x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The raw food diet: to cook or not to cook?

The raw food diet - where you eat nothing heated above 40ºC - is growing in popularity. It requires discipline and effort, but its benefits may make the effort worthwhile.

Banana cacao smoothie. Courtesy Alison Andrews
Banana cacao smoothie. Courtesy Alison Andrews

Although the raw food diet is by no means new, it is becoming increasingly popular, with more and more people embracing an eating model that advocates uncooked, unprocessed plant food which hasn’t been heated above 40°C.

Raw foodists believe that when food is heated above this temperature it loses enzymes and nutritional value – thus raw or “living foods” are far more beneficial to the body. Many raw foodists also avoid soy products (due to the boiled soy beans), dried herbs, coffee, tea and most oils.

Gabriele Kurz is the resort well-being chef for Madinat Jumeirah and, having attended her first raw food seminar 15 years ago, has spent much of her career specialising in healthy eating.

In her current role, Kurz is responsible for ensuring that each of Madinat Jumeirah’s outlets provides healthy menu options and she also runs the kitchen at Magnolia, a restaurant that opens for private functions and events and is known for its vegetarian, vegan and raw food.

Kurz says that interest in raw food has grown steadily over the past 18 months or so, with growing numbers of people attending her raw cooking classes and specifically requesting raw options at functions.

Although Kurz does not follow a 100 per cent raw diet herself, she consciously eats raw food on a regular basis and goes through phases where she will go purely raw for a week or two, favouring salads, juices, gazpacho, fruit and crudités with dips during this time. When preparing raw food for restaurant guests, she experiments with raw breads, cheeses and mayonnaise (both made from nuts), prepares sorbets, ravioli, pralines and lasagne, often uses a dehydrator to dry out ingredients at a low temperature and even serves up raw millet shortbread and marzipan for dessert.

“Raw food is very beneficial; when you eat raw, you do feel the difference. It’s great for the body because nothing is being taken away by cooking or heating – you’re not losing any vitamins. The diet is naturally high in fibre, which is great for your health and well-being,” she says.

Anja Schwerin, a Dubai-based long-distance runner and health-conscious cook and food blogger (www.anjasfood4thought.com) doesn’t eat completely raw, but has a keen interest in the diet.

Schwerin puts her strong immune system, high energy levels and lack of digestive problems down to eating plenty of raw food. However, she says that the planning a fully raw diet demands – she is a busy mother – as well as the cost and lack of availability of products such as raw milk and yogurt in the UAE, prevent her from eating like this all the time.

“I seldom eat specifically made raw dishes as main meals, but most of my meals have one or more raw elements,” she says. “My breakfast is mainly raw, consisting of fresh fruit, chopped raw almonds, freshly ground flax seeds with (non-raw) yogurt. For between-meal snacks, I often eat whole raw fruit and a variety of nuts, or raw veggie sticks with (non-raw) hummus, or homemade raw cereal bars, consisting of dried fruit, nuts and coconut.”

Alison Andrews and her husband Jaye embarked on a high raw diet in 2005, which meant that they ate fruit and nuts during the day and salad with a small amount of cooked food in the evening. In December 2008 – after moving to Dubai in August of that year – the couple adopted a fully raw diet for the first time, following the advice of the raw food guru Dr Douglas Graham, who advocates a low-fat, high-fruit approach. The couple now eat fully raw the majority of the time, switching to a high raw diet when it is not convenient to do so.

For Andrews, the benefits of switching to a high raw diet were immediately apparent, with her allergy attacks subsiding and niggling health complaints such as indigestion and headaches disappearing. She also believes that this has helped slow the ageing process and says that her energy levels are consistently high.

During the day, Andrews eats only fruit, be it whole or in the form of a smoothie or juice (she likes blended watermelon, orange and mango shakes and “datorade” – dates blended with water). This is followed by either a salad with a nut cheese or avocado dressing, raw pasta noodles (made from spirals of cucumber or courgette), a raw soup or raw sushi rolls in the evening.

While she is devoted to raw foodism, Andrews agrees with Schwerin that following this diet while living in the UAE does throw up problems, because of the limited supply of raw products, the quality of imported produce and the lack of choice – beyond salad – when eating out.

The raw diet has obvious health benefits: it is nutrient-dense, low in saturated fat and sugar and high in fibre. However, Sarah Queen, a wellness guru for Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas who has almost 20 years experience working as a nutritionalist, warns that complete devotion to raw foodism is not something that should be taken lightly due to the time, effort and cost involved.

Queen also says that from a professional perspective, she would prefer someone to eat raw one or two days a week, rather than do so for a long period of time and advises that anyone who is considering this diet seek advice from a nutritionalist first.

“The raw foodist needs to have a good understanding of the importance of nutrients within the diet and how to achieve the correct balance, which is difficult to do,” Queen explains. “On the nutrient side, B12 deficiency will occur for anyone following this and not consuming raw animal products, which will lead to a certain type of anaemia and also to nerve damage. Iron, calcium and omega 3 levels can also become low.”

Hala Barghout, a clinical dietician for Platform 3 Fitness in Dubai Marina, also says that the diet can be difficult to sustain, particularly as not being able to eat hot, cooked food can become monotonous over time.

“Raw foodists enjoy many health benefits for a simple reason: they’re eating a largely plant-based diet which greatly reduces the risk of chronic diseases and conditions. However, it can result in nutritional deficiencies including low calcium, iron, protein and insufficient calories,” she says.

Barghout also makes the point that while it is true that some enzymes are destroyed through cooking, certain nutrients such as the beta-carotene in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes are more easily absorbed by the body when they are cooked. “It helps with cleansing and weight loss but I personally wouldn’t recommend it for the long term,” Barghout says.

Find out more

- Gabriele Kurz blogs about cooking for health and well being at Talise Nutrition (www.talisenutrition.com). Email gabriele.kurz@jumeirah.com for more information about her raw food cooking classes.

- Alison Andrews’s blog Loving it Raw (www.loving-it-raw.com) provides an informative guide to eating raw. She shares recipes and first-hand information, recommends helpful books and offers a question and answer section. Loving it Raw receives around 45,000 unique visitors a month.

- Raw Vegan Meetup (wwwrawfood.meetup.com/cities/ae/dubai/

This provides those interested in a raw food/vegan diet in the UAE with the opportunity to meet up and share experiences. The group, which has more than 400 members, gathers together on a monthly basis and often follows a yoga or movement class with a raw vegan meal. Non-vegans or raw food followers are also welcome.

Recipe

Gabriele Kurz’s watermelon, avocdao, aloe vera and tomato ceviche

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 small aloe vera leaf

1 avocado

1 tomato

50g watermelon, seeds removed

1 lime, zest and juice

¼ small chilli

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp cashew nuts, crushed

micro herbs (optional garnish)

1 tsp black sesame seeds

salt and pepper

Method

Peel and dice the aloe vera leaf and place in a bowl of iced water.

Dice the watermelon, avocado and tomato. Place in a bowl and season with the lime juice and zest, chopped chilli, olive oil and salt. Strain the aloe vera leaf and add to the mix, along with the crushed cashew nuts. Arrange the salad on plates and top with micro herbs and black sesame. Drizzle with herb oil.

Tip Make herb oil by blending together olive oil, baby spinach, parsley, basil, dill and rocket leaves. Strain and keep in the fridge for two days.

eshardlow@thenational.ae