In awe of raw: The joy of not cooking

Foodists are into uncooked vegan eating, but some question long-term effects

Marlene Habib

The Canadian Press

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

CREDIT: Canadian Press

TORONTO - Marie Larsson tossed out her microwave years ago. And her oven rarely gets turned on.

Larsson, 49, is a raw foodist. She believes in eating only organic non-dairy, non-meat foods and drinks that have never been cooked, processed or otherwise altered from their natural state.

It is the cutting edge, says Larsson.

She was so thrilled by what raw food did for her -- helping her lose 20 pounds, boosting her energy, eliminating her migraines and giving her glowing skin -- that in 1999 she took over Super Sprouts.

Run out of an old Toronto shoe warehouse, Super Sprouts is a farm where mung-beans, alfalfa, broccoli, garlic and other seeds are sprouted.

These enzyme-filled living foods -- staples of the raw-food diet -- are then sold to the public and to local juice bars.

With the inevitable New Year's resolutions to eat better and lose weight, the idea of going on a raw-food plan may be tossed around as readily as the salads that these super-strict vegans thrive on.

But some nutrition experts believe eating raw is too restrictive and may even be unhealthy over the long term.

It could be healthy for a limited duration of time, said Dr. Luigi Fontana, a St. Louis, Mo., researcher who is studying the raw-food diet. But I wouldn't recommend it. There are wiser ways to eat.

Still, raw foodism has become trendy, driven by celebrities like Carol Alt, Alicia Silverstone and raw gurus like U.S.-based David Wolfe. As well there are books, Web sites, workshops and eateries devoted to the practice.

Raw foodists believe cooked foods are dead foods. Cooking, they say, destroys vitamins, minerals and essential enzymes, the keys to energy, proper digestion and body function.

Larsson, a Swedish psychologist who moved to Canada four years ago, has made Super Sprouts available for monthly meetings for raw foodists led by Erica Wolff, a raw-food chef. Larsson has also started a raw-food industry support group (

Larsson, the mother of two sons 12 and 14 who don't fully share their mother's raw-food lifestyle, says it can take a lot of time to fully train the body to adapt to raw eating.

An occasional drinker and smoker who downed seven to 10 cups of coffee a day, Larsson started her switch to raw eating by drinking wheatgrass juice (known for its cleansing properties) and taking supplements like blue-green algae to help her intestinal tract absorb nutrients better.

Now, she starts her day with a glass of water with lemon juice and cayenne pepper, to open the arteries, and a big green drink made with bee pollen, royal jelly, various seeds and grains to get her system going.

Other meals may be a huge salad with sprouts, avocado and macadamia nuts, and a range of main courses and desserts, like a peach pie in a ground-almond-based crust or a plate of fresh fruit topped with a macadamia nut-water mixture.

Raw foodism is a drastic departure from Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating, which recommends eating daily from the main food groups -- grain products, veggies and fruits, milk products, and meat and meat alternatives.

Dietitian Andrea Holwegner says cooking does sometimes destroy nutrients. In the case of tomatoes, for instance, the more they're cooked, the more vitamin C is destroyed, but the process also raises levels of the phytochemical lycopene -- which has disease-prevention qualities, says Holwegner, who works with Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. in Calgary.

And there's cautionary advice to anyone looking to make any type of major change to their diet: Get a health professional's OK.

You have to be very motivated, that's for sure, Holwegner said. It would be very hard to eat out anywhere or go to a friend's house. Whenever you change anything in your diet, it's best to make slow changes.

Fontana, who's in the division of geriatrics at Washington University in St. Louis, says his study is trying to determine the ideal mode of eating.

Although his study doesn't end until early in the new year, he says he's already seeing that weight loss, lower cholesterol and other benefits tend to go hand in hand with raw-food eating.


Tips for staying on a raw-food eating plan, by Montreal native Fred Patenaude of Just Eat An Apple magazine --Raw Vegan of Repentigy, Que.,

- Forgo processed foods and anything containing additives and chemicals.

- Stay away from animal and dairy products.

- Reach for fruits, vegetables, sprouts and nuts. Buy organic produce as fresh as possible. Foods start to loose nutrients after being cut.

- Avoid starches. If you're still eating bread, try making it out of sprouted grains.

- Savour salads, made largely of green leafy veggies such as kale, lettuce, sprouts, spinach, chard, collards and celery, which are a good source of minerals, protein and other nutrients.

- Exercise. Food is only part of the health picture.

- Avoid eating only fruit. Some raw foodists are fruitarians -- who just eat fruit -- but this can lead to dramatic weight loss, dental problems and mental imbalances.

- If you wish to eat something warm, have a plate of steamed veggies or a baked potato. Eat the rest of your meal uncooked.

- Do not become overly concerned with your diet, like talking about it all the time. Do the best you can, where you are, and strive to become better every day.

Raw foodism -- the practice of eating raw, organic uncooked foods with no dairy or meat products -- is in vogue, hailed by some as a healthy alternative to the high-fat, processed and carbohydrate-loaded western diet.

Some health experts warn, however, that it's not an eating plan that should be adopted over the long term, because it may be lacking in certain nutritional elements.



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