Fans of uncooked food say it’s more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle
Andrews, 23, is part of a movement to eat uncooked foods, a trend slow to catch on here, but well-established in California, Hawaii and in big cities where raw food restaurants can be found.
"In natural hygiene, a toxin is anything ingested that can’t be used by the body. Anything cooked loses nutritional value and becomes a toxin," Andrews said. "I feel better now because my body’s not stimulated by all those cooked foods."
She believes that cooking depletes food of enzymes and other nutrients.
Andrews came upon the raw food diet in her quest to find more energy. The community college student, married to a man who still likes his steak and baked potato cooked, found herself dragging by 9 a.m. and again hitting a lull at 3 p.m. Then one day she was looking through books at a thrift store and for $1 found "Fit For Life," a book about a diet that promised new energy, partly through eating raw foods.
She started last fall by ditching her waffle breakfast for fresh fruit. Then she added more fruit for lunch. She felt so much better that she explored the raw food movement further on the Internet, where she discovered the International Natural Hygiene Society, of which she is now an executive board member. The society promotes "total well-being" through eating raw foods, getting enough sleep, exercise, water and sunlight and eliminating stress inducers that drain the body.
Today, Andrews is "mostly raw," save for steamed vegetables or a baked sweet potato, and evolving to a diet that is 100 percent raw. Andrews said since changing her diet, she’s full of energy and has more patience with the children she serves as nanny to after school.
After filling up on fruit such as pineapple or bananas for breakfast, she’ll dig into one of her favorite lunches: a sliced bell pepper. There was a time she would have eaten a cooked cheeseburger instead, but her taste buds have changed so, she said, that the bell pepper tastes better. For dinner she’s likely to have a salad with romaine lettuce, carrots, sprouts and unpastuerized or uncooked cheese, no dressing. If she has more fruit with dinner she eats the fruit first, otherwise, it is believed it will sit on top of the salad in the stomach and ferment.
"It’s made a huge difference," she said of the diet. "If I eat cooked food, I feel tired."
Raw food diets vary. Some raw food enthusiasts, such as Andrews, are vegetarian, some are vegan and eat no animal based products, and some eat certain types meat and fish, also raw. Part of raw food eating also promotes eating "living" foods, such as sprouts that are still growing.
But Dr. David Katz, the nationally renowned director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, said while there’s an element of eating raw food that makes sense, all raw is further than people need to or should go. He said our species has had fire to cook food for millions of years — long enough for our bodies to adapt — and the nutrients and other good things in some foods are actually enhanced by cooking. He said eggs when cooked increase the body’s absorption of biotin and tomatoes when cooked increases the absorption of lycopen, important in helping to prevent prostate cancers. He also said there is also a danger of bacteria in uncooked meats and fish."I agree with the benefits of eating closer to nature, but I think they’ve taken a good idea and are making it an extreme idea," Katz said. "We’ve romanticized nature."
While our diets are too high in the wrong kinds of fat, sugar and other bad things and don’t provide enough fiber, "you don’t need to eat raw food to fix it," he said.
Ellen Liskov, outpatient nutritionist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said that while Americans do need to eat more raw foods such as fruit and vegetables, as suggested in the newest dietary guidelines, eliminating items like grains, milk and cheese are likely to create a calcium and vitamin D deficiency that will lead to problems later. She said information about the raw food movement has popped up a lot lately in the media, but she doesn’t see it much in everyday practice.
"I think it’s more of a movie star, southern California thing than an East Coast diet," Liskov said.
In her effort to spread the word and get local people interested, Andrews has established a monthly potluck at her house by the beach on Pearl Street. Last month, three people showed up, including herself and an uncle, but she’s not discouraged and was happy to meet Milford resident Jean Coulton, 62, also a vegetarian, raw food and natural hygiene enthusiast.
Coulton — who brings her own meal when asked to dinner at a friend’s house and in restaurants orders Caesar salad, hold the dressing croutons and anchovies — brought salsa to the potluck dinner. The salsa was made of finely chopped red peppers, tomatoes and celery.
The small showing didn’t phase Coulton.
"It was still good ... like any support group where you’re on the same path," Coulton said of the meal. "Even with only two people there, we were able to share what was good for us."
Coulton decided many years ago that she didn’t like meat and went vegetarian. When a friend developed cancer, she began reading about the role of raw fruits and vegetables in bringing health and found the natural hygiene information. For three years, she’s been "75 to 80 percent raw."
"I’m healthy now, I’m 62-years-old and I want to stay healthy," Coulton said.The group will gather again on June 4, but this time the menu will include a talk by author Paul Nison of Florida, who has written three books on the subject, "Raw Food Part One," "Raw Food Part Two and "Healing Inflammatory Bowel Disease."
He also was once a raw food chef and gives as an example of a tasty dish prepared raw: lasagna. The noodles are of sliced zucchini, with raw cheese, raw tomatoes and ground up Brazil nuts instead of meat.
Nison, 34, has been on a raw food diet for 13 years and turned to it as a last ditch attempt to cure his inflammatory bowel disease, for which doctors said there was no cure. Since he’s been eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, he hasn’t a problem. Now he travels the country giving lectures.
"When food is raw, ripe, fresh and organic, it’s the highest it can be," he said. "This way of eating goes back to the Bible. In Genesis 129, God tells us to eat fruit and vegetables."
Anyone wishing to attend the two-hour talk by Nison can call Andrews at (203) 868-4780. cqThere is $10 fee for the special meeting in addition to bringing a raw food that could be as simple as a bunch of bananas or a pineapple.