I’ve been thinking lately about what types of food support humans in the healthiest way. There is much controversy over where to start to look – primates, early humans, hunter-gatherer tribes, modern-day cultures with the longest life spans, etc. While being vegan makes me feel a whole lot better than I ever remember feeling on the SAD diet of my teens, I know that I’m still not at the optimal level of health that I know I can achieve. Over the last year, I’ve eaten more fruit than ever, and I’ve had fewer colds and only a couple of cold sores, which for me is a direct indicator of my physical and emotional state of health. However, too many vegan cupcakes and holiday cookies and lack of a structured exercise routine outside of walking the dogs have left a few excess pounds on my body that it just doesn’t need to haul around.
It’s obvious that humans can adapt to their environment, and if the earth is going to support its growing population much longer, we can’t all eat food from only one region. Pete came across a movement that advocates eating only the food that grows within a 100km radius around your home. The simplicity of that idea really appeals to me, but it would also mean that being vegans during the long cold winter, we wouldn’t eat a whole lot of fresh food. We can practice this concept during the spring/summer/fall months, and we plan on doing this by joining a CSA, picking berries at local farms and shopping at farmer’s markets. We can buy locally produced maple syrup. But we will always rely on imported food.
I started to read more about the raw food movement, and its fundamental message resonates with me. Fresh raw fruits and green vegetables should form the main portion of our diet. In addition, raw nuts, seeds and sprouts provide fat and protein. We started drinking fruit smoothies and vegetable juices for breakfast instead of our usual homemade granola and soymilk with orange juice. We eat melons and berries for morning snack without the usual soy yogurt. We eat green salads for lunch. If we are hungry, we snack on raw nuts and dried fruits. I bought a book by Alissa Cohen called Living on Live Foods and tried some of the recipes for dinner and dessert. They were really good. Here is the Mock Salmon Pate over a green salad.
And for dessert, Banana Butter Berry Pie (next time, I would make just the crust and Layer One. It was yummy enough to stop there).
Both of us went through a day or two of feeling light-headed, nauseous and feverish that is described as going through “detox”. We both feel like we have more energy and don’t feel sluggish or sleepy in the afternoon at work. After the first week, Pete lost five pounds and I lost four. Our skin has started to feel softer. Our digestive systems feel like they are tuned up and running cleanly. It is clear that this way of eating is very close to the optimal diet for humans.
One clue that raw food might be the best for us comes from the fact that we have been feeding our dogs a raw carnivorous diet for over six months. They don’t eat grain. Their bodies are lean and muscular, even our 13-yr old shepherd. They are in perfect health. Their coats are soft and shiny, their teeth are white and they love their food. After seeing how they have responded to raw food, I intuitively know that’s what dogs, who are carnivores, were intended by nature to eat. Obviously I don’t feel humans are carnivores, and I choose not to be an omnivore. But the experience with our dogs leads me to believe that the living part of raw foods leads to good health and makes me question whether grains promote good health for humans.
Although I accept the basis of the raw foods diet, there are a few missing links for *MY* optimal diet that I need to fill in with my own preferences and philosophy. I really think that everyone needs to do this individually. There are a few claims made by the raw foods movement that I feel are not well substantiated by scientific evidence and are glossed over when the authors of books describe the benefits of the diet. The first is the concept of enzymes. The argument is that live food contains enzymes that the body uses to digest the food and therefore does not tax the body’s own limited supply of enzymes. From what I’ve read elsewhere, the enzymes that the body uses to break down food aren’t exactly the same enzymes that are contained in food. I’m not a physiologist or whomever it is that studies this subject, so I’d like a clearer and fair explanation of the health benefits of raw foods relating to enzymes before I am convinced that all foods consumed should be raw. The second claim is that nutrients are best suited to be absorbed by the body when food is in its raw state. I’m not sure that this is true for every food, and I wonder if there aren’t foods out there that have valuable nutrients that are only available to the body when the food is cooked. The most obvious example to me are the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. I think they taste horrible in their raw state. Lightly steamed, however, I love both of them. Broccoli contains tons of nutrients and phytochemicals, and I wonder if breaking down some of the cell walls via steaming with clean water allows the body more access to them. I’m willing to sacrifice a few enzymes to reap the benefits of tasty healthful broccoli. Again, I’d like to see more discussion of this issue in a non-biased form.
Another food that I feel has a lot to offer but requires cooking are beans and lentils. Yes, they can be sprouted, but my body often craves slow-cooked beans for a reason. I feel they have health benefits of their own and since many major cultures that are studied for their longevity include cooked beans and pulses in their diet, I think I should too. One particular bean that I’d like to keep in my diet but really keep an eye on its concentration is soy. I think vegans tend to consume a lot of soy protein and I wonder if it’s too much. There have been lots of studies done on soy and results have been very conflicting. I think moderation is the key to soy’s benefits, so I’ll stick to edamame, tofu and minimal amounts of soymilk.
So that’s pretty much the gist of what I’d like to eat over the next while (and probably what Pete will be eating) and see how my body reacts. Mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, focusing on raw green salads, with smaller portions of lightly cooked vegetables, cooked beans, raw nuts and seeds, sprouts, and with minimal grains and refined sugars. I’ll detail our progress here.