There are numerous things I really enjoy about a raw vegan diet. Environmental and ethical boons aside, a high-fruit, high-carbohydrate raw vegan diet is simple to follow, allows you to feel great, and is downright sweet and juicy. Eating all the fruit you care for is appealing to a lot of people for obvious reasons. There are few greater feelings than sitting down to lunch and seeing 2, 3, 4 or more pounds of perfectly ripe, fragrant mangos sitting in a bowl and knowing that they are all for you. Yes, just you.
But with that all being said, I do believe that there are certain things that some people can adjust on their raw or mostly raw vegan diet to provide better results.
What inspired me to experiment even further with my diet and do more research?
I was cold. Downright chilly, in fact.
I never really saw it as an issue though. I just thought it was completely normal for me, during the wintertime, to need to wear 3 layers of shirts during the day and sleep with an electric blanket and a space heater. Granted, winters in eastern South Dakota USA can be pretty brutal, but it did get to a point where I wondered if it really was ideal to be so chilly all the time. I wasn’t under-eating by any means either (3,000 +calories from fruit every day), I was just cold.
I even objectively measured my core body temperature with a thermometer placed under my arms first thing in the morning. Most mornings, following the strict high-fruit, high-water, low sodium raw vegan diet I was, it was a frigid 95.4 degrees F.
Now there are some people in the raw food/health movement who believe that a lower body temperature like this is closer to ideal.
The theory is that most people are following an unhealthy lifestyle and eating plenty of unhealthy foods that cause their body to be in a constant fever, hence the average 98.4 F. And that made sense to me for the longest time. But then again, at the time I was more willing to accept what was said without doing my own research. That’s not what I want to teach anybody else to do. The wise words of George Carlin have taught me something important: “Question everything.”
So I started asking questions and starting to do a bit more of my own research. Are all forms of salt (sodium chloride) deadly poison? Is every single bite of cooked food you eat toxic? “Why are you asking me all these questions?” Good point. I’ll start answering some now.
The first thing I experimented with was adding just a little bit of salt to my evening salad. If you are wondering, it was just a pinch of that fancy pink salt you can buy in health food stores. It’s probably not any better or worse than most other kinds of salt, but from what I’ve researched, the high-heat-treated, chemical-laden salts many people use more than likely aren’t the best choice.
Dr. John McDougall, a medical doctor who’s promoted a low-fat vegan diet since the 1970’s, has some interesting fact-based things to say about salt in this presentation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZ3hS9jpmm0
Honestly, it felt weird adding salt to my otherwise whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic salad. Sacrilegious even. I had been told, and believed for years, that salt was deadly poison. Lucky for me, I didn’t die of heart failure or a stroke after the second bite.
It tasted amazing. And this is coming from just the very tiniest pinch of salt, mind you. After the first 2-3 days of doing this, I started to notice myself feeling less stressed and ultimately just more at-ease than I ever had before. I gradually added just a bit more salt after several days/weeks as well and felt better than ever.
Before, after eating my typical evening salad of water-rich foods of 3-4 or more lbs. of tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and cucumbers, I would feel like while in my mind logically I should be relaxed, my body just wouldn’t follow. Not to mention having to pee 3-5 times in the next few hours before bed.
Now it just felt like my body was happier, I could feel blood and warmth rush to my hands and feet, and I enjoyed my food more. Something was working. I also noticed a profound difference in the quality of my sleep. No more 4am adrenalin-surge wakeup coupled with a near exploding bladder.
But I also decided to experiment with something else totally crazy. After 2 ½ years of following a very strict, 100% raw diet (no pasteurized fruit juice or questionably raw dried fruit at all), I decided to try to eat some cooked food again. I figured organic steamed kale would be a good choice. I did end up burning my finger and realized I was a bit rusty at working with hot pots and pans, but the kale tasted fantastic.
Then in the coming evenings, I decided to steam up some winter squash. And then potatoes. All of them digested perfectly with no issues and the only side effects I experienced were sounder sleep, warmer hands and feet, feeling more at-ease, hair and nails growing significantly faster and thicker, and enjoying my food more. Since then, I’ve bumped my core body temperature back up into the 98’s degrees F. as well. Overall, I just felt better.
So what are the big takeaways from this? What am I doing differently? I’m eating a 100% vegan, fruit-based diet, predominately raw, but I also eat a bit of salt and some choice cooked foods when I desire them, like steamed root vegetables, rice, quinoa, and legumes. I don’t eat cooked food every meal, just when I desire it. Sometimes that’s every night of the week (mostly in the evening) or maybe just once or twice per week. Raw fruit is still my staple and where I get most of my calories.
Do note when I say, “cooked food” that I’m referring to healthy, clean, mostly whole, plant foods. I think most of us can relate to how silly that raw-food enthusiast sounds when they eat deep-fried soy protein fritters bathed in MSG sauce, feel pretty stodgy, and then conclude that all cooked food is no good. Sigmund Freud may have said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but cooked food is not just cooked food.
I also just drink water and fluids until my thirst is quenched, not passed it, and balance the juicier foods I eat with drier foods. If I eat a mess of mangos, I’ll eat some raisins with them. If I have a big juicy salad, I’ll have some dehydrated vegetables with it. My bladder is feeling much better as a result, and I’m feeling warmer and happier.
Besides faster and thicker growing hair and nails, better sleep, and a less stressed mind and body, my skin is also moister (no more dry, flaky skin in the winter) and my physical endurance and strength gains have improved significantly. It feels good being able to consistently lift more weight every time I go into the gym. Now if I could just find a personal trainer to help me with my bench-press form…
Again, I’m not telling you that you have to put some salt on your salad, that you need to eat some cooked food, or that you need to do anything differently than what you’re doing now. I’m just encouraging you to ask some questions and think for yourself.
The way I see it, if what it takes for someone to be happy and healthy on a conscious, compassionate vegan diet is to eat some steamed lentils with a splash of coconut milk and a pinch of salt and abandon their “100% raw” label, then I say go for it. I’d rather see a society of happy, healthy people eating plants vs. intermittent 100% raw foodists who flip-flop between banana smoothies and bacon sandwiches. Consistency and sustainability is the goal.
So maybe your diet doesn’t need an upgrade. That’s awesome. Keep doing what you’re doing. But if you feel you might be able to experience better health by opening your mind just a little further, then I’ll be waiting right here with a bowl of potatoes mashed with coconut milk…