Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Living Organically, Part Two: The Road to Raw

Raw food? What the???? Before 2005, I don’t know that I had ever heard about raw food, other than the obvious—eating raw fruits and vegetables. Or maybe I’d heard about it and laughed at it. I mean, what kind of idiot eats like that? Why would you? But when we were in Colorado in August ’05, Tara had a book about raw food and I started reading it. I found it strangely intriguing. The book, Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods by Renee Loux Underkoffler, was really interesting. In addition to being a “cookbook” (because really, can a book about raw food be a cookbook?) it had tons of info about why raw food is so good for you.

I read Renee’s book and then I just kept on reading. Again, like our move to organics, my sisters were the leaders of this movement and I continue to rely on them for tons of info. We all research stuff and e-mail it around to each other. We’re geeky like that.

There’s so much information floating around in the world about health and nutrition—it’s so easy to become overwhelmed. And when I heard about raw food, I nearly went over the edge. It just seemed like one other thing that I had to worry about in life and from what I was reading, raw food seemed kind of complicated. Basically, when I hear about something new in terms of health or nutrition, I try to think, “Does that make sense to me?” And as overwhelmed as I felt by raw food, it made sense. So I kept reading and I dipped my toe in the pool a little bit.

The concept behind raw food—and I encourage you to read and research on your own because I’m basically telling you my distilled version of what I’ve read and I’m by no means an authority—is that food is alive. . .until we cook the life out of it. And that makes sense to me. Fruits and vegetables, it’s scientifically known, as well as things like grains, nuts and seeds, have living enzymes in them and this is where we get the nutrients. So when we cook all of these living enzymes, it makes sense to me that we’re killing the very enzymes that are most beneficial to us and there’s nothing really left in there for our bodies. I know I couldn’t survive in a 350 degree oven, it makes sense to me that food’s delicate enzymes won’t survive either. Basically I’ve begun subscribing to the concept that if it’s cooked, it’s nutritionally dead.

Around this time, we started drinking raw milk. This freaks a lot of people out. “Raw” in terms of milk means it hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized—it’s straight from the cow. And boy, is it good. In most states, including Ohio and Colorado, it’s illegal to buy raw milk unless you are part of a raw milk co-op, which we were in Ohio and are again in Colorado. Basically you buy a share of a cow that allows you a certain amount of milk per month. It was cheaper than organic store milk in Ohio, but it’s nearly twice the price here. So why would we do this? Because the government, specifically the FDA and the various state departments of agriculture, would like to make it so that no one can buy raw milk at all. That ticks me off. You have to know a little bit about the history of milk pasteurization (which means milk has been heated to a certain temperature to kill the bacteria in it) and how we’ve evolved in milk production to understand why the FDA acts the way it does in terms of milk.

The short version is that in the “old days,” think the era of when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the book that talked about the meat packing industry and basically put all sorts of regulations in place in terms of that industry. The dairy industry was pretty much like that—horrible, dirty dairies where there were no sorts of controls or anything and people got sick and died. So it was discovered that if the milk was heated, it killed the bad stuff. And there was a lot of bad stuff back then. So I’m not saying that pasteurization was never necessary—it was, back then. But things changed, dairies improved and practices got better. When we pasteurize milk to kill the “bad” stuff, we also kill the good stuff, the stuff that helps our bodies actually digest milk. There are theories that say the reason there is so much lactose intolerance and so many people with milk allergies now is because the pasteurized milk is basically indigestible. That makes sense to me.

So am I afraid of drinking milk with bacteria in it? Aren’t we afraid of e-coli or salmonella? Not any more so than I am of drinking grocery store milk. Because a normal human body can handle it. We didn’t give it to Finn until he was finished with chemo, because if there was any bad bacteria in there, he didn’t have a normal immune system at the time. His oncologist gave raw milk the thumbs up after a few months though, so now Finn drinks it, too, and has had absolutely no problems.

There’s tons of raw milk info out there—pro and con. One of the sites I used for research is the Weston Price Foundation: www.realmilk.org.

