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Northwest Life: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Some like it raw

By Judith Blake
Seattle Times staff reporter

Take up Victoria Boutenko's way of eating and you'll never again slave over a hot stove. Or even need a stove.

Boutenko doesn't own one. She and her husband, Igor, and their two teenagers got rid of their kitchen range because they eat only raw food, cooking absolutely nothing.

Victoria, the author of books on the raw-foods lifestyle, will show how it's done in a series of Seattle talks this weekend.

The Ashland, Ore., family is not alone. Around Puget Sound and across the country, raw-food loyalists hold potlucks, swap recipes and support each other in a diet they believe is more healthful than eating cooked food.

Calling cooked food "an addiction," the Boutenkos are certain the raw foods they've eaten exclusively for nine years account for their good health.

"I couldn't believe how quickly (my health) began to change," says Victoria, 47, who travels the country giving raw-food talks and workshops.

The raw facts

Victoria Boutenko will give three talks or workshops on raw foods in Seattle this weekend:

6-9 p.m. Friday, University Plaza Hotel, 400 N.. 45th St. Talk: "The Miracles of Raw Food." Admission: $10.

11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Chalice Chapel, 943 N. 89th St. Workshop on preparing gourmet raw foods.

2-8 p.m. Sunday, Chalice Chapel. Second workshop on preparing raw foods.

Prices for the Saturday and Sunday workshops: $55 per person per day, or $95 for both days; $170 per couple for both days.

Reservations are required for all events and can be made by calling 541-482-5779.

For breakfast on the day she was interviewed, she had a cup of almond "milk" made from ground almonds. Lunch was a salad of baby greens, avocado, dehydrated onions, olive oil and lemon juice; an apple; and crackers made from ground, seasoned flaxseeds. "It's very, very simple to make raw food," she said.

No one knows just how many raw-fooders there are nationally, but many cities have groups of advocates. The Seattle Raw Foods Community lists about 165 members on its Web site,

Raw foods have gone upscale in some settings. Roxanne's Restaurant, a white-tablecloth eatery in trendy Marin County, Calif., near San Francisco, serves raw or "living" foods only, preparing them in fancy, gourmet style.

Seattle's tony, vegetarian Cafe Ambrosia includes raw dishes on its menu several days each month.

"I think it is very, very fun to do," said Ambrosia chef Frances Janes. "I love the fact that you have to think outside the box" to create inviting dishes that approach the flavor and appeal of cooked ones.

Raw-fooders may not need a kitchen stove, but they find plenty of use for juicers, blenders, food processors and dehydrators.

What do they make?

A sampling from Victoria Boutenko's book, "12 Steps to Raw Foods":

Vegetarian burgers, uncooked. Made from ground nuts, carrots, onion, honey or bananas, oil and a variety of seasonings.

• Igor's Crackers. These are mainly ground flaxseeds combined with chopped and blended onion, celery, tomatoes, garlic, salt, caraway and coriander seed. Thinly rolled out, the mixture is then dehydrated.

Live fries. Onion powder, olive oil, sea salt and paprika are added to jicama sliced to the shape of French fries.

Chili. It's made with chopped and blended tomatoes, raisins, celery, sun-dried tomatoes, spaghetti seasoning, hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, dehydrated mushrooms and onions. Bean, pea or lentil sprouts are added after the blending.

Most raw-fooders are vegetarians. The Boutenkos are vegans, eating no animal foods of any kind, including dairy. Victoria said some followers eat raw fish, raw eggs and raw milk (though many food-safety experts do not advise this).

She said her family's chief raw-foods benefit has been general good health, though they've also lost weight.

Immigrants from Russia, where food was scarce, the family was overwhelmed by the abundance of food in the United States after arriving here in 1990, she said. Soon, they were all overweight, Victoria gaining more than 100 pounds. All quickly shed their excess weight on raw foods, she said.

She's convinced raw foods banished daughter Valya's asthma, son Sergei's Type 1 diabetes and other ailments in the family. Today, they're all highly active, doing such things as hiking, running marathons and swimming. Igor does 1,000 pushups a day.

Sergei, 19, and Valya, 16, seem to have adopted the regimen with gusto, writing an enthusiastic book of their own, "Eating Without Heating."

Health authorities interviewed by The Seattle Times weren't convinced raw foods alone could explain such health improvements as this family's.

For example, weight loss — however achieved — can improve asthma, said Mark Kestin, who chairs the nutrition department at Kenmore's Bastyr University, a center of alternative-medicine studies. Also, a vegan diet, whether raw or not, may remove food sensitivities that promote asthma in some, he said.

However, he noted that in a Finnish study, a raw-food diet was linked to reduced rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, both autoimmune diseases. In theory, it might also help asthma, though that's not known, he said.

As for Type 1 diabetes, which can be fatal if untreated, there are rare cases of spontaneous remission but a diet-linked cure is extremely unlikely, said diabetes researchers at Seattle's Pacific Northwest Research Institute.

Kestin said raw foods offer both nutritional pluses and minuses. Cooking destroys some of the vitamin C in spinach, for example. However, a person is likely to eat more cooked spinach than raw, perhaps canceling out the difference, he said.

The body absorbs certain nutrients better when a food is cooked than raw, Kestin said. That's the case with the beta carotene in carrots and the lycopene in tomatoes, for example.

Yet these nutrients are abundant in fruits and vegetables, so eating lots of them would make up for absorption losses, he said.

Raw-food advocates say eating cooked food depletes essential body enzymes needed for digestion, but University of Washington nutrition expert Dr. Adam Drewnowski said, "There's no evidence of that whatsoever."

But he said that if the diet encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, that's good. As with any vegetarian diet, he added, raw-fooders must take care to get enough protein.

Anyone contemplating such a major dietary change should consult a nutritionist, experts advised.

Copyright 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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