Oh Baby I Like it Raw: A Three-Day Diet Experiment

Vegetarianism and veganism have gotten so popular they are already passé. Slow food movement? That’s from the ’80s. Organic food trend? So last year. Welcome to a new extreme fad: raw foodism.

It’s not just uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds: true “raw foodists” aren’t afraid to take on sashimi, carpaccio or raw eggs. As the trend goes mainstream, enthusiasts have developed sophisticated techniques and recipes from raw zucchini pasta to raw chocolate cheesecakes. The trend even quietly took roots in Boston, with a burgeoning Boston Raw Food Meetup Group and nearly 800 members.

Die-hard raw foodists call the diet “revolutionary” and “life-changing,” citing weight loss, detoxification, and radiant health. Though this health-conscious cook needed no weight loss, I decided to give the diet a try.

Day one breakfast was two bananas with chopped peanuts. The starchy fruit filled me up quickly and lasted me until lunch: a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, zucchini, and baby corn. On my way to the library, I proudly refused some mouth-watering Japanese sample pastries – ah, I felt good already.

The pride didn’t continue long, though, and hunger soon took over. By 4:00 p.m., my stomach was growling. I fantasized about the unhealthiest foods one could eat – salty fries, greasy pizza, and fried chicken wings, all while rushing to the food court full of the tantalizing smell of burritos. Depressed, I plodded towards the salad bar, stars circling in front of my eyes, and ordered a salad with spinach, cucumber, green olives, sunflower seeds and peas. All of this, of course, with no processed dressing, just olive oil and vinegar. It was the most unappetizing, boring, and tasteless food I’d ever had. And it was just day one.

Hungry?

At least I knew my suffering wasn’t uncommon. “If you are coming away from a lot of cooked food, simple fruit, nuts and seeds don’t have the same caliber of flavors until your body adjusts,” Julia Hoffenberg, founder of Rawhealingpatch.com advised to first timers on Youtube. “People often become apathetic and begin to not care whether they are eating or not because the flavors just are not that exciting yet. Sometimes people even go into a slight depression, which is perfectly normal…”

(Thanks for the warning, Julia.) I read more potential negative reactions to the diet (detox symptoms, skin issues, constipation, etc) as my stomach protested. I chugged two glasses of almond milk, gobbled a handful of cashews and went to bed with the milk swishing around in my stomach. I can’t be hungry if I’m asleep, right?

Day two was faster and easier as I accepted the fact that I needed a larger amount of raw food than cooked food for full satisfaction. Day two consisted of a watermelon and banana breakfast, mango avocado salad for lunch and two delicious raw dishes for dinner that I pulled out of the Joy of Cooking: oranges with black olive puree and fennel seeds, and beets with garlic and walnut sauce. The problem? I missed coffee – the comforting warm beverage made from roasted beans and boiled water. Raw foodists believe nothing should be heated more than 115 degrees, above which temperature vital nutrients and enzymes are destroyed, and that includes water. “Do raw foodists drink coffee or tea?” I typed bitterly on Google, my head drooping as I dozed off at work. “Raw foodists will drink sun tea, which is tea brewed by the power of the sun,” the Living and Raw Foods website proudly announced. Well… I guess I can nap instead.

While the diet can come with reduced chances of developing high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer, it is associated with health risks too. Along with short-term discomfort and possible food-borne illness from eating raw meat, fish and eggs, raw foodists can suffer from low levels of calcium, iron, protein and vitamin B-12. A 2005 study has shown that the diet is associated with a lower bone density, the other found indicated an increased risk of dental erosion.

Luckily, my teeth didn’t rot off after a three-day experiment, but my 105-pound self also didn’t lose any weight or gain extra energy. Though I was mildly depressed in my attempt to eat completely raw, science assures me that by eating raw, I purified my whole body by cleansing my liver.

Admittedly, anyone who wants to completely change their lifestyle and go raw in the long term needs more research, preparation and an open mind to try new foods. While some people have enjoyed tremendous health benefits by eating raw, I’d rather keep it as a once-a-month detox diet. After all, food is all about taste for me – arguing that eating raw is natural because that’s how human beings always ate before the invention of fire is like arguing that we should stop wearing clothes or driving cars because barbarians were naked and didn’t use transportation. There are ways to eat deliciously, healthfully and environmentally friendly with cooked food – so why do we go backwards?

And how did I feel about the return to cooked food, you ask? It was overwhelmingly joyous and I’m not sure if I can give up my morning coffee and buttered toasts ever again.

Photo by ilovemypit

Yue Huang I grew up in China, studied abroad in Madrid and went to college in Boston. When I'm not traveling or studying foreign languages, I love to read and write about topics ranging from sustainability to social justice. Even though everyone in the world seems to call him/herself a "foodie" these days, I have to say that I obsess over all things food and I bake cakes on no special occasion. Twitter: @huangy07

View all posts by Yue Huang

5 Responses to “Oh Baby I Like it Raw: A Three-Day Diet Experiment”

  1. Meredith

    Definitely tried the raw food diet for a week – it didn’t work out. I found a recipe for avocado chocolate pudding, and it ended up looking and tasting like baby poop, it was not good.

    Reply
  2. Patrick

    This lifestyle seems overly tough and overrated. They don’t eat cooked foods because the “goodness” is cooked out? You can get that nutrients quite easily in pill form. Personally, it seems people partake so they can “one up” their colleagues. Just like SOME vegans and vegetarians push their beliefs on you unsolicited. The human body took years upon years to evolve, including the ability to eat meat. Shouldn’t we respect the evolution process by consuming what our body’s naturally crave? That aside, I am glad you tried this diet, Yue. Enjoy your coffee!

    Reply
  3. Chris Slocum

    Cool article. Glad you wrote it. Mind if I clarify something? The raw foodies who get foodborne illness tend to be the ones eating meat and eggs, the ones who get vitamin B-12 deficiencies are vegans. B-12 is in animal products only – so abstaining from them risks it. Also, I think the reason you don’t drink coffee is that the beans are roasted, not that the water is heated up. Two very small and trivial points in an otherwise great article :)

    I’ve tried avacado pudding too (like Meredith), though I froze it to make fudgies. (I’m lactose intolerant and vegan, we eat raw recipes sometimes). I thought it was great – though I’d imagine the quality of the cocoa and the ripeness avocado would play a large role. I remember sweetening it up a lot.

    I have never tried a fully raw diet. It’s way too expensive. I’ll take my cheap, giant bag of rice (or barley or other grains) and my cheap, giant bags of dried beans for dinner anytime, thank you very much.

    Reply
    • Yue Huang

      You are right, Chris! Should have mentioned that coffee is made with roasted beans. Like you said keeping the diet is quite expensive and I didn’t really enjoy it much, but I still think it’s worth a try once a month or so to detox. Agreed?

      Reply

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