Though it’s been around since about as long as food has been around, raw food is about as strange as one can get on the dietary restriction spectrum. I can say this because I’m a vegan raw foodist myself. 90% of my diet is raw food. I occasionally eat rice and potatoes, but for the most part I eat large quantities of fruit and salad, with little to no overt fats. (i.e. avocado, nuts, etc.)
Sure, you have your paleo people and your gluten intolerant people, but as far as freak factor, I imagine most people consider raw vegans to be at the top of the heap. When I first heard about and began researching the benefits of eating a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, I certainly wondered how anyone could eat that way and sustain it.
I’ve even heard a vegan raw food diet referred to as vegan without the joy. Which makes me laugh. What that refers to is that by virtue of not eating cooked foods, raw vegans don’t eat any of the yummy vegan diet mainstays, like hummus, or rice, or beans. Or pita bread. Or, as I thought before I tried it, anything that tastes good.
Don’t get me wrong, I love eating raw veggies and fruit. But I couldn’t imagine doing that exclusively. Giving up the mainstays of my diet, like homemade soups, potatoes, rice and beans, sounded both torturous and downright wrong.
So what made me decide to give an all raw diet a chance? Morbid curiosity? Temporary insanity? Actually, in the end, I did it to see if there was an even higher level of health and energy out there, above and beyond the vegan diet I already embraced and loved. I was, as I am still currently, actively training and running marathons, ultra marathons and competing in triathlons. I wondered about the day to day benefits but also how it would benefit an endurance athlete.
So for 30 days I ate a completely raw diet. Though at the time I was still drinking coffee, so full disclosure it wasn’t really a fully raw diet by definition. I’ve since given up coffee for good, but at this time I was still on the sauce.
80/10/10 diet (I mean lifestyle).
I realized quickly that when one eats a raw diet, all added sugar, salt and fat is pretty much eliminated. Though most versions of a raw food diet involve tons of fat (usually in the form of high fat nuts and avocado), I subscribed to the 80/10/10 diet, which is 80% carbs, 10% fats and 10% protein.
I read Douglas Graham’s book, 80/10/10, and it resonated with me. I liked the idea of eating mostly fruit, with some added greens and vegetables. It certainly made sense that eating the other option, a high fat raw food diet wasn’t going to do my body any favors.
A couple of things to note on the 80/10/10 diet. The ratio is not meant as something that you monitor with every meal and make sure is strictly 80/10/10. What it really means is that only 10% of your calories can be from fat. To give you an idea, if I only eat raw veggies and fruit, with no avocado or nuts or any type of overt fat, I will still take in around 4-6% of calories from fat. This fat is mostly from fruits.
For most people, and for me at the time, this meant that I would be taking in much less calories from fat than I did on my typical vegan diet. Here is a snapshot of Cronometer on a typical day of eating 80/10/10. This is more like 90/6/4, but you get the point as far as the importance of keeping fat to the bare minimum on this type of raw vegan lifestyle, as well as the types of foods one would be eating to arrive at this ratio (or above).
Benefits of eating raw
One word. Okay, two words. Energy and digestion. Understand this is my experience on a raw food diet, which I’m not backing up with science. But anecdotal as it is, my experience might be useful to those considering a raw food diet.
I’ve never eaten a big meal and felt like I could go do a workout immediately after. Eating raw foods didn’t make me feel too full or like I wanted to go sit or lie down as some of my typical meals did when eating vegan. After eating a raw food meal, I didn’t feel sluggish at all after eating. I felt more energized and like I wanted to go for a walk or even a run.
I also felt much more energy when waking up. It was as if I had slept longer than I really had. I have never been a nap person, but eating raw foods really eliminated the afternoon lull of sapped energy that leads most people to drink that afternoon coffee or sugary soda.
Digestion became much easier and I spent a lot less time in the bathroom. I also had much less flatulence (okay, farting) than I had while eating beans and legumes on the vegan diet. Digestion became something I didn’t even think about, since it happened so effortlessly and quickly. A life with no upset stomach and no constipation, ever, seemed pretty cool.
I can’t point to weight loss, since I didn’t start out to lose weight by going raw. I can’t point to changes in my blood tests, since I didn’t get those done, though I have since received blood test results. I can tell you that although my subjective results aren’t backed by science, I felt good enough eating raw vegan that I continue to eat a mostly raw food diet to this day (over 2 years later).
Here’s the catch with going to an all raw or mostly raw vegan diet. You will feel great, you’ll have better digestion and more energy. You’ll probably also go back and forth between including some cooked foods in your diet. Sticking to 100% raw is tough. So there you’ll be, gradually adding some cooked items back in to your diet.
The problem occurs when you add to much cooked foods and you being losing the benefits of eating raw. You might find, as I have, that there is a certain amount of cooked food you can have before you start to feel bad. Unfortunately, it’s not that much. So the other day I had a curry tofu mixture that had coconut milk and some added salt. I felt terrible the next day, and noticed I had some bloating from the salt in the dish.
This is your cross to bear. You will feel bad if you go from eating raw to cooked. You’ll feel full and maybe bloated and not much like doing anything. If you’re like me you’ll scale back on the cooked foods immediately as you’ll want to be back basking in the glow of eating fresh, uncooked food with no salt, sugar or fat added. You’ll simplify. You’ll crack open a banana. You’ll eat a bowl full of clementines. Then you’ll remember what it felt like to be raw and make a plan to get back to it.