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EXTREME EATING / Raw foods diet takes healthful eating to the edge

Published in Newsday, 6-10-1998

TURN OFF YOUR OVEN. Drop that potholder and back away from the stove. Cooking your food is not good for you, according to a growing movement of health-conscious consumers. Raw food - or better yet, live food - can give you more energy, clear up your complexion, and even cure cancer, they say.

The idea is that cooking destroys or reduces the nutrients, vitamins and enzymes in food. Raw foods contain more of those things and fiber, too. Eating a diet of raw foods also means not eating chemically altered and processed food.

"It's a step above a healthful diet," said Bob DiBenedetto, chairman of EarthSave Long Island. "It is a higher level of a healthful diet."

It's also a pretty extreme diet, one that would seem like science fiction to most Americans. Breakfast might be a 12-ounce glass of sunflower green sprout juice. Lunch would be a "tuna salad" made of mung bean sprouts, lentil sprouts and kelp bound together with raw almond butter. Dinner would be a vegetable soup (Don't cook it!), and a cauliflower loaf made with mushrooms and almonds that have been soaked for six hours.

"Unlike a typical vegetarian diet, which is available anywhere these days, a raw food diet isn't readily available," said DiBenedetto, who ate nothing but raw food for nearly two years and even now eats half his diet in raw foods.

The raw food movement, while not new, is gaining visibility and strength in numbers, thanks to the Internet, raw food support groups, and several raw food restaurants on the West Coast and a short-lived one in Manhattan.

Even within the movement, there are variations. Fruitarians only eat fruits with seeds. Sproutarians only eat sprouts.

The raw foods Web site (www.rawtimes.com) offers biographies and testimonials from people who are on raw food diets. It also features recipes and "uncooking" suggestions for preparing food, a calendar of raw food events, and information on newsletters, organizations and books.

The largest organization dedicated to raw foods, however, is the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla. It has become an alternative-healing haven for people suffering from cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Its director, Brian Clement, has taken a basic raw food diet (which includes any fruit or vegetable that is not cooked), and put added emphasis on living foods (sprouts).

Sprouting seeds, grains or vegetables make them more digestible, said Clement, who lost 60 pounds when he went to the clinic as a patient more than 25 years ago. He points out that a chick-pea that has been germinated contains eight times more vitamin C than a regular ungerminated chick-pea.

Clement favors juice, especially wheatgrass juice, as a way of getting the most nutrients without too much fiber. The juice should be consumed as quickly as possible after it has been extracted for the maximum benefits, he said. "Put the straw in the glass while they're still squeezing the juice," he advised.

By his definition, living-food vegetarians are vegetarians who are vegans (they eat no eggs or dairy products) and then go two steps further by 1) eliminating junk and processed food and 2) eating at least 75 percent of their foods uncooked.

No more than 15 percent of the diet comes from fruit, because of the sugar.

The Hippocrates program, which Clement outlines in his new book, "Living Foods for Optimum Health" (Prima, $22.95), calls for a diet of 75 percent (by weight) raw foods. Of those raw foods, 60 percent should be sprouts and vegetables, 15 percent fruit, and 10 percent seeds. The remaining 15 percent can be made up of what Clement calls "recreational" foods such as pizza made with a rice crust and soy cheese, and a tofu burger.

Nutritionists are wary of such diets. "There is no research to show that this program is more healthful than the traditional way of eating, which is cooking a lot of foods," said Wahida Karmally, director of nutrition at the Irving Center for Clinical Research at Columbia University and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Although raw foods can contain more nutrients and fiber than cooked, Karmally said, "What troubles me is when someone is promoting a raw food diet as the most healthful way of eating.

"What about other grains? What about legumes? If you just select a few foods, then you miss out on a whole lot of foods that require a little heat for preparation."

ADA spokeswoman JoAnn Hattner said that a raw food diet will certainly be low in calories and high in fiber. "If you're using it for weight loss, you probably will lose weight," she said. "But if you're using it for general nutrition, you'll want to move into it gradually or else you'll find you're losing weight."

She said, "Any time you go to an extreme - and I consider this an extreme - then you really have to be educated." Protein sources will be harder to find, she said. And food preparation takes much longer in some cases. Rice, for example, needs to be soaked about a month before it is soft enough to digest easily.

"The raw restaurants and bars may make the food, but I don't see this as coming into the mainstream," she said.

Last fall, a raw food restaurant, O-Zone, opened in Manhattan. It closed in April "for renovations," but has reopened as 8 Beach Street, serving regular food, said new co-owner Craig Schulz.

"I think the raw food thing might have been too specific, appealing to too few people," Schulz said. "We do healthy, good food. But I do cook it."

The following recipes come from Clement's book.

Basic Pie Crust 1 cup raw almonds

1/2 cup mixture of dates, figs, and raisins

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon pure water

1. Chop the almonds in a blender until coarse. Add the remaining ingredients and blend again.

2. Press mixture into a 10-inch pie pan. Makes 1 crust. Fresh Organic Fruit Pie

3 cups sliced fruit (any kind)

1 basic pie crust (recipe above)

1 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon agar powder dissolved in 1/4 cup pure water (see note)

3 tablespoons agar flakes*

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nonalcoholic vanilla

1. Place the fruit into the pie crust. Heat the apple juice with the agar flakes at 110 degrees for 15 minutes; stir in the vanilla and cinnamon.

2. Pour apple juice mixture over fruit and chill until firm. Makes 1 pie.

Note: Agar is a clear, flavorless sea vegetable. It is freeze-dried, sold in sticks or flakes, and used like gelatin. It can be found in health food stores. Pure water refers to distilled water.

(Copyright Newsday Inc., 1998)

 

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