A few important things about raw milk though:
1. Even if it were legal, I wouldn’t buy raw milk from just anybody.
2. I interviewed our dairy farmers (in Ohio and here) at length, asking about their procedures for milking, use of antibiotics, type of feed (grass fed cows are what you want), care of animals, etc..
3. I asked to see their bacteria reports. Interestingly, their levels of bacteria were well below what the FDA requires for PASTURIZED milk.

So it’s important to know who you’re buying from, what their policies and procedures are and you have to have a level of trust with them. They know the FDA and state agencies are just waiting for the dairy farmers to screw up, so they are really, really careful. Have I mentioned that I love raw milk? Most people of my parents’ generation, who grew up drinking raw milk, never understand what the raw milk flap is about. To them, it’s just milk and they never got sick drinking it.

Frankly, I’m more worried about the commercial food supply, like drinking water (here in Colorado there was just an incident of a town with something bad in their water supply like salmonella or something), spinach (remember the e-coli contamination last year?) and a million other situations of food coming through the “safe” food chains. Just because the FDA says it’s safe, it’s obviously not true, so I feel quite safe “taking my chance” with raw milk.

Moving right along. . .

For years, I didn’t realize that I was on a path to raw foods in terms of kitchen appliances. I have always loved cooking and trying new foods and recipes, which will make my Mom roll her eyes because I was a picky eater as a kid. In ’04 I started grinding my own wheat and making my own bread (dead bread!). I still do that. Then, because of my love for all things kitchen gadget-y, I just kept on collecting until Eamonn said he was going to have to build an addition on the house to hold all of my crap. I bought a yogurt maker and started making my own raw yogurt.

“Raw” by the way means not heating things above a certain temperature. That temperature varies by what “cookbook” you’re reading. I’ve read everything from 95 degrees to 110 degrees. I try to be at 104 or below just to be safe. The goal is to leave as many of the enzymes living as possible. And pretty much everything we buy commercially, other than fruits and veggies has been cooked. Yogurt? Cooked. Cereal? Cooked. Bread? Cooked. Peanut butter? Cooked. Nuts in general? Cooked. You name it, unless it says “raw,” it’s cooked, cooked, cooked, cooked. Even, as I rambled on about above, milk is cooked.

Anyway, after reading more and more raw books, I realized I wanted a dehydrator. I wanted to make my own cereal, fruit leathers, cookies, etc., and all of the other things I’d been reading about in these raw books. Each year I’d take the money my Mom gave me for my birthday and put it toward an appliance—that’s how most of my kitchen gadgetry was acquired. One cool thing, when I was shopping for a dehydrator, I actually e-mailed Renee Underkoffler. She e-mailed me back herself with a recommendation which I thought was so cool. My brush with a famous person.

My most recent purchase about a year and a half ago, was a VitaMix blender—the super horse of the blender world. It’s what they use in restaurants and bars. The theory behind a VitaMix is that it can break down seeds and stuff to a microlevel that your body can use more readily. I just think it’s nice because the seeds from all sorts of berries and also flax seeds get ground up—you don’t have to grind flax seeds separately—and the kids never know these things are in there. Spinach and flax seeds in a smoothie? They have no idea.

So what do I eat?
From summer ’05 to January ’08, I really ate very few raw things. I love this cereal made from buckwheat groats (I know, what in the world is a groat? You get to know these things when you start reading these books.) that are soaked overnight and then drained. Then you add things like orange juice, raw almond butter, raw honey (meaning straight out of the hive), cinnamon and nutmeg, mix it all together and then dehydrate it until it’s crispy. Dehydrating is a very un-instant gratification event. Today I made some cookies. . .that won’t be ready until tomorrow evening. This is a big let down for the boys, but they’re getting used to it.

