What do I mean by real food? It’s fresh and whole. It looks like food. What it’s not is processed, from a box, microwaveable, supposedly nutritious “sustenance” that bears little or no resemblance to any ingredient found in nature, regardless of what’s been added chemically. Processed foods may taste good (that is open for debate) and temporarily lessen your hunger, but since you’re not truly satisfying your body’s – or your mind’s or spirit’s – needs for nourishment, you’ll be inclined to overeat or to eat again within a short time.
We pay so much attention to nutrition as it relates to weight control and so little to feeding every part of ourselves. Imagine this all-too-typical scenario: a stressed, overextended working mom (or dad) picks up the kids from school on her way home from work. She’s a bit relieved when her children clamor for pizza or McDonalds™ for the second or third time that week. After all, she’s exhausted and has little time or energy to plan/cook/clean the kitchen. Most of us have been too tired or too busy to prepare a meal at one time or another. So let’s say it’s Chicken McNuggets™ – or something similar – again. I’m not picking on McDonalds here. We could be talking about almost any food that’s frozen, processed, deep fried – hardly recognizable.
What if, instead, this mom drove home, washed some potatoes and green vegetables, maybe even getting the kids to help? While the potatoes are baking, she can get caught up on mail or whatever else needs to be done. Homework can be done at the kitchen table, or the family can talk or read the newspaper. Chicken breasts can be baked; the vegetables can be sautéed, steamed, or served in a salad. Everyone can pitch in to clean up after dinner.
Yes, this takes more time. The meal won’t be ready until later, and it requires planning, shopping, preparation, cooking, and cleanup. But, regardless of menu choice, this is real food. Whether you have a family or not, you have taken great strides toward nourishing each person you’ve fed. When you eat a healthful meal you have taken time and care to select and prepare, you’re nurturing yourself. The time you spend goes a long way toward enhancing your peace of mind, as well as your peace of digestion! You’ll feel better, be happier with yourself, and sleep more soundly. This affects you and everyone around you.
If we look more closely at what comprises “real food,” we can also view cooking as a form of processing. Why? Heating most foods beyond a minimum temperature denatures, or changes the structure, of any protein contents – think of an egg and how it becomes solid as it’s fried. Cooking reduces or destroys the amino acids, vitamins, and enzymes in foods. Heating also changes other properties of food structure and substance, such as increasing the percentage of trans fatty acids in unsaturated oils and reducing water content.
In 1930, Paul Kouchakoff, a Swiss physician, showed that eating cooked foods triggers an immune response. This leukocyte reaction can be mitigated, even eliminated, by eating a larger portion of raw food at the same time. Please note that I am not suggesting that you should eat raw eggs, fish, poultry, or meat, however. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are best eaten fresh.
Before I continue, I must confess: I am a raw food vegan (pronounced “vee-gan”). For those of you unfamiliar with that description, a vegan neither consumes nor uses animal products. “Raw food vegan” means I eat only fresh, uncooked, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, all organically grown whenever possible. Nuts and seeds are soaked and sprouted to make them easier to digest and, as a result, more nutritious. I consume no grains; most people find grains indigestible when they are raw, even if they are sprouted, and they make me feel unfocused and sluggish.
This may seem extreme. It did to me when I first read about it! But after years of eating this way, I can honestly say the food I consume is the most healthful, delicious, and nourishing sustenance. My energy and concentration have improved dramatically. My connections to all aspects of myself and to nature have grown stronger – far beyond anything I have ever experienced.
Consuming a large portion of your diet in the form of fresh, raw foods is not only good for you, it also supports the earth: A diet high in organically grown, living fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is gentle to the planet. No pesticides are used, so the process is healthier for the farmer, for the plants and those who consume them, and for the soil. Organic farmers use natural means to limit pest problems, including crop rotation, planting mutually beneficial crops together, and planting flowers and vegetables that deter troublesome insects or attract helpful ones. These methods work with nature, not against it. But it’s more labor-intensive; that’s part of the reason, in addition to the high cost of organic certification, that organic produce prices seem higher than those for conventionally-grown counterparts.
Much as I would love to see everyone eating 100% of their diet in the form of fresh, raw foods, that’s not a reasonable or a practical expectation. Food is personal. It is deeply ingrained in our being – in our holidays, traditions, celebrations, family routines, and in our society. Each person must decide for him- or herself whether or not what s/he eats is supportive and nourishing. That burger or chocolate cake may taste wonderful to you in the moment, but how do you feel physically, mentally, and spiritually in a half hour? In two hours? The next day?
Eating habits are difficult to change. It took me years to eliminate animal products then cooked foods from my diet. But it’s relatively easy to make simple changes that will leave you feeling more nourished. Limit meals containing meat or fish. Eat more vegetarian or vegetable-centered vegan meals each week.
Another important facet of healthful eating is simple yet often overlooked: try not to eat unless you’re hungry and to stop eating before you’re full. This may sound obvious, but we’re so programmed to eat at mealtimes and when we’re bored, tired, anxious, stressed, celebrating, sad…that few of us pay attention to what we eat, when, and how much food our bodies want or need.
Whether or not you want to make radical changes in the way you eat, it is within your reach to add more fresh food to your diet each day. Few of us eat enough fruits and vegetables. These are health-supporting foods we are designed to eat – foods in their natural states, direct from the earth or tree. Try some fresh fruit before you have your regular breakfast, or, better yet, as breakfast. Have a big, leafy salad with lunch or dinner (or both), varying the greens and vegetables frequently. Skip the macaroni salad, potato salad, croutons, and heavy dressings. Tossing the leaves with fresh lemon juice, a small amount of cold-pressed, unfiltered olive oil, and a fresh herb or two, if you prefer, keeps the salad light and lets you savor the crisp freshness of the vegetables. After a while, you may even find that your taste buds prefer salad with no dressing at all!
If you eat raw and cooked foods in the same meal, have the fresh foods first. Raw foods, especially fruits, digest more quickly than cooked ones, so it’s important to eat fresh foods before heated foods. Also, since their structure is not partially broken down by cooking, raw foods must be chewed to liquid to be digested and absorbed well.
A delightful benefit of eating more whole, live foods regularly is that we’re more nutritionally satisfied, and, as a result, we eat less heavy food. This usually results in some fat loss. And raw foods can be consumed in greater volume – within reason, of course.
As you eat more fresh fare, you may find your body craving it and even missing it when you “skip it” for a day or two. If so, you may want to increase the amount of living foods in your meals. There are endless delicious and healthful choices! Here’s a short list to give you an idea of some of the possibilities:
And just about every kind of pâté, spread, salad, and pie imaginable. A list of raw food books, recipe books, and internet links follows this article.
As you continue to eat living foods, you’re likely to discover that you prefer to eat simply rather than preparing complicated recipes. When you eat food as it’s provided – as nature intended – you’ll feel your best.
Whether you choose to eat cooked or uncooked foods, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or vegan meals, prepare your own real food as often as you can. If possible, eat organically grown or raised products. Nurture yourself: this affects every area of your life and every aspect of your self in a gentle, positive way. When we care for ourselves, we also care for each other and for our planet.