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Debra Lipson and Kelsey McQuade/MEDILL

An introductory raw foods cooking class at Linda Szarkowski's Green Spirit Healthy Living store in Rogers Park caters to increasing interest in plant-based diets.

Raw food diets take the heat out of the kitchen

by Kelsey McQuade and Debra Lipson
Oct 25, 2012


MEDILL file photo

Raw foods enthusiasts promote uncooked foods for their nutritional qualities.

Peel away the processed foods and dietary supplements. Advocates say a key to mental clarity and a healthier life lies in going raw. And more stores and classes are catering to the raw foods clientele.

It's easy to work the transformative aspects of raw eating into a diet. In fact, many raw food followers make slight modifications to the plan but agree on raw dietary basics.

Primarily, uncooked, unprocessed and often organic foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish (served sashimi style) are the diet's foundation.

Enthusiasts praise raw food’s enzymes and healthy bacteria for benefiting digestion and strengthening the immune system.

Linda Szarkowski, raw foodie and owner of the Green Spirit Healthy Living in Rogers Park, said other dietary promises include, “Increased energy, clearer skin and an alkaline body."  

Raw foods can be served warm - typically cooked to a temperature of 104 – 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above this heat range leave toxins behind, inhibits digestive enzymes and depletes nutrients, raw food enthusiasts contend. As a result, cooked foods are believed to be ‘less healthy and even harmful’ to the body.

While eating raw lessens processed, preservative-laden items from consumption, possible nutrient deficiencies and food-borne illnesses may occur. As with any diet, eliminating food groups is another health risk.

“Going to extremes or not cooking your food isn’t necessarily healthy,” said Jessica Crandall, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Chicago. “If you decide to go raw, eat adequate amounts of dark, leafy greens for calcium, iron and other vital nutrients.”

Swiss physician Dr. Maximilian Birchner-Benner developed the basis of raw food diets in the late 1800s, after he cured his jaundice by eating raw apples. Two centuries later, the diet has several interpretations: offshoots include veganism and vegetarianism.

Few long-term studies on raw diets exist although recent studies on the benefits of produce-rich diets are plentiful. Szarkowski said many doctors support a plant-based, low fat diet similar to the raw regimen.

Tedious meal preparation is essential for raw foodies. Rice and grain products are usually sprouted or soaked overnight to increase enzyme absorption in the body. Raw recipes also call for blending, juicing, dehydrating or fermenting.
Patience is not the only virtue helpful when going raw. Strict discipline comes with the pared down plan.

“Raw food diets can be difficult to follow, particularly if you switch from a diet rich in meat, dairy and cooked or processed food,” said Crandall. Instead of going cold turkey for well, cold turkey, “Making gradual changes to your diet may be best.”

Raw may seem rough, but its versatility lies in how individuals put their spin on it. Incorporating more raw food into a diet requires little commitment for optimal vitality. “A diet high in raw and living foods gives us the energy and health to live life to the fullest,” said Szarkowski.