t have to switch your entire diet up either – rather just add dishes you find you enjoy and then, if you feel so inclined, you can increase the amount.
I always say that if you love french fries, well then, you don’t have to give them up, but rather than eating them once a day, eat them once a month. Make processed foods a treat, rather than a diet.
Although raw foods are considered healthy, overdosing on fruits, seeds, nuts, raw sweeteners, or fats, might not be. Especially if you are still eating cooked foods as well, as the body processes cal-ories differently when the food is cooked, so chances are you are getting enough calories, whereas raw foodists fight to get enough calories and therefore need to eat more fats, nuts or fruits.
It’s also essential, as always, to have a balanced diet. You need protein, fats and carbs (when people talk about no carb diets, they still eat plenty of vegetables containing carbs, they just avoid the vegetables and grains that contain a lot of it, like carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn and grains in general, apart from quinoa, which isn’t a grain although used as such).
You might also need supplements – many people eat vitamins, omegas and probiotics, whether they eat mainly raw foods or not.
A lot of people develop dental problems if they sip a lot of juices, enjoy too much lemon water, eat a lot of fruit and berries, or drink a lot of smoothies. When indulging in those things, eat or drink fairly quickly and rinse your mouth and gently brush your teeth afterwards (brushing hard will ruin your teeth as well).
Do you like smoothies? In that case you are in for a treat. An easy way to incorporate raw fruit, veggies and berries into your diet is a smoothie. Here’s how to make a great smoothie:
If you want a smoothie that’s a bit of a treat and you have a Vitamix or something similar, blend together the white meat of a young coconut with some of the coconut water, add berries and a bit of raw honey, agave, or maple syrup. Or mix the coconut meat and some of the water with pineapple and a banana to make a virgin Pina colada.
I find that a smoothie, even with protein powder in it, only lasts so long. Within two hours I’m, in-variably, hungry.
At this point, if you want to keep it raw, have some raw granola (available at Whole Foods amongst lose weight foods) with nut milk or yoghurt, or a sandwich made with sprouted bread – I like the type that’s still very gooey in the middle, but there are regular versions as well that are dry (available at Whole Foods and health food stores) – and either raw nut butter, raw cheese (unless you are pregnant) or avocado mixed with lemon and herbal salt.
You could, alternatively, have some chia seed pudding or a raw sandwich wrap (using salad as the “bread”).
I like drinking copious amounts of herbal tea at any given point of the day (which aren’t raw, but are still good for you), and sometimes, before drinking or eating anything I have some warm lemon water to cleanse the body, but I can’t deny, I also love chocolate and coffee.
You can make a coffee or chocolate smoothie using young coconut flesh, nut milk (frozen into ice cubes if you want it really cool), your choice of sweetener (raw honey, raw agave syrup, coconut sugar, or xylithol) and either some raw cacao or cold brewed coffee (or both for a mocha!). If you have a high speed blender you can add some soaked nuts to get more fat and protein as well, and if it’s a less powerful blender, some nut butter or almond flour.
If you want to keep it simple, use cold brewed coffee or raw cacao and mix it with your choice of raw nut milk. If you like cream on top, you can put a can of coconut milk or cream in the fridge overnight and whip what becomes the solid part that forms on top. Note that it melts very easily. If you want to make it strictly raw, there are recipes online for raw cream made with soaked cashews and young coconut meat.
Some health freaks have taken to putting a teaspoon of grass fed cows butter and/or virgin coconut oil in their coffee or chocolate if they heat it. When I do that, I find that the energy I get lasts for a long time. You can also add antioxidants and flavor by sprinkling it with cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar, which is great, but even a teaspoon a day can be poisonous for the body, so don’t use it all the time!
Many raw foodies also have a green juice during the day – an easy one would be carrot, celery, apple and ginger with a bit of spinach and a tiny amount of kale or cabbage of some sort.
Snacking is easy with raw foods!
First of all, there’s the simple answer to snacking: some raw nuts and seeds are super simple to carry around and snack on. If you want something a bit more filling, instead of having a regular wrap, have a salad or kale wrap! Simply exchange the bread for a leaf of salad or kale.
I love putting thin sticks/slices of cucumber and carrot with a stick of raw cheese, rolling it all up and eating it. You could put some gravad lax (marinated, raw, salmon), cucumber and green melon in there instead. Or if you eat meat, why not put in some raw corn, tomato, cooked chicken and mayo? Your imagina-tion is really the limit here.
If you are a fan of tzatziki and other yoghurt dips, hummus, baba ganoush and dips in general, you can cut up some carrots, cucumber, pepper and cauliflower and dip them in your choice of dip.
