In May 2013 an article about “Going Raw” was published in the Sydney Morning Herald by Sarah Berry, Life & Style reporter. She interviewed David Wolfe (world’s most famous raw foodie) and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (media scientist) and Sonya Stanley (spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia). Here is a summary of what they said.
David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe doesn’t believe in diets. Which is surprising given that he is arguably the world’s most famous raw foodie. “How good is any diet for us permanently?” asks the nutritionist and best-selling author. “This is why we evolve… I can take any diet and tear it apart. What really is important is what makes you feel good. It’s not a theory, it’s a feeling.”
“What really is important is what makes you feel good. It’s not a theory, it’s a feeling.” It was a ‘feeling’ that turned Wolfe from a omnivore to a raw food vegan 20-odd years ago. He now spends over 40 weeks of the year travelling the world advocating the benefits of raw food nutrition.
“I felt immediately better. Significantly better. It caused me to start questioning my assumptions [about food],” he says. “I like the impact it has on me and the planet… You produce dramatically less trash and there’s an experiential change in the way you connect to nature and the planet.”
Going raw has made Avocado (his adopted nickname), “a little more oriented to planting, growing, gardening – the most therapeutic exercise you can do”. Raw food, as a dare we say it ‘diet’, cops its fair share of criticism. Not least because of its association with a holier-than-thou lifestyle and ascetic options. Despite the argument that raw food is better because it contains more enzymes and nutrients than cooked food, some like it hot, says Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. “Heating foods normally makes their nutrients more easily digestible,” he says. “It does this in several ways. These include: breaking down the physical barriers in the food, for example, husk and thick skin; bursting open the cells so that the contents are more available; modifying the molecules; breaking down large indigestible molecules into smaller digestible molecules; and finally, breaking down toxins or chemicals in the food.” Besides, Dr Karl says, raw is not more ‘natural’ as some say. “We have archaeological evidence of humans cooking food some 700,000 years ago.” And, if this wasn’t enough to convince you, “about half of the women who follow the raw food diet get so malnourished that they stop having periods”.
But, Avocado isn’t biting.
“What kind of raw food diet?” he asks of women whose periods stop. “I can think of around 500 foods you can eat. If you just eat watermelon and lettuce and call that a raw food diet, that’s nothing to do with what I do. He agrees that certain foods, such as legumes and potatoes, require cooking. Generally speaking though, “blending and juicing have the same result [of bursting open the cells] and more nutrients are kept intact”. As for suggestions that cooked food or even a paleo diet is more ‘natural’ in terms of our evolutionary history, Wolfe says “there’s conflicting evidence about our diet, our origins, our history”. His mission, he says, is not to promote “food fanaticism or fundamentalism”. Rather, he believes “raw food is a powerful tool. It’s so clean and so simple, it’s easier to understand what’s going on in our bodies. Raw is simple – it’s a great place to start”.
Sonya Stanley a spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia agrees that raw can be wondrous. “It encourages people to eat more fruit and veg,” she says. “Particular things with vitamin C are better raw.” But while a “focus on fruit and veg is great,” she says, “in its natural state doesn’t necessarily mean in its palatable state”. And from a food safety point of view she says that some foods have a higher risk of food poisoning if they’re uncooked: meat, eggs and seafood for instance. “Rather than worrying about going to extremes balance is the way to go,” she advises.
Wolfe however says that is precisely the human penchant for extremes that leads us to explore our bodies and our diet to improve our health and figure out what works. “Human beings explore the fringes,” he says. “It’s a part of who we are and what makes us grow. I like pushing the envelope. We’ve got to explore and find out.”
Which is all very nice in theory, but how practical is raw really? Having tried raw food, I can confirm that it definitely doesn’t have to mean dull. But, I do think it would be a struggle to sustain long-term.Generally Wolfe plans in advance. He doesn’t recommend it for obvious, squishy reasons, but “I used to carry an avocado in my pocket,” he says. Lesson learned, he now tends to carry goji berries, coconut, cacao and herbs (medicinal mushrooms are his pick).
Cacao, he happily says, is one of his favourite ‘superfoods’. “Chocolate is a human food,” Wolfe says. “People who eat it live longer, have lower rates of heart attacks. The longest living woman, who lived until she was 122, ate a kilogram of chocolate every week.” That said, he does acknowledge that you can have too much of a good thing – cacao, avocado or otherwise. “We have to know by experience – what are the limits for me, what are the limits for most people,” he says.
And that, is the whole, raw point according to Wolfe. Exploring and experimenting to enhance our health and quality of life. Just don’t call it a diet
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