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Destler Dodge

Chicken covered in red barbeque sauce, crock pots full of pasta and meatballs, a huge lasagna, roasted nuts, hard-boiled eggs and — of course — cupcakes and chocolate. Platters full of food covered every countertop and table.  My aunts were offering me dish after dish, but I couldn't eat anything they had lovingly prepared. My temporary dietary restrictions didn’t allow for any of this food. Or soda. Or milk.

I had gone raw.

For a week, I wanted to experience eating no cooked food, living on a raw food diet. The whole week was a steep learning curve of what foods were and were not allowed: fruits and vegetables were in; bread, peanut butter and milk were out. I had a lot of lonely meals, but I also learned a lot about making healthier and raw food choices.

Getting Started: The Raw Facts

The short definition of a raw food diet is simple: a diet consisting of uncooked foods. In practice, at just what temperature food becomes "cooked" is not universally agreed upon. Some say food heated to above 104 degrees Fahrenheit should not be considered raw. Less restrictive raw foodists believe food can be heated to 118 degrees Fahrenheit before the nutritional profile changes. Even then, there are different types of raw food diets such as low fat high carb raw vegans and high fat or gourmet raw foodists.

On any raw food diet, it is possible for someone to receive enough protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, though it will require some practice. Carbohydrates can be obtained through raw fruits, or from grains that have been soaked and are beginning to sprout.

Raw foodists also must be careful to consume enough vitamin B-12, which is usually most abundant in animal products. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia, but it is possible to obtain B-12 from plants or from an injection.

To compensate for the lack of options offered by stoves, ovens and toasters, raw foodists frequently utilize blenders and dehydrators.

Neither of these appliances are required; I got by for a week without either. But, if you want to commit to the diet for the long term, they can be extremely useful. Blenders expedite eating large quantities of fruits and vegetables and dehydrator recipes allow for foods that usually don’t comply with raw standards: crackers, breads, cookies and the classic kale chips. One disadvantage to dehydrator recipes is they can require a full day to make.

Some restaurants can offer raw food options, but most of your raw food is going to be bought and prepared by you. For some tasty "prepared" raw food like nut butters, cookies and granolas, try natural food stores. Lori's Natural Foods Center is a 10 minute drive from RIT. Just be prepared to spend quite a bit more than you would on a cooked diet.

Living Raw

My experience with a gourmet raw food diet lasted only a week, but there were memorable successes and failures even in that short time. I used the MyFitnessPal iPad app to track my nutritional and caloric intake to make sure I was consuming enough calories, protein, carbohydrates and minerals.

By the end of the week, I was able to reach my caloric goal and maintain a balanced ratio between fat, carbs and protein. Minerals were more difficult for me. While it is possible to get enough calcium on a careful raw food diet, I was not personally able to reach my required calcium intake with the raw foods I enjoyed eating. If only the raw kale chips I bought were tastier and cheaper!

At one point during the week, I wanted more carbohydrates without having to eat two-dozen bananas, so I decided to make sprouted brown rice by soaking it in warm water for a few days. The crunchy rice was a nice change of pace, but it definitely was not as soft as I would have preferred.

My most fascinating discovery of the week was that, while most alcohols are cooked, wine is considered raw. Some raw foodists advise against alcohol altogether, because it is still processed. However, those raw foodists that do consider wine acceptable advise buying organic and avoiding additives like sulfites. I was able to find an average-priced bottle of wine to sip with the salad and apple I ate at my uncle's birthday party.

But my proudest moment as a weeklong raw foodist came when I navigated eating a raw food lunch out of someone else's fridge: cole slaw mix and pickles. What it lacked in beauty, I thought it made up for in flavor. That lunch made me realize that living raw really was doable.

The Raw Food Controversy

Whether a raw food diet is healthier than a cooked diet is still up for debate. Raw foodists cite research suggesting cooking reduces or changes nutritional values of foods, as well as their digestibility. Some raw foodists even say their diets have cured diseases.

But the full story regarding the effects of raw food diets is not clear from studies conducted so far. Research shows that certain foods, after cooking, are less toxic. Potatoes, for instance, contain some antinutrients that are decreased during cooking. Tomatoes actually become more nutritious after cooking, because cooking raises their phytochemicals.

Cooked food is a part of most people's everyday life and giving it up can be a more extreme change than any other diet. For a successful transition you need to carefully monitor your health and nutrition. Changing your diet can be difficult but taking the time to learn and think about the foods you eat and to try new things can make the experience more meaningful in the long run.

Common Types of Raw Food Diets

Low Fat High Carb Raw Vegan: essentially, dozens of bananas (or other high-carb fruits) a day. Don't forget the greens, seeds or nuts. Eat few to no starches. Meant for those with very active lifestyles who are opposed to eating animal products or by-products.

Raw Carnivorous Diet: All raw meat, all the time. For those who believe returning to a more primal diet will help with mental and physical ailments.

Gourmet Raw: Gourmet Raw foodists rely on nuts, seeds and oils for most of their calorie needs. This died is also referred to as the high fat raw diet.