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May 9, 2000
Eating only uncooked food sounds cranky but Susan
Clark finds the benefits can be persuasive

Why raw food is healthy

Olive cream with hoummos, vegetable chips, zingy tomato
salad and almond cookies all sound delicious. They are
also part of a menu which is not only organic but entirely

The recipes have been designed to prove to sceptics that
you need not cook food to enjoy it. The food will be
served at an event organised by the Fresh (Fruitarian Raw
Energy Support & Help) Network, a former charity that is
now a commercial organisation. It was set up in 1992 to
help people to make the transition from a normal diet to
one where none of the food is cooked.

This may sound cranky but the Raw Fooders swear that
the benefits of eating uncooked foods, which include
feeling younger and having more energy, clearer skin and
an untroubled digestion, far outweigh the perceived

Karen Knowler, 27, is the coordinator of the Fresh
Network and the co-author of a new book on the subject,
Feel-Good Food: A Guide To Intuitive Eating. Over
the past decade, she has gradually converted from a junk
food diet to a 100 per cent raw food regimen, and says
she has never felt so well.

Karen, who once worked parttime in her stepfather's
butchers' shop, admits she could never have imagined that
she would turn her back first on meat, to become
vegetarian, and then on dairy products to become a
vegan. Even less likely, she says, was that as a fully
fledged member of what she calls the Burger Generation
she would develop a preference for raw food over
anything cooked.

"My diet used to be appalling," she says. "I refused to
accept that there was any link between what I ate and my
health, and it was only when I stopped eating dairy and
realised that I was no longer blowing my nose every
morning that I saw how there is a direct link between the
two." (Dairy products are notorious for producing more
mucus in the body - not the lubricating mucus that protects
surfaces such as the lining of the digestive tract, but a
mucus formed when minuscule waste deposits of protein
swell up with water.)

Karen also believes her diet helped to reverse
pre-cancerous changes to the cells of her cervix that were
detected during a smear test. She asked the doctors to
give her three months to try out her own health solution,
which included a 100 per cent raw diet, wheatgrass juice
and a visualisation technique whereby she imagined a
healthy cervix. When she returned for a repeat cervical
smear, the cells had reverted to normal.

It is true that many people who have become Raw
Fooders did so as a last resort, looking for an end to the
symptoms of conditions including cancer, candida, chronic
fatigue and allergies. They know that they are likely to be
regarded as cranks. "Nobody, Karen acknowledges,
"wants to give up their steak and chips unless they have
to." In any case, the point of a raw food diet is not to feel
alienated from your family and friends or to become a
freak, but to benefit from the live enzymes that help the
body to digest what you eat. These are destroyed by
cooking, refining and over-processing, and the body has
to work harder to produce more of its own.

Research as long ago as the 1930s suggested that, when
cooked food is ingested, the immune system sends armies
of white blood cells to the digestive tract to fight what it
perceives to be a threat. This does not happen when you
eat raw food since the body perceives this as natural.One
of the biggest reservations about giving up cooked food in
the predominantly cold, damp British climate is that it is
hard to imagine surviving a winter without the comfort of a
warm soup or hot chocolate. Karen dreaded her first
winter as a 100 per cent Raw Fooder, but survived by
telling herself she would eat something warm and cooked
if her body really craved it. This never happened.

Listening to your body - what Karen calls Intuitive Eating
- is the key to making the transition from mostly cooked
to mostly raw food, but that does not mean giving in to
every craving for chocolate or caffeine. Those cravings
are not a sign that you are in tune with your body, but that
you have become addicted to their stimulative effects.

Karen has no formal qualification in nutrition or health but
learnt about her own health by listening to her body and
responding to its messages, which became stronger as she
cut back on cooked food: "I wanted more freedom, not
less, and a raw food diet has done that for me. I enjoy
everything I eat so much more and I want people to
realise that the best nutrition expert they can have is their
own body."

Another champion of more raw or living food in your diet
is the respected American-trained and London-based
nutritionist Dr Gillian McKeith, who draws on many
disciplines, including Chinese medicine, in her work. She
encourages people to increase the amount of raw food in
their diet but argues that you have to find the right balance.
The author of a new book called Dr Gillian McKeith's
Living Food For Health, which shows how to achieve
that balance, she believes that for many people in this
country a 100 per cent raw diet is not a healthy option: "It
is fine in the summer, but it will only make most people
even more miserable in the winter."

The solution, she says, is to mix warmed food with raw
foods. A perfect example is her own breakfast, which
might be a warmed apple and pear purée with raw
raspberries, which support the kidneys, scattered through
it. If you want soup you can have it, she says. You will
destroy the live enzymes in the vegetables you cook, but
you can put them back by sprinkling the soup with raw
broccoli and sprouted seeds.

Sprouts - the seeds of foods such as mung beans, aduki
beans, alfalfa, radish, rye and millet - are all packed with
live enzymes and energy-giving nutrients. According to Dr
McKeith, when the US military commissioned food
scientists to come up with a protein alternative to meat
and dairy products during the Second World War,
sprouts were voted the best substitute.

She says: "The secret is to place the hot or warmed food
on top of the cold dish so that the heat filters down. For
example, cook your rice and place it on top of the raw
vegetables. Also, find out which herbs, such as basil and
parsley, have a warming action on the body and include
those in your diet."

The Government's Food Standards Agency recommends
at least five portions of fruit and vegetables in your diet
every day. It does not take a stand on the raw versus
cooked debate but it does acknowledge that most people
find it hard to meet even these minimum targets.

The Fresh Network's guidelines for stepping up the raw
food content of a normal diet, especially during the
transitional process from cooked to raw foods, include:

Eating side salads with every main course, hot or cold.

Eating fruit for breakfast instead of cereals or bacon
and eggs.

Eating fruit, nuts and seeds whenever you want a
between-meals snack.

Getting into the habit of juicing raw fruits and
vegetables. For example, it takes about 16 medium
carrots to make half a tumbler of carrot juice - evidence
that juicing really is a good way to increase the raw food
content of your diet without giving yourself an aching jaw.

Remind yourself that you are improving your eating
habits and not going on a diet. Eating more raw food is
not about penance.

Dr McKeith recommends mixing warmed with cold,
raw food, especially in the winter. She says we need to
aim for two portions (a portion is the equivalent of a tea
cup) of sprouted seeds every day to benefit from the live
enzymes that will help with digestion.

Feel-Good Food: A Guide to Intuitive Eating by Susie
Miller & Karen Knowler, published by The Women's
Press, £8.99. It can be ordered direct on 020-7251
Dr Gillian McKeith's Living Food For Health, Piatkus,
£6.99. Mail order from the NutriCentre on 020-7436

The Fresh Network, 0870-800 7070. Membership
costs £14.50 a year and includes five issues of the
Network's magazine.

Susan Clark is Health Journalist of the Year.


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