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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Raw Vegan Diets and Building Super Green Smoothies

A little about Raw Veganism (the diet)

For the past 8 months, I had a very strict raw vegan diet. This means only raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds. I would rarely have cacao, and over the past few months even agave was out. There are many, many subsets of the raw vegan diet - fruititarian (just fruit), 80/10/10 (high fruit and vegetable, no nuts/seeds), and Phase 1 (no fruit, heavy nuts/seeds) are some examples. For 3 months I followed the Phase I diet, which eliminates fruit and foods prone to molds, but now I'm back to fruit and cooked plant foods. The Phase I diet was just too restrictive for me. I have many food allergies and it becomes very difficult to reintroduce foods that I haven't been exposed to, and I also develop intolerances if I have a food too often. That being said, I learned some really great raw vegan techniques that can carry over into every day life and even cooked vegan foods.

Raw veganism (I'm talking diet here, not philosophy) is based on the fact that as foods are cooked, they break down and become nutritionally less viable. As the temperature goes up, enzymes are destroyed as well as other nutrition molecules. To illustrate this point, have you ever steamed vegetables too long and noticed that their color went from green to bright green to darker green to gray? My grandma is known for her gray veggies because she tends to forget them on the burner, and then they are pretty much just good for filling you up - that broccoli loses its calcium, amino acids, and other nutrients. Don't forget vegetables also continue to cook once you get them off the burner unless they are shocked. 115 degrees Fahrenheit is considered by many to be the maximum temperature foods can be exposed to before enzymes and other molecules break down.

Many people abandon raw veganism in the first two weeks because of detox symptoms. The body tends to push toxins out through the skin, and it can create some digestive turmoil and fatigue. I would really suggest easing into a raw diet with smoothies and salads for breakfast and lunch and then have a cooked meal now and again. I went cold turkey and just fought through the detox. Right now, I'm trying to enjoy more smoothies and raw meals to ease back into a high raw routine.

I personally believe that some of the fatigue people experience is because they are not familiar with the volume of raw foods they need to eat to take in enough calories. If you elect to go with a low fat diet, you will need to eat large quantities of fruit and vegetables to make up for it. Some raw vegans eat only fruit, and I knew some who would eat half a watermelon for breakfast, 5 oranges and 4 bananas for lunch, and then have a big salad with several apples for dinner. I had a hard time going back to a cooked diet because I wasn't used to pacing myself. I don't absorb food well, so I was throwing down a lot of food prior to switching back to cooked. That resulted in eating way too much cooked and not really knowing where full was. I continually face life lessons of moderation and I choose to continue learning how to achieve moderation in many things.

Why Smoothies?

Smoothies are a great way to get a high volume of fruits and veggies, along with their fiber, and they are super convenient and fast. It is really easy to experiment with them once you are comfortable making a few base recipes. I usually start my work day with a smoothie to sip on during my commute. My dogs also really like green smoothies, and I share with them in the morning. Champ is very fond of pears and apples, and Annie is our little garbage disposal. Annie particularly likes raw squash, apples, pears, bananas, and will chomp on any veggie. Annie is helping me type right now (if I don't pause enough to pet her, she starts batting at the keyboard).

Champ (on his bed) and Annie, wondering where their
green smoothies are

There are a few schools of thought on Smoothies vs. Juices. Juices require less work from the digestive system and are packed full of vitamins because the fibers and excess materials are removed. Some people favor juices because of this. Other people favor smoothies because our bodies need fiber. Personally, I believe there is a time and place for both. I'll be honest though and say I prefer smoothies because it's so much easier to clean my Vitamix than my juicer.

A Word About Blenders

When I first started a raw vegan diet, I had a cheap blender I picked up for under $20 at Target. It actually did alright with fruit, but if I chose to add any nuts or greens, I could end up with a soupy mess and would have to strain out some of the green fibers. When I decided to commit to a plant-based diet, I invested into a Vitamix blender, and I sounded like an infomercial for a good month after the purchase because I was so happy with the results. I even talked a coworker into purchasing a Vitamix and now they sound like an infomerical. It works very well on greens, nuts, and even rough chopped carrots.

My only critique of the Vitamix would be that the base is not removable, so sometimes it's hard to recover a good portion of nut butters or thicker recipes from behind the blades on the bottom. My friend has a Blendtec that they love, and their only critique is that the base is so wide that not everything always gets blended thoroughly. I hear it is easier to remove stuff from the bottom. The Blendtec and Vitamix are probably the two manufacturers I hear the most about in the raw community. If smoothies or a raw diet are something you are serious about, I would recommend either. Going from my old rickety blender to a Vitamix was like going from a tricycle to a competitive road bike. It's night and day.

Building a Green Smoothie

Some greens are much more bitter than others, and I usually use fruit to mask the taste, especially when I haven't had them in a while. I usually pick one green and one or more fruits per smoothie.

I've ordered these greens from smoothest taste to bitter-est taste to incorporate into a smoothie:
* lettuce (I don't use iceburg)
* spinach
* kale (dino seems less pungent than curly)
* chard
* collard
* mustard

According to Ani Phyo, a good rule is 2 cups greens to 2 cups fruit such as banana, mango, or apple. I think banana is necessary with some greens as the flavor pairing seems to tone things down. I would definitely start at the top of my greens list and work your way down as you experiment.

Here's what I shared with the dogs this morning:

3 cups packed lettuce
2 ripe bananas
enough water to blend things smoothly

After pouring some smoothie into their dog bowls, I added the following to the remainder of the mix for myself:
1 tsp Maca
1 tsp Spirulina
probiotics (vegan - not dairy based)

Spirulina is considered a superfood. It is high in the B vitamins, iron, vitamin A, and has all of the amino acids necessary to form a complete protein. The chlorophyll and phytonutrients help with detoxing the liver and kidneys as well.

Maca is another superfood. It is an adaptogen that will help regulate hormones and adrenal function.

Another tasty green smoothie:
1.5 packed cups kale or 2 cups spinach
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup raspberries

kale, raspberry, banana smoothie with
buckwheaties sprouting in the background

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