There are a number of questions I commonly get asked when someone is new to the raw food diet. “Will I get enough protein?” “What exactly can I eat?” And, “how do I eliminate my sugar cravings?” To be successful with anything you must know the facts and understand your options so you can commit to your new way of life with confidence and ease. Here are my favorite questions answered with the new raw foodist in mind.
1. How Will I Get Enough Protein on a Raw Food Diet?
Above all questions I get, this is the most popular of them all. Most of us have been raised with the notion that a lot of protein is good for us. The meat and dairy industries depend on that attitude. But, ponder this for a moment: what is the most perfect food for a human being as a newborn infant? You guessed it – its mother’s milk. There is no other time in a person’s life when growth will be so dramatic.
The infant will triple or quadruple in size in its first year and needs more protein to grow than at any other time in its entire life span! And just how much protein is in mothers milk? The answer may surprise you. The amount of protein in mother’s milk is 2.5 to 3.5 per cent. Compare that to the amount of protein in cow milk at 30 per cent*.
A baby cow needs to gain hundreds of pounds of mass in its first year while it’s relatively small brain does not need to grow very much. Quite obviously different than the needs of a human baby. If the amazing growth in the first year of life is beautifully served by the amount of protein in mothers milk, why would any human being ever need more? The answer is, he/she does not need more protein than that.
One of the biggest mistakes in a SAD (Standard American Diet) is the consumption of too much protein. One of the most dramatic effects of a high protein diet is a negative calcium balance leading to osteoporosis. Habitual consumption of high protein forces the calcium in the body to act as a buffer to the high acid state created in the digestion of protein. The current medical advice to consume more and more calcium in the form of milk products, oyster shell calcium and over the counter digestive aids such as Tums can not reverse the calcium loss in the bones due to excess protein consumption. Excess protein robs our bones of the very substance they need to maintain their strength. Osteoporosis is not a disease due to calcium deficiency; it is due to a lifelong consumption of too much protein.
As for a raw food diet, all the leafy greens and sprouts contain protein. If you are eating lots of fresh, raw leafy greens and sprouts along with a moderate amount of nuts and seeds, there is usually little reason to be concerned about your protein intake. For those who continue to be concerned or who have higher protein needs, such as athletes, growing children and pregnant women, raw sunflower seeds and raw tahini (sesame seed butter) in particular, are very digestible sources of protein and they are economical compared to other nuts and seeds. Smoothies and dressings made with a tahini base are excellent for people with weak digestion, the ill, the elderly and children. Tahini is not only a good protein source, but it is also high in calcium, good fat and it is alkalizing.
2. I Struggle with Food Cravings and Experience a lot of Setbacks. What Can I Do to Keep Moving Forward?
The first day you notice that you are craving a large green salad or a great juicy apple or a bowl of pate with sprouts on top will be a great day indeed. Then you will know that you have rounded a corner in your health regime, and that you now have a body that you can begin to listen to.
Being able to “listen to your body” is often preceded by a period of cleansing. If you have been subsisting on a diet of McDonalds, pizza, soda and sweets, ‘The Quick Fix’ is what your body will crave. If you are addicted to sugar, it is not just a mental addiction. Your pancreas is screaming for you to feed it the sugar that it has become used to having.
What should you do? The best thing may be to eat the highest and best food that will respond to that craving. Far better than a candy bar or an ice cream would be a piece of fruit or two. If you do the best that you can in each instance, including forgiving yourself if you step back to your old ways for a moment, then move on again in the right direction, you will gradually reduce or eliminate unwanted cravings. The amount of time this takes depends on many things such as: how long you had been eating a poor diet, did you transition to raw slowly or quickly, did you begin with a water or juice fast to get a head start, and so on.
Another way to quell cravings is to eat a good healthy meal as soon as you begin to lust for pizza or fries. In the early stages of being a raw foodist, hunger often brings on cravings. Often, once you have eaten and are satisfied, the craving itself will just go away, or at least you will find it easier to resist. This means that it is important to always have some good healthy food on hand. It is certain that you will get into trouble if there are no fresh fruits and veggies in the house or office and you are hearing a litany of cheesecake, cheesecake in your head. It is too easy to give in to cravings when you have no way to fill up with healthy food. Plan ahead and bring a bag to work with you each day with a variety of fruits and veggies. Try red peppers, apples, baby carrots, celery, fennel, zucchini, orange and pear. Add some nuts or seeds as needed for some variety.
Other ways to help you stay centered in your food choices are to meet regularly with other raw fooders and to encourage restaurants you frequent in your area to provide wonderful salads and other raw foods. When a person has feelings of alienation or loneliness it is difficult to combat unhealthy cravings. Remind yourself that the value of life and socialization is not just about food. Creating an environment for yourself that includes other raw fooders without excluding the other people in your life, often the ones that you love the most, is a delicate balance of strength and tolerance.
Cleansing, whether with a water or juice fast or more gradually through eating more and more raw food, is what will change the very tissues and cells of your body to be tuned into seeking the foods that are good for you. Ancient toxins that have been stored in your body are brought to the surface during a fast and as they exit the body via the blood stream, they can trigger old cravings. Each cleanse experience is different. Perhaps in your case you may get a headache that you would have eaten sugar to avoid in the past. Now you know that a healing is taking place and you need only to wait it out and it will go away. Actually giving in and eating sugar will set you back in your process.
The day will come when you will far more often crave for the healthy foods than for the foods you wish to avoid. And as time goes on you will learn to trust your body more and more. You are on a journey and are working towards the freedom of wonderful health: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual; we all are!
