Monday, August 1, 2011

More About Eating Raw Foods. . .

Raw food redux.
Stealing this photo from" Gathering Up My Comforts."
Maybe I'll take a picture of all of my raw books tomorrow,
and replace this picture.
Or maybe not. :-)

Look at me--I'm up past my bedtime! :-) But I said I'd try to get this up today, so here it is.

This is for anyone who is interested, but it is particularly in reply to a comment made in an earlier post by my friend Aimee (this is how I distinguish her from “my daughter Aimee,” but both Aimees are my friends!) who wants to know about raw foods, gas, and bloating. This isn’t exactly a topic I ever intended to address on this blog, and Aimee was wondering if it might be “TMI”, but, like she said, “Just keepin’ it real!” :-)

This really is a problem for some people who want to add more raw foods to their diet or even go all-raw, as many people have. The question gives me a chance to explain what I do and don’t do when I increase my raw food intake and how (I’ve read) you can make digestion easier, so I’m glad you asked, Aimee.

First, I’ll say that I’m not a raw foodist, but I do have quite a few raw food “cookbooks” because they often have the best salad dressings, smoothies, juices, and sweets (naturally sweetened) around, as well as good, creative eating ideas and interesting health information.

I try to eat a large amount of raw food year round but the percentage is quite a lot higher in the summer. I don’t prepare “gourmet” raw dishes with nut-based cheeses and creams, and I don’t go to great lengths to mimic beloved dishes of a standard diet. I eat really simply. And I do eat cooked food every day, too. For the record, I should say that “raw” food means it’s not heated to above 117 degrees (some set a lower ceiling than this, but 117 is most common). This is the temperature where the enzymes in food die, and raw foodists stress keeping food enzymes alive for improved health. This is why you’ll often see “raw” food called “live” food.

Salad photo stolen from a prior post.

Here’s a list of some things I do/don’t do, and Aimee, these are directly related to your question. What follows is written quickly, verbosely, and sort of messily. Hope you can decipher it enough to feel like your question was answered!

1.      I eat some kale (and sometimes spinach), juiced or in a green smoothie, but, other than that, I very rarely eat the actual plant in its whole, raw state because it doesn’t digest very well. For this reason, I almost always lightly cook kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, etc., and like I mentioned in my “Saturday” post, I try to rotate the dark greens so I’m not eating the same ones over and over (this is a recent change for me). Uncooked dark greens and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) can be difficult to digest, and they can affect your thyroid function negatively. (I have taken synthroid for 25 years, so this is not a good thing for me.)

2.      I once heard that a person should drink their salad and chew their smoothie. In other words, chew each bite of your salad like crazy before swallowing it because digestion starts in the mouth with saliva. And swish your green juice or smoothie around in your mouth, too, for the same reason. Just chewing well like this can eliminate some digestion problems, as far as I can tell. I don’t do this very well, but I try to remember to give some time to chewing.

3.      Sometimes I’ll make coleslaws (dressed with a variety of vinaigrettes) and add different veggies to it (depending on the flavor of the vinaigrette), but I don’t make them often because, again, I don’t routinely eat raw cabbage. When I do eat raw cabbage (or raw kale), I always “massage” it first with some lemon juice and salt to make it wilt. This starts breaking it down so that it’s easier to digest. The way I most often eat my cabbage, though, is braised, often in broth with a little lemon juice and/or white wine added to the liquid, and I love this! (I could say a lot about all of the vegetables I braise and what I do with them, but that wouldn’t be addressing the question I’m answering, would it?!)

4.      It would be a very rare day that you’d catch me munching on raw carrot sticks or other raw vegetable crudités because I just don’t like them. I think most people digest carrots well, but if I eat carrots raw, they are grated (I’ve read that they go down more easily this way). I do juice carrots (sometimes my green juice is just carrots and romaine). If I eat broccoli raw (which happens, but rarely), I slice it very thinly. I usually steam broccoli and toss it with a broccoli-worthy vinaigrette. Sometimes I’ll add a beet or two to my juice, or I’ll make a raw grated-beet salad, but mostly I cook beets and add them to green salads.

5.      So what do I eat raw? Stuff that digests easily for most people. Fruit. (I very rarely cook fruit.) Lettuce. Tomatoes (though I used cooked tomatoes often in non-summer months). Avocado (I eat them routinely). Corn. Red and yellow bell peppers. Summer squash. Radishes, Herbs. Nuts (preferably soaked). And probably plenty of other things that I’m not thinking of right now. That list doesn’t make it sound like I’m eating a lot of “raw” does it? Not really, but when I say I’m adding more raw food to my diet, it means I’m going to eat lighter, have more juice and smoothies, eat more and bigger salads, eat more fruit (including dried), eat more cultured and fermented foods, make things like tomato gazpacho (with corn and apple for “meat”), etc. Notice the list above is compromised pretty much of summer foods? This is why I eat more heavily raw in the spring and summer. It makes more sense because there are so many foods available that are easy to digest raw.

I’ll put all sorts of things in my raw salads—like red and yellow bell peppers, grated carrots, apples, other fruit, broccoli, corn, tomato, avocado, etc.--but often enough, my green salad is just a big bowl of greens. I’ll also add cooked vegetables to my greens. For instance, sometimes I will prepare a white bean salad, and I’ll mix that with greens. Or I’ll stir chopped greens into rice salads. Or I’ll make the green rice I posted about recently (I love this stuff!). All year long, I try to have lots of greens (cooked and raw) and salads.

