When it came time to celebrate my birthday in July, I knew exactly who I wanted to spend the day with and exactly what I wanted to do. Making a cake felt like the perfect thing to do, and who better to share that with than a woman who enriches my life; a woman who is the perfect combination of softness and kick-up-your-heels fun. Plus she has unbeatable flair in the kitchen. To share an afternoon with my mom at her home by the sea was honestly the best birthday gift I could want for.
For years on my birthday until we knew better my mom would make me an angel-food cake from scratch and hugged in pure dark chocolate with velvet-red raspberry sauce dripping on all sides. Heaven on a plate. But today we know that processed sugar and white flour (regardless of how “enriched” the package says it is) are inflammation triggers. (See here for more information on that).
So in July we put all of my mom’s conventional baking books aside and looked toward a healthier future. We stripped away all inflammatory ingredients, added a few anti-inflammatory ones, and made something Raw.
Raw foods are real, whole, uncooked, unprocessed, preferably organic and never heated above a certain temperature (usually between 95 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit). Recipes are vegan and comprised of any combination of nuts, seeds, (dried) fruits, (sea) vegetables, whole oats, fresh herbs, oil (coconut, olive, and sesame), spices and other flavours like vanilla. Sometimes food is slowly heated in a dehydrator or naturally by the sun.
But why choose raw over cooked in the first place? Viktoras Kulvinskas, author of Love Your Body: Live Food Recipes, writes “Nature’s foods are in their most nutritious state when eaten raw, picked ripe from orchard or garden. Cooking destroys all enzymes, lecithin, many vitamins and much of the protein. As much as 85 percent of the original nutrients may be lost in cooking.”
One of the strongest reasons why a raw diet is so good for us is because of the enzymes that naturally occur in uncooked plant food. In her book Raw Energy, author Stephanie Tourles writes “Life could not exist without enzymes. They are in the cells of every living plant, animal, and human being on earth and are the essential manual workers, the labour force, for every chemical action and reaction that takes place, which happen to be lost with heat in the cooking process. We couldn’t walk, talk, breathe, digest food, heal, build bone, have a thought, or grow hair without them…The significant, health-promoting difference between live (raw) and dead food is the enzymatic activity contained within cells of raw food. All foods untouched by a heat source over 120 degrees Fahrenheit have an abundance of enzymes.”
The enzymes in raw plant food are of particular importance in the process of digestion where they give extra help to the digestive enzymes already present in our bodies (and produced by the saliva glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and intestines). So when we eat raw the body isn’t over-burdened with the work of digestion and can therefore put its energy into other functions, like healing for example. Does that sound as good to you as it does to me?
What’s even better news for us: peer-reviewed research indicates that a living-food vegan diet has a positive impact on the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (and fibromyalgia). Rheumatoid arthritis patients and participants in seven research studies conducted at the University of Kuopio in Helsinki, Finland reported significant reductions in morning stiffness, swelling of joints, and pain while eating this way.
In Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets, registered dieticians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina offer the following possible explanations for why living food diets reduce symptoms of RA in some people:
- Such diets are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, while foods that increase oxidation and inflammation are minimized. People who consume living-food vegan diets have higher intakes of plant phytonutrients like quercetin (found in apples), kaempferol (found in kale and broccoli), and myricetin (found in walnuts); vitamin C and E; carotenoids; and fiber.
- Living-food diets dramatically alter our gut microflora, increasing the friendly bacteria that live in our intestines. This change is thought to significantly reduce the symptoms of RA. One theory suggests that this is because fragments of the unfriendly bacteria pass through the intestines into the bloodstream and initiate the formation of antibodies, which not only attack these potentially harmful fragments, but also attack healthy tissues with similar structure.
- “Strict” vegan diets exclude trigger foods that cause allergies and food sensitivities, like dairy products, gluten-containing grains, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant).
According to Davis and Melina, raw vegan diets offer promise in the realm of chronic disease because they eliminate two of the most potentially harmful categories of food: processed foods and animal products. They’re also free of cholesterol and trans-fatty acids. Plus they contain very few of the harmful compounds that are formed when foods are heated, especially at high temperatures.
Yes, raw food is good for us, but the true question remains: Can we really make delicious food out of such a limited ingredient list without cooking anything?
2 cups organic walnuts, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup organic shredded coconut
4 dates, pitted (Medjool is best as they’re sticky)
generous pinch of salt
3 cups organic raw cashews, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
Zest of 6 organic lemons
6 organic lemons, peeled, roughly chopped and seeded, approx. 2 full cups
1/4 cup and 2 tbsp raw coconut nectar
3 tbsp coconut butter, warmed to liquid
3 tbsp coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1 cup and 2 tbsp filtered water
generous pinch of salt
Cherry and Raspberry Coulis
1 cup fresh organic raspberries
1 cup fresh organic cherries, pitted
1/2 lime, squeezed
Raw coconut nectar to taste (optional)
Organic fresh berries and sliced fruit of your choice.
To make the walnut crust, drain and thoroughly rinse the soaked walnuts and place on a tea towel to dry off somewhat. Add them to a food processor with the shredded coconut, dates, and salt. Pulse until a dough is formed. Press the raw mixture to the bottom of an eight- or nine- inch spring-form pan.
To make the lemon cake, drain the soaked cashews and put into a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix) with zest, lemons, coconut nectar, water, and salt. Melt the coconut oil and coconut butter by putting them together in a small bowl and setting the bowl over another bowl of warm tap water. Once melted, add the oil mixture to the blender. Blend thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and thick. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, put all cake ingredients into a large bowl, stir well, and blend in batches. Pour into the spring-form pan on top of the walnut crust. Place in the freezer until the cake is firm.
To make the coulis, blend all ingredients until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve.
Remove the cake from the spring pan and cover with fresh fruit. Drizzle plates with the coulis.
Refrigerate any leftovers.
We all deserve someone to watch over us. Someone who bears witness to our hardships, heartaches, and triumphs. Someone who rides the tide with us, regardless of how high or low it is.
Is there anyone who makes you feel safe enough to express how you really feel about your illness? Someone who is the first to arrive at your door when you’re sick and the last to leave; who helps you to sustain happiness and a peaceful heart despite the often turbulent challenges?
My mom is that person for me—my sailor’s knot, anchor, harbour, lighthouse in the dark.
Note of Caution:
A raw food diet is high in fiber, so it often takes the gut time to adjust. Slowly fold raw food into your meal plan and your stomach is less likely to upset.