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The power of nature

Eating fruit and veggies in their natural, uncooked form is more than just a new-age fad, writes Meeta Mishra.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 11, 2007 18:26 IST
Meeta Mishra

Twenty years ago, if anyone had told you that you could drop milk from your diet and remain absolutely healthy, you would have thought that person was crazy.

Ten years ago, it would never have occurred to you to separate the yolk and the white of your breakfast egg.

What a silly thing to do, you would have thought: it's the egg that's healthy, not just part of it. You only separated the yolk and white when you needed to, say, bake a cake.

Today however, life is somewhat different. To drink no milk, to eat only the whites of eggs... these are normal things, given the emphasis we put on our health. Which is why when brand manager Madhulika Dhall came across something called 'the raw-vegan diet', she didn't dismiss it as yet another new age fad. She gave it a try.

Beat the heat
Today, Dhall swears by the raw-vegan diet. Though she hasn't taken to it 24/7, she does, from time to time, follow it for a week as part of a detoxification programme.

Because, as the name signifies, the raw-vegan diet takes the strict vegan diet (absolutely no meat or dairy products) one step further. Whatever you eat, it must be raw.

If this sounds too faddish for words, consider this: Internationally, raw food is not just a health trend, but a gourmet trend as well, and its supporters include celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, Robin Williams, and Bryan Adams.

But more than a celebrity diet, raw food, especially the vegetarian, non-dairy variety, is increasingly being seen as the most correct way to eat because of its living enzymes that help you to digest what you eat.

When you cook food, the enzymes are destroyed.

So to digest your food, your body must use its own metabolic enzymes, a process that uses up a lot of energy and leaves you feeling slow and sluggish.

Aside from that, say experts, when you cook food, the heat tends to kill vital vitamins and minerals. This not only means that you don't get the best of the food you eat, but also that your body, in an attempt to get proper nutrition, drives you to overeat.

Squeaky clean
You also feel good about yourself, says Dhall. "After the detoxification programme, I felt much healthier and became more active... I enjoyed working out and didn't feel fatigued at the end," she says.

That is because raw fruit and vegetables are high in water and fibre, both of which help food pass through the digestive system smoothly, says Dr Soorya Kaur, an advocate of the raw-vegan diet. "This tends to make people feel better" , adds Dr Kaur.

Some raw food advocates believe that cooking food does not only destroy vitamins and minerals, but actually makes it toxic, because the heat converts some particles into harmful chemicals. This combined with less active lifestyles, they say, has contributed to an increase in obesity-related illnesses in developed countries.

This is an argument that nutritionist Anju Venkat of the Health Awareness Centre, Mumbai, supports. The problem, she says, is that in India, we place too much emphasis on the pleasurable aspect of food and not enough on its nutritional aspect.

"Food is just one of the things that makes a human body feel energised and healthy," she says. "To be healthy, you need fresh air, good food, sleep and sunshine. Food is not the only reason of our existence. We seem to have forgotten why we eat. It is simply to give fuel to the body, so it can function. And in this respect, raw food is very good."

"It takes the body very little time to digest, and leaves the body to use its energy for other activities."



This surplus energy, points out nutritionist Kavita Mukhi, can be used to build up immunity to minor ailments like the common cold.

Fasting, feasting


Vitamins, minerals and all the useful nutritional properties apart, can people really live only on raw food for days on end? Yes, says Dr Soorya Kaur, who has drawn up a seven-day raw-vegan diet plan.

But rather than a diet to be followed full time, the raw-vegan diet is most often used in detoxification programmes that range in intensity from two-day juice fasts and short spans of eating only vegetables and water, to radical regimes that include colonic irrigations.

These 'detox diets' aim to cleanse the body of toxins picked up from pollution and junk food; toxins that accumulate in the body's fat stores and result in headaches, fatigue and increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cancer

Says Dr Kaur "Taking a temporary break from caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars - as is prescribed by most of these plans - may not only eliminate the energy crashes sometimes associated with these ingredients, but could also help people realise just how much 'junk' they normally consume.

And that awareness can help them eat better for a healthier life." Kavita Mukhi does not believe that raw food alone can sort out health problems. Besides, she points out, the realities of urban life are such that the quality of raw food is always questionable.

While fasting or following a restricted diet for a week generally does not hurt you, there is a chance, says Mukhi, that the restrictions may also cause fatigue or dizziness if the diet doesn't supply adequate calories.

Whatever its advocates may say, there has so far been little or no scientific evidence that raw food does actually have any measurable benefits, says Delhi-based nutritionist Ishi Khosla.

"A detox diet is a nice way to begin a change in your diet and lifestyle, but it is not meant to be followed on a daily basis," says nutritionist and

Brunch

columnist Dr Shikha Sharma. "Instead, follow it for a couple of days a month."

DR KAUR'S RAW FOOD CLEANSE



Days 1 & 2:

Eat fruit, vegetables, sprouted nuts, seeds, and grains. This gets the digestive system moving and flushes toxins from the bloodstream.

Day 3: Eat only green vegetables (coriander soup, avocado, basil, spinach, cucumber) and green fruit (green apple, kiwi, pear). This will loosen toxins from cell tissue. Drink lemongrass and mint tea. Chlorophyll in greens cleanses the blood.

Day 4: Juice only - 10 different types. This rests the digestive system while providing maximum nutrition. The last drink of the day is Rejuvelac, a friendly natural bacteria.

Day 5: Fruit only. Be innovative - make a fruit salsa. Fruit has the most antioxidant and astringent properties of all foods. Its sugars are slowburning but powerful. They enhance the vitality of cells faster than any other food and with much less digestive effort.

Days 6 & 7: The same diet as days 1& 2.