Raw protein bars are readily available, just watch out because some contain so much dried fruit it’s a sugar bomb!
If you make a batch of chia seed pudding with almond milk, coconut cream, mango, cacao or berries and maybe some nuts for decoration, it’s easy to pack small portions to bring with you. (See recipes further down. You can also buy it at Whole Foods and other stores to go.)
Of course, you can also snack on fruit; just remember to be careful with your teeth and blood sugar. Fruit is healthy, so having it once a day in a smoothie and once as a snack is fine, but making it the staple of your diet is probably not. Some suggest you process sugar differently if you eat ONLY raw foods, but most don’t do that, and I don’t know if there is any science at all to back this up.
The following blogs have great recipes and great photos:
Later in the text, I have included a few breakfasts, lunches, desserts and snacks that are easy to make and come from bloggers who have a knack for creating tempting photos. And no, there are no spirulina cakes, guaranteed.
1. Berry acai breakfast bowl by Gourmande in the Kitchen
For the bowl:
For the toppings:
Gluten-free, grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, raw, paleo
2. Raw raspberry and vanilla chia seed Pudding by The First Mess
I love eating this for breakfast with lots of fresh fruit. Stir a handful of oats in there and you’ve got yourself a fairly hearty morning meal. Also, this pudding evokes that slippery tapioca-like quality that is either love or hate. Just keep that in mind :)
Serves: 5-6 cups (a whole lot)
3. Drink your greens smoothie by Gourmande in the Kitchen
For the smoothie:
Optional smoothie boosts:
Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo
4. Orange chia seed breakfast pudding by Rawmazing
5. Cinnamon and fruit chia pudding by Rawmazing
Makes 4 servings.
Ingredients for cashew cream
Ingredients for pudding
6. Banana pineapple green drink by Rawmazing
*You can use fresh bananas and pineapple but I would add some ice then.
1. Walnut orange thyme salad with balsamic glazed beets and spiced walnuts by Rawmazing
This salad comes together quite quickly. You just need to plan a little ahead for the walnuts and beets. I did them in the dehydrator but if you are really careful, you can do them in the oven. Just know they won’t be raw.
Ingredients for the spiced walnuts
* These walnuts are used dry. You can soak and dehydrate your nuts if you want to eliminate the enzyme inhibitors.
Ingredients for the glazed beets
Ingredients for the orange thyme walnut dressing
Ingredients for the salad
2. Carrot noodles with “peanut” sauce by Rawmazing
Ingredients for the sauce
*Not raw but used in many raw food recipes.
Ingredients for the noodles
3. Raw kale, cabbage and carrot chopped salad with maple sesame vinaigrette by Gourmande in the Kitchen
Ingredients for the dressing
Ingredients for the salad
Make the dressing:
Make the salad:
Gluten free, grain free, vegetarian
4. Daikon rolls with cilantro pumpkin seed pesto (raw, vegan, paleo) by Gourmande in the Kitchen
Note: this is more of an appetizer, but it can form part of a tapas like meal
Gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, raw, paleo
5. Zucchini noodles with caper olive sauce and fresh tomatoes by Gourmande in the Kitchen
Gluten-free, grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, raw
6. Raw nori wraps with red cabbage, cucumber, carrots, zucchini and spicy dipping sauce by This Rawsome Vegan Life
Ingredients for the wraps
Ingredients for the sauce
1. Carrot cake with cashew cream cheese frosting, pistachios and walnuts by This Rawsome Vegan Life:
Ingredients for the cashew frosting
Ingredients for the cake
2. No-Bake chocolate fudge fridge cake (raw, vegan, paleo) by Gourmande in the Kitchen
Gluten-free, grain-free, raw, vegan, paleo
I hope you found some clarity regarding what raw foods are and how to best incorporate them into your diet. It’s a healthy choice and it will hopefully leave you more invigorated and excited about life – diet does a lot for our state of mind.
More than anything, I hope this article has put you at ease about your choice of diet and cured any fear or superstition you might have harbored towards raw foods or the raw foods movement – it’s filed with brilliant people trying to make a difference. If you have any further questions, please just tweet me, or leave comments, and I will do my best to find the answers you are looking for!
Writer. Social Entrepreneur. Foster mommy (twins). Change maker. Foodie. Health freak. Nature lover. Creative nutcase. Blogger (Confessions of a Dizzy Blonde). A friend of mine once described me by saying “One minute she’s like the Dalai Lama, the next a dizzy blonde” and maybe that does sum me up…
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