There are many heated debates at the moment about diets – things have changed significantly over the last century and we are understanding more about nutrition and its impact on our health. Over the past year I have met vegetarians (who don’t eat meat), vegans (who don’t consume any animal products, including dairy and eggs), pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish), and raw-fooders (who only consume uncooked or live food). Then there are the free rangers (who only eat animal products that are free range), the organic group and the fruitarians (who only eat fruit and vegetables).
Diets have even been used to cure cancer; Dr. Gerson’s cancer treatment included hourly glasses of organic juice and coffee enemas. Yet alternative natural treatments are often discouraged by medical boards, which unsurprisingly advocate conventional medicines that often have harmful side effects. Many plants high in antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients grow well in Indonesia’s climate and some of these plants have known anti-cancer properties, including tumeric, ginger, red fruit (buah merah), moringa (daun kelor), soursop leaves (daun sirsak), pineapple, noni juice (mengkudu), carrot and beetroot. More people are becoming aware about the health problems associated with processed foods, which aren’t fresh and often contain colourings and preservatives.
Yet perhaps the most promising diet of all is raw food, growing in popularity across the world for its health benefits, since it is argued by nutritionists that cooking can lead to a loss of vitamins and toxic, cancer-causing compounds can form during frying. The best-selling book, The China Study, even examined the relationship between animal-based foods and diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Now the raw movement has reached the shores of Indonesia, with some exclusively raw cafes opening up in Bali, including Soma, Alchemy and The Living Food Lab and The Seeds of Life in Ubud. Performers Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore have propounded the raw diet; the former opened a raw food restaurant and featured in the documentary Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days. But what exactly is a raw food diet and how is it beneficial to the health?
Naturopath and nutritionist Karen Bartz explained it as follows in her book Raw Food Reawakening, “Raw food is just that, uncooked, preferably organic, even better live food (sprouts or food picked and eaten within two hours). Also food hydrated at low temperatures, about 45 degrees Celsius.” A dehydrator is a type of oven which removes the water in the food but keeps the enzymes intact, enabling the raw-fooder to change the texture or create bread, crackers and biscuits. I recently met Karen, who often organises raw food events in Bali with her movement Teach the World Raw, and I sampled her impressive food. At first I was expecting something cold and bland, but I was amazed by her inventiveness with textures and tastes. Based in Australia, her aim is to encourage others to learn about the benefits of raw, organic food and she opened Australia’s first raw food school called The Raw Living Institute. Since Karen eats what she cooks, her creative taste-buds are in full control and she has come up with many warm, delicious recipes.
Karen first discovered the raw pathway after experiencing overwhelming fatigue and pain – unable to gain a diagnosis from her doctor, she began researching about raw food diets in order to help with her health problems. “The problem with pharmaceutical medicine is they make a potentised synthetic version of what’s available in a herbal plant – you have all the side effects and need to start taking extra medication to counteract them. Once you discover for yourself something such as the universal truth of raw food for ultimate nourishment and healing, you cannot keep it to yourself. It is like a divine birthright for all and you wish to tell and inspire as many people as possible to try it. Our highest goal on this earthly plane is to help others. I ate raw in the hope of healing my body, I did not expect to have an awakening experience simply from what I was eating but that is what happened. I was fortunate enough to be so ill I thought I was dying; once you face that and lose all fear, then you have it. Not to say I am without fault, I am just human like everyone else.”
Some believe that the raw claims are overcooked – absorbability of nutrients and side-effects must also be considered and careful research is advised before anyone undertakes a new diet to get the right combinations and quantities. But what is clear is that all foods contain more nutrients in their raw state.
Keen to learn more, I asked Karen if she had any tips for anyone intrigued by raw food. “Yes, start! Do not fear it, you will know in your body and mind from your results. You get so clean and clear then you can access your own inner wisdom – all the answers are within you, raw food just helps clear the path. You may suffer some detox, so you must commit for three months at least. On all raw food you get so much energy and such a sense of who you are, your purpose here on earth and the energy to do it! Just imagine a world full of people like that!”
Although the raw food diet often incorporates lots of juices and salads, steaming or slow cooking is sometimes used for those who enjoy a warm meal. “The simpler you can keep it, the better. Avoid all grains and gluten. You can have a little brown rice, quinoa, things like dahl and chickpea stew. These are the best warm foods. I eat no animal foods whatsoever, no grains, no processed foods – only some cooked vegetables or dahl, chickpea curry, occasionally cooked quinoa or brown rice. But I still feel it is beneficial to do a long raw food experience, I did one year, 100% raw. Then you have a benchmark.”
Karen will return to Bali in February where she hopes to establish a raw food school in partnership with a local enterprise. She has picked the perfect location and I can only hope that the raw food movement continues to grow across Indonesia.
Karen Bartz B H Sc Nutrition, B H Sc Naturopathy – www.teachtheworldraw.org