We tried the raw food diet so you don’t have to
The raw food diet is all the rage at the moment, but what’s it like to go completely raw? Our reporter Prudence Wade tried it out to see how it actually feels.
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What do you think of when you think of raw food? It doesn’t exactly evoke images of sumptuous banquets or opulent dinners, does it. To be honest, whenever I imagined people on the raw food diet, I imagined pious uber-vegans spending meals crunching solitary carrots or pieces of celery. A pretty dreary picture.
So I decided to give it a go to see whether it really is as one-dimensional as I thought. It was quite a challenge for me: yes, I’m a vegetarian and yes, I do tend to eat vaguely healthily (but I by no means get carried away, because salted caramel brownies exist), but I’ve never actually gone on a proper prescribed diet. When I want to detox after a particularly over-the-top weekend, I just try to eat more green things and lay off the cake.
Perhaps it was complete self-masochism, but let’s put it down to a journalistic interest. So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of how my raw food week went.
What I ate.
Raw food, obviously.
It turns out that eating an entirely raw diet involves more preparation and effort than I anticipated, which is pretty tricky when you’re working full time. Luckily I had a food processor to help me, but most raw foodies have fancy gadgets like juicers and dehydrators to jazz up their meals.
If you put in a lot of effort, it can be actually pretty good. One night I had a friend round for dinner and seeming as hitting up the local Thai was out of the question, I decided to give raw tacos a go. Everyone loves Mexican food, but could it be the same if you took away the cheese, refried beans and soft tortillas?
Okay it wasn’t the same, but it was pretty damn good. I subbed tortillas for lettuce, made a “meat” out of blended walnuts and sundried tomatoes, along with a cashew cream and a salsa of tomatoes, lemons and avocado. Surprisingly delicious and filling.
Sure, it won’t win any beauty prizes so don’t worry, I refrained from being that person and posting it on Instagram. I have, however, made it since, showing that it was a genuine winner.
Other than that, my meals were not as successful. A busy schedule meant that lunches were raw vegetables cut up, snacks were handfuls of nuts, and dinners tended to be whatever veg I had in the fridge blended. By the end of the day, my jaw hurt so much from chewing that I needed something that wasn’t crunchy.
I’m sure I was missing out on a whole world of raw goodness from sprouted grains to dehydrated veg, but let’s face it I just want an easy life. And for me, an easy life is doing the best I can with whatever Tesco had to offer me.
How I felt.
Hungry a lot of the time, in all honesty. It’s funny, a carrot doesn’t really fill you up the same way a sandwich does.
You read a lot about the benefits of the raw food diet, namely that you feel amazing and have superhuman energy levels. I wasn’t kidding myself, I knew that I wouldn’t suddenly become a new woman after trying it for a week. I’m sure if I’d continued with the diet I would’ve felt less hungry and may have had increased energy levels, but for the week I just felt a bit grouchy.
So why is raw food good? Apparently heating food destroys its nutrients and natural enzymes, all of which you need to be strong and healthy. There are even some raw food diehards that think cooking food actually makes it toxic. Something to think about next time you roast some veg or pop that ready meal in the microwave.
You’d think that the raw food diet would be easy: just don’t cook anything. Well, turns out there are a lot of ways you can be tripped up.
One of the first stumbling blocks I encountered was tea. I’m an unashamed enthusiast for pretentious herbal teas, and spend most of my day drinking them. So on my first day of the raw food diet I happily trotted to the kitchen and brewed a mint tea, only to discover that on the diet you can’t heat anything to above 46 degrees celsius.
Much to my dismay, most shop bought teas have been processed above this temperature. One website suggests you grow you’re own herbs and dry them at a low temperature (er, seriously?) Seeming as I was giving up basically everything on this diet and don’t have a garden to grow my own herbs, I’m ashamed to say that I cheated and continued to drink tea throughout the week. #sorrynotsorry.
Social plans become a little trickier on the diet, because eating out is a no unless you go to a specifically raw place. If you’re in London and can convince your friends, I recommend the Wild Food Cafe near Covent Garden.
Apparently you’re also meant to eat all organic, and while this is a life I would definitely love to lead I’m not made of money, and was stuck doing my shopping in Tesco instead of the farmers market.
The expert opinion.
In all honesty, I found some of the websites on raw food a little cultish and terrifying. I won’t name any names, but many have an “us against them” kind of feeling – like eating raw is a new, enlightened spiritual plane compared to everyone who cooks their food. I’m not really about that kind of exclusion, as people should be able to eat what they want.
Nothing but diligent in my search for raw food enlightenment, I went to the experts. I asked Irene Arango, a raw food chef and co-founder of Notting Hill’s raw food spot Nama, for a bit more info.
Luckily, she was nothing like some of the scary online forums, and gave a totally fair and balanced view of the diet. She was completely raw for three years, but now follows a vegan diet. For her, going raw made perfect sense.
She says that it gave her “amazing energy levels, and a lot of ailments and pains went away when I started eating this way. The weight seemed to fall into an ideal one without me having to fight for it.” And isn’t that what so many of us want – to be the perfect weight without stress or effort?
“For me the main thing was health-wise, I felt like I had no complaints any more after being sick for a very long time,” she says.
For Irene, the raw food diet doesn’t have to be about deprivation. Instead of trying to go 100% raw straight off the bat like I did, she says “it’s just trying to include more raw dishes into your normal eating habits.” You can make healthy replacements like courgetti instead of pasta.
All in all, it wasn’t the most fun week of my life. The raw food diet is hard to fit into a busy lifestyle, and isn’t particularly sociable if you like eating out.
Sure, I felt less bloated and lost a bit of weight, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. This isn’t to say that I’m completely anti-raw. I agree with Irene – it’s more about incorporating more raw dishes into your diet as opposed to going fully the whole hog.
I still make the tacos, occasionally have raw veggies for lunch and have been known to enjoy a raw dessert from time to time, but it’s definitely not a full lifestyle choice I’ll be making anytime soon.
I’m aware that I’m already a bit of a cliche, being a twenty-something vegetarian who enjoys Bikram yoga and brunch, so I think I’m going to stay away from being a raw foodie. I don’t want to lose all my friends just yet.