6.      I mentioned cultured and fermented foods above. Almost every week I buy a jar of cultured sauerkraut at the farmers’ market. This is raw cabbage, but when it’s cultured, it is easy to digest and powerfully nutritious. There’s a book I’ve seen (and am interested in) called Wild Fermentation, or something like that, that tells how to ferment and culture all kinds of things. Doing this makes nutrients more available, adds a lot of good cultures/bacteria to the food, and makes it more easily digestible. I think culturing and fermenting is a really, really smart thing to do for someone who wants the benefit of raw foods (or anyone at all!). All kinds of things can be cultured, including, as most everyone knows, dairy. Some raw foodists are not vegan and include dairy in their diet, but only in its raw state, which is hard to find and expensive. I used to buy raw milk (both goat and cow milk) in the high desert, and I made cultured products like raw yogurt (not heated above 117 degrees) and kefir. I didn’t consume much milk at all, but I liked having these cultured products around at times, and they didn’t upset my stomach like pasteurized milk did. I did make goat “farmer” cheese, too, and that was cooked.

7.      One thing that is stressed among many raw foodists is that food needs to be combined correctly. Some people get into this, and some don’t. But following a proper food combination plan can definitely eliminate bloating and gas. Fruit combined with other foods, for many people, produces gas. Others can handle it. So, some raw foodists recommended eating fruit in the morning for breakfast. They say not to eat anything for 2 hours before consuming fruit, and don’t consume anything for an hour after eating fruit (except for more fruit). This is why Natalia Rose and others stress having fruit for breakfast and all morning and then no more fruit for the day. I think there’s a lot of information online about food combining, if you’re interested (or in Natalia Rose’s book). When I first read about combining, I thought it was a bit overwhelming and ridiculous, but I’ve gradually done some of it over the years, and it doesn’t seem like much of a big deal anymore, even though I “mis-combine” stuff all the time.

Okay. As usual, I used an abundance of words to say what I probably could have written in seven brief bullet points. But I made it a commentary instead!

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.


  1. Talk about world time differences... when your post showed up you said it was past your bedtime, and for us here downunder its afternoon!

    I have a Q- what do you do with the sauerkraut? what do you make with it?

  2. Alot of great information here...thanks for taking the time to share.

    re #2: I have found that putting a little amount of raw coconut in my green smoothies helps me "chew" my smoothie.

  3. I love your raw food posts, Susan, always! I find all this so inspiring. I checked out Natalia Rose's book a couple months ago and was struck by all the do's and don'ts as far as proper combining goes. On the other hand, she also seemed so down to earth and inclusive. But what's up with all that colon cleansing info??? Wow, a lot of emphasis on that in there.

    By the way, I often think of you too when having my green juice! And freezing it seems like a great solution for me when I go back to work. I can just take a jar of the frozen juice with me and drink it once thawed. So thank you for giving me that idea!

    I'd love it if you posted one or two of your favorite salad dressings . . .

  4. This is SO helpful, Susan! I really, really appreciate the time you put into this post and I learned A LOT! I do SO much better when I lightly steam veggies and I have never been a fan of crudites. I never have a problem digesting green smoothies at all or avocodoes, salad greens, etc. Trying to find a vinaigrette that doesn't give me indigestion...I only like vinaigrettes as dressings but they revisit me for hours after that! Will stick to just fruit in the mornings and not combine...good to know.

  5. Funny, Winterwood! I'm answering your question about sauerkraut in a post I might have up later today.

    Debi, thanks for the coconut idea! I love coconut! :-)

    Mary Beth, I know what you mean about the colon cleansing stuff! Ew. I try not to think about it. :-) It just doesn't seem natural (though I know proponents explain that argument away). I'll be glad to post some salad dressing recipes later, possibly today. :-)

    Aimee, I'm glad this was helpful. This kind of post is really easy for me to put out (sadly most of them are because I shoot too much from the hip when I write them. . .) I do like to talk about food, raw food, and health, though, so I'm pretty motivated to reply! :-) I hope you'll figure out just how you need to eat to thrive (not that I don't think you already are)! :-)

  6. I would love to know how you made your raw yogurt! I've only attempted it once, but the results weren't overly impressive....

    ok ~ I'm intrigued w/ all the colon cleanse talk - I may need to have a look at this book ~ i know, I'm weird :-)

  7. "the momma"--It's been more than two years now, but I think I created a way of making this based partly on the raw yogurt recipe in Nourishing Traditions and through stuf I found online. I ended up, I think, using the NT "recipe" but I set the container with the milk and cultures on a heating pad, covered with a thick towel (I had a thermometer inside the towel to gauge temp). I can't remember details now, and I didn't have it written down.

    The thing about raw yogurt that has no thickeners or stabilizers in it, is that it can't be stirred or it becomes more of a thick liquid. It's different from what you buy in the store. I learned to spoon it out carefully, top it with whatever I wanted (or put it on top of whatever I wanted), and just eat it bite by bite without a bunch of mixing.

    Ah, yes, colon cleanse. Have fun with that bit o research. :-)