So for the past 2 ½ years, I’ve been doing some raw eating and pretty simple things. No real raw meals or anything. And then I met Karen, a massage therapist, who was a raw foodist. And she really got me more into the whole raw thing. She told me, and I’d read this but never really acted upon it, that even by incorporating a few raw foods into our diets, we could see huge changes. She told me about a Web site, www.fredericpatenaude.com, that finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed. This guy is really pretty radical and actually kind of annoying and he’s pretty much a frugavore (fruits and veggies only), but I signed up for one of his over the top, in your face, raw foods newsletters, but there was tons of good info there. And he was holding a raw foods challenge where he asked people to set 3 goals for themselves during this 21-day challenge. So I signed up, what the heck, it was free, and it was what I needed.

My goals were:
1. Eat at least two raw meals a day (I settled on breakfast and lunch and my goal was to not eat anything cooked until 3pm—or until dinner if I could do it).
2. Exercise 30 min/day at least 5x/week (I was actually already doing more exercise than this anyway, but I had to have an exercise goal).
3. Go to bed by 11pm each night (which if you see by the time this is posted, was the hardest of the three goals for me—I’m a night owl).

Frederic had a forum set up where we could register and exchange info, ideas and support with other challenge participants. The whole thing was really cool and I have to say, I did really well. Other than goal #3, which I hit sometimes, but it was hard for me because I work at night most of the time, I did it! And the results showed me that there’s something to this whole raw food thing.

Some of the stuff I ate included:

My raw buckwheat granola. I also just soaked and then dried buckwheat groats plain. It’s like grape nuts, which I love. I’d put fruit on the top of either of these and raw milk. Buckwheat is a very alkaline grain and is absorbed very slowly so it sticks with you (BTW, alkalinity is very important to our bodies—more important to be alkaline vs. acid. Cancer, for example, can’t grow or thrive in an alkaline environment, which is why you hear about so many people going on “green” diets to try and cure their cancer. I’ll write more about that in another post).

I also like a cultured milk drink called kefir. You can buy your own or make it. I’ve done both. I mix kefir with ground flax seeds, which I love and crave now, fruit, and a little raw agave nectar or raw honey. Had that this morning in fact, and I’ll probably have it again tomorrow.

I also made “pancakes” from ground flax seeds, water and agave syrup, and then topped it with blueberry puree.

One of my favorite things is to soak oat groats and almonds over night, then top them with raisins, dried cranberries, and maybe some banana slices, and raw milk and a little maple syrup (not technically raw because all maple syrup has to be cooked, but the raw foodists love it anyway) or agave. Yum. Cleans you out like crazy, too. I’m feeling very good about my colon these days. That might be too much information.


Sometimes I’ll eat tons of salads. Then I get sick of them and move on to something else for awhile. Right now I can’t get enough of a Greek style salad I keep making.

This winter, I’d eat one of the above breakfasts, then go ski and get home about 2:15pm. I’d whip up a smoothie and guzzle it down before I had to pick Declan up. My fave smoothies have: 8 oz. organic soy milk (make sure it’s organic or else it will be genetically modified, which I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with genetically modified food yet, but there aren’t really any studies and I don’t want to grow a third arm and then have them tell me they’ve decided genetically modified food isn’t good for me), a scoop of Juice Plus smoothie powder, 1 tbls. Flax seed oil, 3 tbl. Flax seeds, a handful of spinach or some other greens like kale or parsley or romaine, and a cup or more of whatever fruit I’ve got around. My current craving is for blueberries and peaches, but I just ran out of my stash of peaches frozen from last summer so I need to re-evaluate. Oh my word—it’s so good, and filling. Eamonn loves these and so do the boys. Sometimes.

Other lunch stuff—I make a bread in the dehydrator that is made from ground flax seeds, whole flax seeds, black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, garlic, onion, and I think some water. I’m too lazy to get up and get the book to see what all is actually in there. So this bread dries out in a few hours and then I layer it with spicy mustard, and every veggie in the house—red onion, spinach or other greens, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, peppers, avocado, maybe some raw cheese if I’ve splurged and have some. Oh. My. Word. I love it. I have tons of seeds stuck in my teeth after I eat it, but I love it. I just have to make sure I floss before I go out anywhere.