3. How Do I Know I’m Getting Enough Nutrients: Fat, Fiber and Calories?
Another of the most frequently asked questions I receive is: “How do I know I am getting enough nutrients? (fiber, protein, or calories)?” There are as many ways to eat an all raw or high raw diet. The simplest approach is the Natural Hygiene way. There are no recipes, or even any machinery. You just eat food as it comes from nature.
There is a lot to be said about this easy to understand approach, and most of the time it is how I live. How much easier can it get than to have a large bowl of fruit on the counter waiting for you and a refrigerator filled with vegetables and greens for you to grab. Add in some coconuts, nuts, seeds and good oil like flax seed and you have everything that you need. In a few moments, you can pack up a lunch in a paper bag of cut up veggies, greens, whatever fruits you can find depending on the season, and some nuts for protein. For those times that you want to make recipes, add a few items to your pantry like almond butter, tahini and seasonings like garlic, sea weeds, basil, sea salt, and go from there.
While there are no set rules to follow, if often works out best if you eat some protein at lunch as it takes longer than other foods to digest, and complex carbohydrates at night which help you to wind down, relax, and prepare for your nights rest without a lot of digestive activity. As for protein, many people still have the misconception that they need far more protein than they really do. If you think about mother’s milk, which only contains 2.5 – 3.5 per cent protein perhaps you can relax a bit about your protein consumption. Growing children and athletes need the most protein. Tahini, almond butter, almonds and sunflower seeds are all quick and easy sources of protein. If you eat large salads and fruit every day you are probably getting enough fiber. There aren’t any raw fooders that have constipation problems. Your high raw or all raw diet should be resulting in at least 2-3 healthy bowel movements a day. Constipation, hemorrhoids and less than daily bowel movements are most likely an indication that you need more fiber.
Healthy raw fats react in your body far differently than cooked, processed, rancid unhealthy fats. All cooked oils-(french fries, doughnuts) and fats are bad for you. When you are consuming avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, flax seed oil, olive oil, hemp oil, coconuts in the raw state they are good for you. Some people are opposed to eating oils because they are not a whole food. I have found that many people need a year or more of 4 or more tablespoons a day of flax seed oil because they are so depleted in Omega 3’s. You can find out much more about this from the book Fats That Heal Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus. Most likely you need some of these fats to keep your weight up also.
The American fear of fat and use of low fat products can create nutritional deficiencies as well. Many vitamins and other nutritional micro and macro nutrients require fat in order to metabolize correctly in the body. Great problems in health and well-being occur in the absence of the Omega 3’s and 6’s-the essential fatty acids that are obtainable only through food. Flax seeds and salmon both contain high amounts of the Omega 3’s, followed by sunflower seeds.
I have found that most beginners and even more experienced raw fooders are afraid to consume fats. Just today I received a note from someone who wants to try raw food but wants to keep their fats to 10% and to be sure to have ‘enough protein’. What they are trying to do is follow their cooked food approach while doing raw. Well, many people have much improved health while following the cooked food program and it is pretty obvious why: if cooked fat kills, then only 10% harms less. There are lower calories in the program, and smaller portions.
But it is just about impossible to take any current program and apply it to a raw program. Everything changes when you take the raw food approach. What used to harm is now good for you in the uncooked state. So, don’t fear the fat! Just keep all your fat consumption the healthy kind-if you eat any cooked food, be sure it is not cooked fat. Isn’t that simple?
But did you know?
I have published a book based on Q and A’s just like these that I am talking with you about today. You can read an entire book of more questions just like these (or listen to them on MP3 or CD). Laugh while you learn, Ritamarie and I can get pretty funny.
4. What Should I Eat? What Does the Day in the Life of a Raw Foodist Look Like?
It is difficult to describe a ‘typical’ raw day as there is so much variation between people, but here are some examples taken from real life.
A pint of blueberries
A banana, or more
Half an avocado and a banana, blended and topped with berries
A fruit smoothie
Several more pieces of fruit during the morning
A large salad of assorted greens, sprouts, red pepper, celery, cabbage with a large handful of soaked almonds or sunflower seeds
Sunflower pate rolled up in a sheet of Nori and topped with greens and sprouts
A blended soup consisting of greens, sprouts, avocado, yellow squash, garlic or ginger
A blended soup of avocado, parsnip, celery
A cabbage leaf filled with pate and rolled up
A cabbage leaf filled with cut up veggies and some almonds on the side
A bag of green beans, or peas in the pod
Several pieces of celery and carrot dipped in hummus, almond butter, or pate
Spiralized yams or sweet potatoes topped with lemon and oil
Spiralized zucchini with pesto sauce (pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, parsley) and tomato sauce (pureed tomatoes with spices or herbs that you like)
Raw corn chowder with sprouts and greens
Yam soup or beet borscht
Overall its about eating the foods you love and learning the process of trusting your body. Once you are in better harmony the choices you make with food will become more simple and effortless. Enjoy the process and share your successes in the comments below.
*Note: different texts offer different percentage numbers, these numbers are derived from lectures at Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida.
About Nomi Shannon
Raw for over 25 years and still going strong at age 70, Nomi Shannon is an award winning author and world renowned coach. Her best- selling book, The Raw Gourmet, has sold over 250,000 copies, making it one of the best-selling raw food books of all time. Nomi is known for teaching people proven steps to keeping — or regaining — vibrant health. Find out more about Nomi’s raw food programs at rawgourmet.com and check out her latest book “You’re Raw; They’re Cooked” – How to Keep Your Sanity in the Kitchen When Your Diets Have Nothing in Common.