Photography by Jacqueline Hopkins
Six simple steps to a raw foods diet
Turn off your stoves and step away from that greasy pile of lasagna pans. Raw foods, the coolest cooking revolution yet, is getting more and more chefs out of the kitchen and into a whole new mode of eating without heat. Based on the premise that cooking destroys life-giving enzymes and essential nutrients, the raw diet focuses on whole, organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. The problem: it’s a relatively new style of eating for most—but it’s not as hard as you might think to get started.
1 - Clean up your kitchen
Start by purging your kitchen of processed, artificial foods and replacing them with clean, whole foods. “Get rid of white bread and packaged rice mixes, cheap chips and cookies,” says Natalia Rose, author of The Raw Foods Detox Diet (Regan Books, 2005). “Then stock up on organic, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.” Other must-haves: raw, cold-pressed, organic vegetable oils; raw agave nectar; and fresh, organic herbs, spices and unrefined sea salt. “If you live with other people, keep a cabinet in the kitchen and a drawer or shelf in the refrigerator for yourself, to keep your clean, whole foods physically and mentally segregated from the junk.”
2 - Use the tools of the trade
You don’t have to invest in fancy slicers and dicers—but they do make preparing raw foods more fun. You can easily start with a blender and a few high-quality knives. Once you’re ready to make more complex recipes, consider these special tools:
- A food processor for shredding vegetables, grinding nuts and seeds, and making soups, sauces, and pates.
- A dehydrator for making cookies, crackers, fruit leathers, and breads.
- A spiral slicer to cut long, narrow strips of veggies for “pasta.”
- A juicer for making fresh, organic fruit and vegetable juices.
3 - Make it balanced
When you’re first starting on a raw foods diet, you can get locked into the same three or four dishes every day. “A good balance of food is essential, not only to get the right portfolio of nutrients and antioxidants, but also to keep the diet interesting and exciting,” says Renee Loux, author of The Balanced Plate (Rodale, 2006). “Three basic principles can guide your food choices.” First, she says, focus on seasonal, regional foods; second, select a colorful variety of foods; third, include a cross-section of land vegetables like greens, root vegetables like carrots, sea vegetables, grains, beans, and fruits.”
4 - Get creative
With a few kitchen tools and a little practice and creativity, you can whip up a gourmet selection of raw pates, loafs, noodles, cakes, crackers, soups, nut and seed cheeses, and more. Start with simple soups and pates. Then move into more creative fare, like “noodles”—made by spiral cutting raw vegetables—and wraps. “Blended soups are simple, satisfying, and incredibly delicious,” says Loux. “Nori, lettuce and leafy greens make a great package for many fine fillings. In short, a little creativity and time management in the kitchen can go a long way for pragmatic pleasure.”
5 - Give yourself a break
If the thought of giving up bread forever throws you into a panic, don’t go for broke; you’ll still see substantial benefits from eating more raw foods than cooked. If you’re currently eating 80 percent cooked and 20 percent raw, a move to half cooked and half raw will greatly improve your mental and physical health. “Not everyone needs to go 100 percent raw,” says Brigitte Mars, author of author of Rawsome! (Basic Health Publications, 2004). “Some people do two raw meals and one cooked meal a day, some do six days a week raw and one cooked. Eventually, you may find that cooked food doesn’t feel good in your body, and it’s not worth the ‘hangover’ the next day.” If you do decide to go for it, just increase the ratio of raw to cooked food in every meal over the course of several weeks, for a smooth and easy transition.
6 - Get support
When you’re embarking on the raw foods path, it’s hard to give up burgers and brownies; get support for your new lifestyle by joining a raw potluck in your community, or starting one of your own. “You can also find a raw buddy, someone who will eat out and cook food with you,” Mars says. “Or take a workshop to learn more about raw foods and find other members in the community.” And if you’re truly craving something, have it. “A little naughtiness is fine as long as it is flanked by good habits,” says Loux. “Choose vices and indulge cravings wisely.”