I’ve tried some cold soups made in the VitaMix, but I’m not really a fan of those.


During the raw food challenge, I did great about eating a huge salad and a small portion of whatever cooked food I made for Eamonn and the boys. I’ve not done well since the challenge ended though and have eaten more cooked food, which is weak, I know. There’s something about cooked food which seems to trigger an overeating response in me, so I’ve learned my lesson and I need to get back on the raw food bandwagon. But I definitely feel like I need to be more prepared to eat raw because other than fruits and veggies, you can’t always just grab something and be assured of staying raw.


There are tons and they’re so good. I have cookies dehydrating right now and I can’t wait to see how they are because the “dough” was so good I kept eating it—soaked oat groats, maple syrup, vanilla, and all sorts of dried fruits and a grated apple and some chopped banana. The recipe was one of those, “just throw in what sounds good to you” things and so I did. At least I didn’t feel guilty about eating the dough like usual.

I’ve made raw carob fudge which was awesome, and a raw apple pie, which was good but had way too much cinnamon. Sometimes I just eat Medjool dates, which are addictive.

There are tons, tons, tons more things to eat raw, these are just the things I started with and really enjoyed. Every once in awhile I add something else to my repertoire. It’s a process.

The Results

During the raw food challenge, I dropped about 5 pounds in 21 days, which was amazing for me because I have NEVER lost weight on my own before. However, as soon as the challenge was over, I went back to eating popcorn twice a week and, call me crazy, but that’s probably a problem. Also, I can’t lay off the avocados. I love them. And anything like that in excess is going to pack on the pounds. The avocados will make Marci laugh. When we were in grad school we used to go to the Bagel and Deli in Oxford and she’d get a turkey bagel with avocado. I thought that was so gross. Now I’d eat them all day if I could.

But beyond the weight loss, there were a lot of other changes. Right before Finn got sick, I was at a really good weight. I ate well, exercised, and I slept as much as a person with young children can. I was in a good place. Then the stress of Finn’s cancer, hospital food, no energy, no will to exercise, plus no time, etc., etc., etc., I swear I aged about 10 years in those first 10 months. No lie. I looked like crap. My body ached all the time like I had just worked out. My skin was bad, I had major PMS, and my thyroid problems cropped up—remember The Goiter? Ugh. Plus, I craved salt like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, it was what I thought was a really abnormal thing. I just wanted salt all the time. I needed a salt lick. And overwhelming fatigue. Fatigue so bad I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, but of course, I did, because that’s what you do.

So during the raw food challenge, nothing really changed except for my food. I was already pretty good about exercise, but unfortunately, I didn’t stick to the bedtime goal. I certainly didn’t drink enough water—that’s one of my huge weaknesses and I really need to work on that. But after the challenge ended, I kept going on my raw food goals, and at about six weeks into eating raw, I realized a lot of things had changed about the way I felt. The biggest thing was probably that my body had stopped aching. I talked to a nutritionist about it (more about that in another post) and she said my body probably had so much inflammation but with all of the raw fruits and veggies, I had calmed the inflammation. Also, my PMS went from raging for about a week prior, to really just one day of aggravation. My skin didn’t have huge breakouts either. Maybe just one little blemish. The overwhelming fatigue is gone. And my desire to pour the contents of the salt shaker directly in my mouth has gone. Yes, I will always be a savory snack lover, but I don’t feel that I need to compulsively eat salt, and that’s how bad it had gotten. The goiter is still there, but stable. I’m on a mission to see if I keep eating well, will the goiter go away?

Oh my word. This post is even longer than the last one. I’ll stop now. If you have any questions, let me know. I hope this isn’t getting boring. I think one of the next things I’ll talk about is the Standard American Diet and our need for more fiber and how to get it, and everything that’s backed up in our bodies right now that makes us unhealthy. It all starts with the gut. So basically we’re going to be talking about poop. Nice. Rush right back for that one.


