If you thought going vegan was extreme, wait till you hear about people who are going even a step further and opting to be raw vegans. “What the heck is that,” a doctor asked me, echoing my curiosity on the subject.
I first read about the raw vegan diet on a blog on the Vogue India website. Anjli Vyas, a Mumbai-based ‘raw foodist’, as some raw vegans call themselves, had written about her entry into the fraternity in 2013. Sick of falling sick, she decided to fight illness with real nutrients instead of antibiotics. Her fascination with raw veganism grew to such an extent that she began to experiment with ways of making raw food fun. Her stall at the pop-up food fest, The Bombay Local Canteen, last year had people lining up for her Vietnamese mango and peanut roll and raw brownie — all made from fresh, raw, unprocessed ingredients.
WHO IS A RAW VEGAN?
Gwyneth Paltrow, for one. With a diet devoid of gluten, deepwater fish, red meat, cow’s milk and more, Paltrow became the poster girl for the raw vegan diet for a while. Madonna is another, going for raw vegan every once in a while to detox. Tennis player Venus Williams is a 100 per cent raw foodist, with the diet helping her fight fatigue and pain. “I do a lot of juicing, a lot of wheat grass shots,” she said in an interview to CBS.
A raw vegan diet is one that comprises raw, unprocessed and natural foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and sprouts — unlike a vegan diet that can include cooked and processed plant foods. “A vegan diet can include junk, unhealthy food too, such as French fries. A raw vegan diet has none of this,” says Anjali Sanghi, a raw vegan since 2012 and founder trustee of the Indian Raw Vegan Foundation. Such a diet is supposed to increase energy levels, create vitality, help in the reversal of some diseases such as diabetes and also help flush out stones.
WHY A RAW VEGAN DIET?
While Sanghi, who shifted from fashion to medical nutrition, opted for a raw vegan diet from her knowledge of the subject, for Sachdeva the reasons were more personal. “I met my husband on a vegan dating site, veggieconnection.com. He was a raw vegan and inspired me to become one as well" says Sachdeva, 27, who went on to pursue a six-month online course on the subject from the University of Virginia. Now a certified fitness instructor who works with PETA, she claims she hasn’t fallen ill for a day since. “I no longer have a medicine cabinet in the house,” says Sachdeva, who along with her husband, Maciek Kolbusz, regularly delivers talks on the subject across the country.
Sanghi says a raw vegan diet provides the body with the raw materials to regenerate itself. When people start out with the diet, they have a lot of toxins within. For some, detox can happen within a couple of days. For others, it can be within 21 days. “In seven years, the fabric of the body can be rejuvenated,” says Sanghi.
Most raw vegans opt for five servings of various combinations of fruits and veggies. For instance, after a high-intensity workout on an empty stomach, Sachdeva and her husband eat a seasonal fruit. "These days it's watermelon. I can finish 3 kg by myself," says Sachdeva who follows this up with other seasonal greens. Evenings are for something heavy. She is putting together a dish with flaxseeds and lettuce or blend spinach to make a green smoothie.
BALANCE IT OUT, MAKE IT FUN
Sanghi classifies fruits as: sweet and rich in calories such as bananas; sweet and sour like mangoes and papayas; essentially sour and non-sweet such as zucchini, tomato and bell peppers. "Some people need more of this group and less of that. Some might suffer from a deficiency or illness, so they might need a little more of a particular fruit or veggie group. But, overall it is this low fat diet that suits human bodies," she says. Maintain a balance by being guided by an expert.
A raw vegan diet takes the body into an alkaline territory, the path that is lined with energy. "In India, people think that if you have a vegetarian diet, one which includes dal with every meal, it's very healthy. This, together with dairy, is a highly acidic diet, which destroys all our healthy enzymes and breeds parasites," says Soorya Kaur, accupuncturist, hypnotherapist, yoga teacher and raw foodist for a decade or so. However, she maintains, that a raw vegan diet needs to be made fun for people to continue with it.
Sanghi agrees: "Can you have raw onions, tomatoes and cucumber every day?" Hailing from a household where kadhi and chhole chawal were a daily norm, she began to think of ways to recreate the same flavours for a raw vegan diet. With help from her son, she was successful in doing so. "Today, I can make kadhi, malai kofta and dhokla-like dishes using raw ingredients," she says, while adding that people are finding it increasingly hard to digest "socially acceptable food", thus feeling lethargic and sick all the time.
Sachdeva feels that methods of cooking like frying and baking tend to transform nutrients into indigestible substances. She creates a mean Thai curry flavour by blending lemongrass, tamarind, coconut and basil and adding that to a salad. "But one shouldn't stick to recipes. Just experiment and experience," she says.
SHOULD YOU GO ALL OUT?
"The human body needs proteins from milk and milk products or cereals to get the essential nutrition," says Sunita Roy Chaudhary, chief dietician, BLK Super Specialty Hospital, Delhi. While fruits and vegetables give us minerals and vitamins, they do not endow the bodies with fat-soluble vitamins, she adds. So, if one follows a balanced, healthy diet all year around, one can go for a raw vegan detox for a day or two at the end of every two months. She suggests incorporating 750 gm of fruit and vegetables into the diet instead of altogether forsaking cooked food as some ingredients release nutrients only when cooked. "For instance, carrots release betacarotine only when cooked. The proteins in soya bean are not activated until roasted," she says.
Kaur too has started incorporating a bit of cooked food in her diet because of lack of availability of high-quality fresh produce in Delhi. "Cooked food such as steamed broccoli can be included. It's better than ingesting poisonous pesticides," she says. The other downside of a raw vegan diet is that people end up consuming a lot of nuts, which is not good for the system. "Going raw is great if you know how to maintain the balance and also when you know the source of the produce,” says Kaur. “I would suggest having raw food for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, have a salad with cooked soup.”
WHERE TO EAT?
While a raw vegan diet is ideal for road trips, fine-dine eateries have also sprung up across the world to cater to this food fetish. A popular one is Pure Food and Wine in Manhattan (where raw foodist Soorya Kaur trained with expert Matthew Kenney). Copenhagen too is teaming with raw food bars and cafés such as 42"Raw and simpleRAW. If in Dubai, try the offerings at Magnolia Cafe at Madinat Jumeirah Resort, which though not exclusively raw, has an array of such dishes on the menu. Goa too has eateries such as Bean Me Up in Anjuna-Vagator that offer some fare for raw vegans.