What if you never had to stand over a hot stove again? No, this isn't an argument for takeout. We're talking about a dining trend now chewing its way through the holistic community -- namely, the living or raw food diet.
Welcome to a life fuelled by such ultra-healthy munchies as wheatgrass juice, sunflower sprouts by the bucketful, raw seaweed, blue-green algae, and regular veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds.
The most zealous adherents stand ready to overthrow 40,000 years of human cookery, figuring that our ancestors didn't know any better. And they won't touch meat, dairy, soy products, coffee, tea (even herbal varieties) or vitamin supplements.
Raw and living foods, they explain, are rich in oxygen, enzymes, hormones and plant compounds that our bodies need but are destroyed when food is heated above 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius).
The pioneering force behind this movement is the Hippocrates Health Institute, based in Florida. While it's been serving sprout cocktails to the desperately ill since the early 60s, the living foods idea hasn't been extensively scientifically researched, though some recent investigations seem to support the many anecdotal reports of healing. Research at Cornell found a diet high in raw plant stuff to be very helpful for 20 of 30 fibromyalgia patients. A University of Toronto study found that people living raw have major reductions in LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
But even some anti-cookers concede that few make it on raw over the long haul. Without animal foods, there's no bioavailable source of vitamin B12 -- and this diet doesn't do supplements. Despite what enthusiasts will tell you, algae, chlorella and spirulina just aren't reliable sources of this essential nutrient. Your protein intake might dip below your needs, along with your calorie consumption. In short, raw definitely has a lot going for it -- but all raw, all the time? Probably not a great idea."This diet is good for everybody. Seriously ill people should be on a 100-per-cent raw food diet. A very healthy individual can eat up to 20 per cent of his or her diet by weight cooked. No animal foods are appropriate. This diet fights cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dramatically slows the aging process, brings about sexual vitality and increases muscle strength. We train Olympic athletes.'
BRIAN CLEMENT, director, Hippocrates Health Institute, and author, Living Food For Optimum Health
"There are things in plants that are harmful, and if we cook them we denature some of those and prevent them from harming us. If you're just eating fruits and vegetables it's nearly impossible to get all the energy you need. Many (healthy) plant hormones are not affected by processing -- that we know for sure."
CYRIL KENDALL, research scientist, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T
"An 80-per-cent raw food diet is impractical for Canada's climate. I'm a firm believer in living 60 to 70 per cent raw in the summer. In winter, a 50/50 split works. The body craves warming foods in the fall, winter and spring. We should use as many raw foods as possible, using warming herbs and spices such as turmeric, cayenne and ginger.' LISA TSAKOS,
Instructor, Canadian School of Natural Nutrition
"Whatever you eat has to be turned into an approximately 100° F. soup in order for the food to be transformed into energy. Any foods consumed as close in form as possible to a 100° soup will be easy to digest and will not draw energy from other organs. Anything raw and cold that you eat will require more of your own energy to break down. In general, the spleen does not like cold and damp, and if you weaken the spleen it will weaken the immune system. Soups are the most nutritious foods."
EMILY CHENG KOH, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner
"Many foods can't be digested unless they're cooked. If people want to develop spiritually and live a healthy life, my advice to them is to get in touch with what they feel are important issues. I would hardly ever say, "Change your diet.' Once they start changing, their diet may need to change. The diet has to follow the lead of the heart."
ANTHONY GODFREY, naturopath