Anonymous said...

Please continue! This is vey interesting and helping me to see little ways I can merge myself into this healthier lifestyle. Thanks!

Amy and Jason said...

Great Post Natalie! After losing 36 pounds last year, I am really trying to continue to work on eating healthier. I can't say I will move to the "raw" diet, but am intrigued. Looking forward to your fiber post as this seems to be an "issue" for me.

Sorry I hadn't signed-in before now on your new blog...I definitely followed you over here from Caringbridge. I couldn't go without my weekly updates on the Rooney's. So glad to know all is well.

Amy Heflin
Lexington, KY

Jen said...

Keep on this topic! I'm very interested and want to know more. You've given me the start of what should be an interesting bunch of reading.

I'm currently on my way to changing my lifestyle eating habits. I haven't gone raw but I have gotten better and your info makes me want to get even better!

Anonymous said...

I have been moving towards a more "green" lifestyle lately and your posts are very interesting to me. When you lived in Ohio, where did you purchase raw foods? And how do you go about finding a raw milk co-op? We've been drinking organic soy milk for some time now, my son has behavior issues with regular dairy and my oldest daughter gets constipated if she has too much. I would love to try raw milk. Keep posting the info! I love it! You can email me if you want, amber@bogners.org.

Mansfield, Ohio

Laurie said...

Hey Nat! I have been keeping up with your blog regularly, but have been remiss in commenting. I, however, have been very interested in your venture into living organically. Over the years I have taken small steps towards living organically. I am really trying to work on getting my kids away from all things processed, which is a challenge. I am very invested in Jessica Seinfeld's book "Deceptively Delicious". I am interested to know why you go with "raw" milk as opposed to organic. What are the disadvantages of organic milk? Also, when eating "raw" does that mean you don't do any meat? Marci and her family have always eaten healthy before healthy was even a trend:) Those health conscience Pfeifer's! Hi Marci! Glad that Finn is doing so well, he looks so growed up with his new specs. What a beautiful letter to Declan on his birthday, and how courageous of him to shave his head. I miss running into you around town. There was a little mini unplanned Swiminc reunion at Bob's Bar one night. I saw Tim Arnholt, Scott Hoover and Rick Yurich. Aw, the memories of summers past:)

1dreamr said...

Keep these posts coming... fascinating stuff. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about fiber. I've increased the amount of fiber in my diet significantly since my surgery last year, and I think that in itself has helped a ton.

Anonymous said...

This is all just so confusing to me - I've never heard of half of the stuff mentioned - I'm organically/raw challenged :( I'm going to have to go back and make notes and do research to find out what this stuff is and where it is available. Thanks for the info!


kim said...

LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT! Since my son's dx with ALL I have been dipping my toes into detoxify and eating organic/plant based foods as well. I will research new info, get excited then my wind will fall from my sails. It can be hard to adopt something that is not mainstream. I too bought a Vita Mix and love that I can throw anything in there and my boys will eat it. I wrote down your smoothie recipe. (You may want to try carrot juice for a better completion – its wonderful!) I have not read any books dealing with Raw Foods but have visited lots of web sites. I agree it seems to make sense. I am a huge fan of the cancerproject.org. In fact, I just applied to be a cooking instruction because I find it truly fascinating how nutrition affects or bodies and can cure diseases! I find it disturbing how friends and family don't care what they are putting into their body. I am not perfect my any means but HOW CAN YOU NOT CARE?! Anyway, you do a wonderful job explaining everything and don't worry I am not board at all. I love that you share your recopies because I think if we know someone who says its good others are willing to give it a try -- I know I am. I do however need more info on this groats thing... You soak overnight and then its absorbed by am? Then you put your raw milk? I am sure its so simple I am making it complicated. And what dehydrator was recommended to you?

Thanks again for sharing your info - Wishing you and your family well

PS - great letter to write your son on his birthday!

Anonymous said...

is eating raw expensive?
can you talk about that in your next post?