Nicky Park: The raw food phenomenon

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Beetroot, balsamic and macadamia ravioli made by the Little Bird team.Photo / Supplied
Beetroot, balsamic and macadamia ravioli made by the Little Bird team.Photo / Supplied

About six months ago I was feeling a bit all over the place. My body was sluggish and my head was erratic and distracted. I was easily overwhelmed and battling to get out of bed in the morning. That's when I decided to give sugar the boot (mostly) and turn to the ancient Indian healing method of Ayurveda . The principles made a lot of sense to me. And when I began practising what my Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Ajit, suggested, I got my mojo back. I found sackfuls of energy, my insides were nourished and my head was (generally) pretty clear.

One of the things Dr Ajit suggested to me was to avoid raw food. He said my busy life hindered my metabolism. Raw food is harder to metabolise, he said, and would leave me feeling toxic, tired and with an unsettled belly. I've been eating all my meals warm - breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have a few uncooked snacks, but aside from that I've been rejecting the raw.

These days, I still embrace most of what Dr Ajit said. However, I like to listen to my body, try new things and fuel myself with what feels right. So when one of my favourite organic snack producers, Little Bird, started up "uncooking" classes at their Auckland cafe recently, I wanted in.

The raw food phenomenon has been happening overseas for a long time - with RAWsome restaurants all over the US and major advocates in Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore. The belief is that heating food above 46C destroys the enzymes and diminishes nutritional value.

Christine Smith is a New Zealand raw food consultant. The Go More Raw creator became "high raw" about three-and-a-half-years ago. She admits a raw life sounded "weird and extreme" to her at first, but after a fortnight of uncooked eating, she was a convert.

"My head felt clearer... I didn't suffer the tiredness, especially during the afternoon and evening, I could think more clearly, my skin and hair all started to improve," 50-year-old Smith says.

She explains her passion for raw food: "Nothing has been denatured, everything is available for your body to use in a specific way. The enzymes are in tact and alive and vibrant... your body starts to feel that way too."

The brains behind Little Bird feel the same.

"Raw foods naturally provide an abundance of nutrients that will make every cell in your body sparkle," the website claims.

During my "uncooking class" Little Bird's founder and chef, Megan May, showed us how to make beetroot ravioli stuffed with macadamia nut cheese. For desert, we ate an apple crumble cake with cashew cream. (Delicious!) I took these skills home and survived on raw food alone for four days. It was more expensive than my usual grocery run which tends to be packed with plenty of seasonal vegies that I can throw around in a wok - quick, easy, after-work eating. I also had to be a lot more prepared in order to feel satisfied and energised. However, snacks were super easy - oats, walnuts, dates blitzed up with a bit of water make a great base for DIY bars and balls. (I added chia seeds, pepitas and some shredded coconut - then refrigerated).

Nutritionist Kath Fouhy says eating raw can encourage people to get more fruit and veg goodness in their lives.

"When you start to eat raw food there's not really a whole lot of other things you can eat so your intake of fresh produce goes up," Fouhy says.

Also, vegies are packed with water soluable vitamins B and C, so the minute you put them in water the goodness starts to fade.

"The more water you cook vegies in the more then nutrients leach out," the Auckland-based expert says.

However, there are some foods that become better for you after cooking. For instance, throwing tomatoes under a bit of heat trebles the amount of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can assist in the prevention of some cancers. And Fouhy warns a raw diet can leave you lacking iron.

She also says any changes you make to your lifestyle need to be sustainable (which I totally back up).

"If we can get more New Zealanders eating more fruit and vegetables - great. But if it means in 12 weeks time they go back to eating pies its not that great."

The key for me is eating what your body needs to feel balanced and happy. I felt fresh and had plenty of energy while eating all raw. Plus it was fun getting creative in the kitchen. Socially, it was a bit tricky - I'm not one to order the side salad when dining out. But now that it's heating up, I'd be keen to keep on RAWing every now and again.

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Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Nicky lives to wine, dine and thrive. As Life & Style Editor at the New Zealand Herald online, she feels lucky she can call this work. Nicky crafted her writing skills as a cadet for an Australian news wire. Amongst the coverage of sport, news, finance and courts she found a favourite in features. A stint as a foreign correspondent sent this chipper Aussie across the Tasman, covering the big issues of the Pacific Islands. Every single day Nicky relishes the opportunities she has to mix and mingle with interesting people, feast on delicious food, visit new places and write all about it. Nicky wants everyone to make the most of their minutes, learn lots and live their best life.

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