While there’s a lot of buzz about the raw vegan diet these days, it’s no passing fad. Dating back to the first humans, this way of eating has a long and fascinating history, fully detailed by Rynn Berry in the book Becoming Raw – The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD.
By definition, a raw vegan menu includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted beans and legumes, with nothing ever heated over 115–118 degrees F (45-48 degrees C). This ensures that these foods retain their “life force,” including the vitamins, minerals and enzymes they naturally contain which are believed to be damaged or destroyed when exposed to higher temperatures.
People are motivated to “go raw” for many reasons. Some may seek a temporary cleanse, and feel so much better that they choose to continue. Others might want to expand their vitality or perhaps shed some extra pounds. And, in many cases, those in poor health seek out this vibrantly healthy way of eating in hopes of reclaiming their wellness naturally.
While there are many ways to “go raw,” diving in with both feet is not advisable for everyone, especially those accustomed to eating mostly cooked foods. A more gradual transition is more sustainable, and can also help prevent any minor discomfort from “detox symptoms,” such as headaches and digestive upset which can be caused by ingesting too much raw food too rapidly.
So how do you start?
Well, as there is no single “road to raw” that’s right for everyone, the key is finding the version that fits best with your lifestyle. Among the most popular approaches is “high raw,” which offers a lot of flexibility for individual needs, preferences and circumstances. According to Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD, high raw is defined as 50-74 percent raw foods.
The best way to dig into high raw is simply to eat more of the fresh items you already enjoy, such as colorful salads, green smoothies, parfaits, fruit plates, etc. By doing so, you will naturally start to crowd out many of the foods you want to minimize in your diet. Consider these raw starter tips:
1. Drink your juice
Fresh-pressed juices offer a massive infusion of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and functional water in an easy-digesting form. While carrot juice is a delicious place to start, you might also try carrot-kale-cucumber, apple-celery-beet, carrot-spinach-beet, and other tasty, energizing combinations.
2. Befriend your blender
One reason green shakes are so popular is because they enable you to easily absorb a lot of dark leafies, and you’ll scarcely taste them when they’re blended with frozen bananas, almond milk, cacao powder, etc. Add some raw protein powder and your shake becomes a nourishing meal!
3. Embrace the entrée salad
Built right, salads are a meal in themselves! Imagine a blank canvas, and create your own daily masterpiece. Start with a mix of organic greens, adding carrots, purple cabbage, jicama, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, sprouts, avocado, diced orange, broccoli, olives—whatever appeals. This is especially helpful for navigating the holidays on a raw foods diet, when pickings can often be slim. Slather your salad with a delicious raw dressing, such as an almond-agave dressing or a luscious homemade cilantro-lime dressing, and crown it with some nuts and seeds for extra protein and healthy fat.
4. Go big on the garnish
For cool, high-raw meals, why not take the concept of a parsley garnish to the next level? For example, if you make vegan spaghetti, top with a generous cascade of chopped fresh herbs like basil, parsley and oregano. If you’re creating a Mexican-inspired entrée, crown with cilantro and green onions; for Asian or Thai, try cilantro, mint and basil. Along with vibrant flavors, these lush herbs have tremendous wellness properties as well.
5. Make 50/50 meals
An easy high raw trick is simply to ensure that your plate is at least half fresh fruits and/or veggies at every meal. For example, you might start your day with fresh fruit, enjoy daily entrée salads, seek out veggie-based entrées, choose zoodles over flour-based pasta, serve main courses on a bed of fresh spinach, and/ or pair raw blended soups with cooked entrées.
Remember, go with what works best for you on this healthy journey. Cheers to a vibrant raw—or high raw—life!
Ready to give it a shot? Check out these Healthy No-Cook Dinner Ideas for Busy Weeknights.