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The Daily Camera
Boulder County's Newspaper
Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Raw Foodists Say key to health is a diet of uncooked cuisine

Peek into Sarah Kate DeLaat's refrigerator, and you'll probably assume it's time she go grocery shopping. On the top shelf sit four small plastic containers full of salad greens, a bowl or raw dates and a few brown bananas. There's an avocado, a jug of raw apple cider, some organic miso. The selection is pretty sparse. But by most people's standards, so is Delaat's diet.

For nearly three years, the lean 27-year-old redhead has dined almost exclusively on raw, organic unprocessed food, never exposed to what she sees as nutrient-robbing, toxin-adding heat. She does not sip on hot tea or soup on cold days or bite into warm cookies after dinner. She eats no bread or cheese, no milk or meat.

She is thin, but not gaunt, with freckled skin and a youthful glow. With hand over heart and eyes closed, she breathes deeply and smiles before answering a visitor's question about her seemingly bizarre eating habits. "I'm not going to go out there and say this is right for the whole world," says DeLaat, who lives in south Boulder. I'd like to, but that invites a lot of people in my face. So I'll just say it's right for me. I feel really good."

DeLaat is a raw-foodist, a member of a small but growing group of people trading in their cooking pots for a diet they contend is "the way we are meant to eat."   "We are the only creature in nature that cooks our food," says Delaat, matter-of-factly.

The raw-food movement began in 1975 with the publication of "Survival Into the 21st Century," a cult classic by Vicoras Kulvinskas, a computer programmer who claimed a raw-food diet could extend human life and rid the world of many ailments, including pre-menstrual syndrome. More than 300,000 copies sold over the years, as a few devout vegans opted to take the next step and "go raw." But in recent years, the Internet has triggered and explosion in the raw-foods movement.

Web sites cater to raw-foodist in all their incarnations, from "fruitarians" who eat only fruit and "liquidarians" who ingest only liquids to omnivores who consume anything, including meat, as long as it has not been subjected to heat. In Boulder-touted in Internet chat rooms as a good place to go raw-roughly 100 raw-foodists, mostly of the vegan variety, meet regularly for "raw-lucks," dining on such delicacies as "raw pizza," made with soaked buckwheat and sunflower crust, and raw carob cookies.

Many dietitians question the science behind the movement and say they are skeptical that one can stay healthy on "raw" alone. But the diet appears to be catching on, nonetheless. Chefs on both coasts and in Chicago and Atlanta have opened raw-food restaurants and makets catering to the "raw" crowd. Celebrities such as Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson and Robin Williams have reportedly tried it. It was even featured on "Oprah." And those who adhere to it say they will never go back to cooking their food.

"There is a grassroots revolution going on in this country," says David Wolfe, author of the Sunfood Diet and Success System and a strict raw-foodist for more than seven years. He estimates more than 10,000 have eliminated cooked food from their diet completely. "We have gone to the extreme of the whole food thing in this country, to the point where we don't even know what we are getting. Everyone is saying 'give us something more simple,' " he says. Wolfe, who will visit Boulder on Saturday for a sold-out afternoon workshop, explains it this way: Eating food raw is eating it the way nature made it, and the way we are intended to take it in. Cooking it causes chemical changes that our bodies "may or may not be designed to handle."  He says heat introduces toxins into the food and sizzles away nutrients, as well as killing valuable enzymes that help "re-digest" the food so our organs don't have to work so hard to process it.

Bonnie Jortberg, a registered dietitian with the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, doesn't buy it. "Yes, enzymes are very sensitive to heat," she says. "But that is the reason you have a pancreas."   She says the pancreas and other organs produce plenty of enzymes to break down our food. Plus, even if food is eaten raw, the acidic environment in the stomach often kills many of the enzymes contained in the food anyway, so the body must produce its own to help with digestion. While it may be possible to get enough nutrients from an all-raw diet, it would be extremely tough, she says. "Do I think there are some potential positives to eating raw food? Absolutely. Do I think this is all your diet should be made up of? I think it would be very difficult to meet your nutritional needs by doing that," she says. "If humans grazed on grass all day, we would die."

Pat Kendall, a nutritionist in Colorado State University's Department of Food science and Human Nutrition, says that while some nutrients-particularly Vitamin C-are steamed away in the cooking process, others are enhanced. For example, heating grains breaks down phytic acids, which have a tendency to interfere with nutrient absorption, she says. Spinach is high in calcium, but the oxilic acid in it tnerferes with the absorption of the calcium. Oxilic acid is disengaged by heating. And then there is the food-safety issue. Heating kills potential pathogens, like E. Coli, which the modern human can die from, says Kendall, who shivers at the thought of a raw-food potluck. "If you really go back to the caveman diet, you are eating food stright off the tree, not food that has been sitting in the sun," she says. "Pathogens are on it today that weren't necessarily on it back then." Plus, she says, "those people didn't live to be more than about 25. Who knows what they died from?"

Wolfe is familiar with such criticisms and meets each one head-on. A body less engaged in producing enzymes to digest its food can use that energy in other ways, and does, he says. Just look at him. He has a sturdy 6-foot, 175-pound frame, enough energy for daily power yoga class or hike between his many lectures, and what seems like an almost super-human degree of energy. After living on little more than smoothies, salads, fruits and nuts for seven years, he describes his health as "unbelievable," with reflexes as sharp as they were in this teens and crystal-clear thinking. "I can go without sleep for two or three days and not crash my immune system," he says.

Brian Clement, a biochemist and director of the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., points to an array of recent studies heralding the disease-fighting properties of foods like raw broccoli sprouts and radishes. But he asserts that heating food above 115 degress destroys the inherent oxygen, hormones, and phytonutrients that do the disease-fighting. He went raw 38 years ago, long before it was trendy, and now helps athletes, celebrities and people battling cancer to do the same. "It is very simple principle that works beautifully," he says.

DeLaat says she once suffered from paralyzing menstrual periods, with pain and intestinal problems leaving her doubled over in the bathroom and skin covered with acne. All that's gone aways, she says.  Now, on top of baby-sitting two toddlers during the day, she is trying to teach herself to have a photographic memory and taking evening workshops in healing touch. She admits she "cheats" on occasion, succumbing to her craving for an organic peanut butter sandwhich or a bowl of hot vegan soup. And she can feel it. "When I eat cooked food, it brings me down," she says. But for her, like most raw-foodist, the diet is about much more than food. She no longer creates waste buying packaged groceries or doing dishes. "And I'm more connected to my intuition, to God, to all that, because of this diet," she says.

Wolfe chuckles when asked if the diet is just a passing fad. He believes more people could handle an 80 percent raw diet with just a bit of self-discipline. And just imagine society's potential if they did. "Our assumption has always been that we are supposed to eat cooked food. But we could have been built out the wrong stuff and not even known it," he says. "Just think what would happen if we started to be built out of the right stuff."



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