Raw Power

Followers of the raw food diet have a cool new way to eat, literally.

Love to eat but hate to cook? Want to lose weight and feel energized? Followers of the raw-food movement found a solution, though most Memphians might find their methods a bit unorthodox.

The raw diet, as its name implies, is based on consuming unprocessed, preferably organic, whole plant-based foods, at least 75 percent of which should be uncooked. Why? Raw and living foods are believed to contain essential food enzymes, and the cooking process (heating foods above 116°F) is thought to destroy those enzymes. Followers believe the cooking process also destroys vitamins and minerals, and that cooked foods not only take longer to digest, but also allow partially digested fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to clog up our intestines and arteries.

While most versions are strictly vegan, meaning no animal products at all, a few allow for varying amounts of meat, milk, and eggs.

So what does a follower of this diet eat, exactly?

While most raw foodists down more than their fair share of smoothies and salads, the meal possibilities are surprisingly satisfying. Armed with a few small kitchen appliances, a typical dieter might have sun tea or gardenia water, veggie-stuffed mushrooms, salad with lemon tahini dressing and edible flowers, avocado gazpacho, and a sushi roll or two, followed by carrot cake. Not exactly deprivation material. It's not hard to find a raw version of nearly any cooked favorite you might hanker for, including hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, and potato chips.

According to Tonya Zavasta, author of Beautiful on Raw and founder of the Memphis raw food support group, the body will no longer crave cooked or processed foods after three months on the diet, but in the interim, the cravings can be difficult to suppress. Which is why every second Thursday of the month, raw foodists meet at Wild Oats to share recipes, tips, and moral support.

Aside from weight-loss benefits you might expect from such a diet, devotees to the plan claim unprecedented health benefits, including the virtual eradication of a variety of illnesses from flu to diabetes and cancer. Those who stick to the diet also claim increased energy and an overall healthier feel and appearance.

The diet does not have universal support, however. Nutritionists warn of vitamin B12 deficiency, and dietitians, while acknowledging the benefits of adding more raw fruits and vegetables to any diet, tend to label it an extreme and highly restrictive diet.

As with any popular diet, research is unearthing some concerns to keep in mind when pursuing a raw-foods lifestyle. A recent study by Washington University School of Medicine associates the diet with lower bone density, while other studies find a percentage of long-term raw foodists tend to be consistently underweight. Supporters insist, however, that if followed correctly, the diet is easily able to help you maintain your ideal nutritional intake and body weight.

In larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles, entire restaurants are dedicated to raw foods, but here in the barbecue capital of the world, the craze has yet to catch on. Not to worry, however. Those who need a little help adjusting to the diet can order fully prepared meals from online resources, including rawguru.com or rawlifline.com

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