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USA Today Health

10/27/97- Updated 01:04 AM ET

Stripping the diet raw

SAN FRANCISCO - Food fads come and go - Pan Asian, haute Southern, Pacific Rim fusion - but the latest dining trend is actually the oldest: eating food raw.

Raw foodists, also known as living foodists, take their diets about two steps beyond vegetarianism. And they're cooking up new ways to bring uncooked foods to health-conscious diners.

"Out of every living thing on the planet, animals, plants, insects, none are overweight or out of shape except for the ones that eat cooked foods," says Juliano (who goes by only his first name), owner of the 2-year-old Raw Living Foods restaurant in the trendy Sunset area. "By eating raw foods, you're doing a great service to the planet but especially to yourself."

Lean, fit and virtually bounding with energy, 27-year-old Juliano, a raw foodist for nearly five years, is a poster boy for the cause.

And it's a cause that's getting more attention. Celebrities including Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Robin Williams have dropped by Raw restaurant. Several Web sites are devoted to the raw food regimen, including All Raw Times (, which includes recipes, food suppliers and diet information. The American Living Foods Institute near Glendale, Calif., disseminates information on raw foods and acts as a living-foods health clinic. Living Nutrition is a year-old magazine out of Sebastopol, Calif., devoted to the raw-food lifestyle. And Raw restaurant's Juliano is writing one of the first raw foods recipe books, called Raw, the Uncooked Book.

"Raw foodists hold that cooking destroys many vitamins and minerals and essential food enzymes," says Barbara Haspel, co-author with her daughter Tamar of the New York-based healthy eating newsletter Dreaded Broccoli. That means no grilled eggplant. No marinara sauce. Not even stir-fried tofu cubes.

But it isn't all carrot sticks. Raw foods can also include pizzas and burritos. Sort of.

At Raw Living Foods restaurant, Juliano serves up pizzes, distant cousins of pizzas that are served on a sprouted buckwheat and "baked" by sitting in the sun for several hours. Raw's "sushi" isn't fish at all, but gussied-up carrot pulp that tastes surprisingly like salmon. The rice isn't cooked, but soaked in water for 30 days until it becomes soft and palatable. And the "chips" that come with the spicy guacamole appetizer aren't fried triangles, but meaty slices of sweet potato, coconut and carrot.

"In most restaurants, tortillas are deep-fried. But I take a purple cabbage leaf, pull it off, and it's automatically a tortilla. It's a neat color, there's no package to become trash. It's better than a flour tortilla," Juliano says.

Instead of vegetable-flavored pasta, Juliano offers "zucchini linguine," julienned zucchini that "tastes just like al dente pasta with sauce."

A glass of vino with that raw pasta? No problem. Since wine goes through no heating process, it gets the thumbs up from Juliano. Beer is a no-no since the hops are boiled, and the distillation process knocks liquor out of the living-food diet.

A glass of wine and a plate of pasta. Sounds like standard California cuisine. But not all diners will be spurning Spago. After a meal at Raw, Dreaded Broccoli's Tamar Haspel concluded, "human beings have been cooking for thousands of years. This restaurant does not give me compelling reason to stop."

Still, raw foodism seems to be growing. Next month, Juliano will move Raw to larger quarters to meet customer demand. And two more living-food restaurants have opened recently: Lovin' Life in Fairfax, Calif., and Raw Experience in Paia, Hawaii. And living-food advocates cite the proliferation of juice bars as proof that their regimen is entering the mainstream.

Although raw foodism seems to be on the rise, it's unlikely to become as big a culinary trend as, say, nouvelle cuisine. "Vegetarians are a minority of the population, and rawists are a very small minority of that," Barbara Haspel says. "Few people are completely committed to it."

For those who are, health is a motivating factor. "The source of most health problems is what we eat," says Ed Douglas, director of the American Living Foods Institute, a raw foodist for more than 20 years. "Whoever started cooking food 40,000 years ago didn't realize that we are not designed to eat cooked food. We're designed like other species to eat food in the raw form."

Why? Stephen Arlin, co-author of Nature's First Law: The Raw-Food Diet (Maul Brothers Publishing, $14.95), puts it succinctly: "Cooked food is poison." Strict believers think that cooking destroys foods' vitamins and minerals and that cooked foods clog the intestines and colon, leading to ills from cancer to diabetes.

But food safety experts raise cautions about the raw food diet. "I can understand the principle, but it's fraught with danger," says Nicols Fox, author of Spoiled: The Dangerous Truth About a Food Chain Gone Haywire (HarperCollins, $25). "In terms of pathogens, we're looking at a whole host of bugs we haven't seen on vegetables before, including salmonella and cyclospora." Heat is one important way of removing those threats, she says.

Understanding the dynamics of the raw food diet is essential, Arlin agrees. Living foodists eat about 70% fruit. But, he says, that's using the botanical definition of fruit, "so that means anything that contains within itself the seeds for regeneration of the plant, like bell peppers, cucumbers and squash." He fills out his diet with raw nuts and leafy greens. After years of eating cooked foods, the raw food diet can take some getting used to, he admits. "But after a while," he says, "it will feel perfectly natural."

For Juliano, the raw food diet is perfectly natural. "After all," he says, "before there was fire, there was raw."

By Cathy Hainer, USA TODAY



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