Raw Food, Friend or Foe?

First of all, I want to say up front that I love my friend, and that I am pitifully tremendously grateful for the thoughtfulness involved in this whole venture she has 'cooked up' for us. I don't blame her at all for the extra ten pounds I've packed on in the last month. After all, it's summer and has been a great growing season; I knew ahead of time that fruit is my nemesis, but I'm eating it anyway, and that is not her fault. She is also not responsible for the once-a-week hummus meal I seem to be indulging in lately.

But that all said, when it comes to Healthy Diet, I don't think those words mean what she thinks they mean. At least, not for me.

It seems unfair that a handful of cherries (very anti-cancer, btw), the occasional sugar snap pea, and a half cup of hummus can have such a disastrous affect on my BMI. But there we are - life is not fair (yes, dad, I finally admit it) and neither, obviously, is my body. I have a lot of beefs with it, not the least of which is the whole cancer thing, but currently one of my complaints is that many of the things that are carby enough to make me gain weight (fruit, legumes, root veg) are also the things that make my blood glucose levels go down. The only thing I can think is that these things are pushing my insulin into frenzied action - where very strict low carbing just lets my insulin sit around on its lazy butt all day, letting the blood sugar rise unchecked for long periods of time.

This doesn't make me happy. High insulin levels, which I have, are very bad for your body, and cause all sorts of problems. But high blood glucose feeds the tumors, and of course that causes all sorts of problems, too. This is one of those Fractured Fairy Tales, right? Forget the Lady, I get The Tiger Or The Tiger...

So anyway, my friend got into this whole Blue Zone thing pretty heavily around the same time that she finally gave in and stopped cooking two sets of meals for her family (veg for the veggie half and meat-inclusion for the carnivorously inclined). The idea of following life advice from Mr. Buettner is enough to make me expire choking on the irony, but we'll set that aside for the moment.

I'm suspicious of the Blue Zone thing. Some of the recommendations are good, but can be found in any health-related book or website - exercise, don't overeat, spend time in relaxing/positive pursuits, find meaning in your life, be with people you love. The major point of difference, then, is the promotion of vegetarianism as the preferable, healthiest diet.

And that's where I have problems. It's not that I don't think vegetarianism can't be healthy, or at least that it can't be healthy for some people - but as a blanket statement of being healthiest for all people, the evidence just is not there.** I note that there are zones of longevity where meat is eaten that are strategically ignored in the choice of Blue Zones, and that there are a lot of reasons that the Blue Zones may have good longevity that have nothing to do with meat consumption (quality of life/environmental quality/chemical exposure/lack of tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol abuse/[meaningful, productive] exercise in daily life/probiotic, fish, nut, and phytoestrogen intake/social support, etc). One of the Blue Zones, for instance, is Loma Linda, which Buettner claims as a longevity champion because of the large population of (vegetarian) Seventh Day Adventists. Which sounds great, except that studies have shown that the Amish can claim health and longevity rates at least equal to the Adventists, and the Amish diet is significant for its inclusion of not only meat, but a good deal of (fatty) red meat.***

So when my friend enthusiastically recommended that we visit a local Raw Foods restaurant, and drag take a few friends along, I was a bit dubious.

Leafs and twigs, yum.

But we went, and of course the company was great - but the food was great, too. Mom and I were pleasantly surprised, and my friend was... well, smug, really. In the nicest way possible, because she is the nicest person possible, but let's face it, she was right and I was wrong. Who could resist the temptation to string that sort of triumph out a little bit more, in the name of health and friendship?

And thus was born the Raw Foods Experiment. Which mostly involves buying expensive and weird things at the nearest Whole Foods/Health Foods Co-Op once a week, then going to my friend's house and spending the next 6 or so hours squinting at recipes, slicing and processing odd stuff, arranging the result attractively on plates or in bowls, and inflicting it on innocent passersby (or young persons unwary enough to be playing video games within easy reach of the kitchen, when they could be outside getting exercise and processing vitamin D and avoiding our clutches).

I'm sure this stuff is healthy, in terms of having lots of vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals and antioxidants and such. And I regret that I keep forgetting to bring my camera, because it certainly is about the prettiest food I've produced in a long time. You can't beat raw food for bright colors, especially in the green range.

And so far, the food has tasted... well, sometimes it's very good, and often it's odd but tolerable. We haven't yet made anything we couldn't actually stomach (hee). The trick is to judge it by its own lights, rather than comparing it to cooked food. The tastes and textures are different, but they are interesting in their own way. If it didn't take so blasted long to produce a meal, I could see eating these sorts of things more often. You know, if it wasn't for the gaining weight thing.

Nutritional Yeast, anyone?

** For more information, if you are interested, read science writer Gary Taubes' exhaustively researched books and articles on the subject of diet.

*** To those who know me and are about to point out that the Amish also eat a lot of potatoes and grains - hey, I admit that. I'm not saying that the Amish diet is superior, either, or that ANY diet is superior to another per se. I am saying that diet is one factor in a rather large constellation of health-related issues. No one particular diet is going to meet the needs of all people, and diet is not going to fix all ills. So there.


Delighted Hands said...

Food was one of those things that I spent very little time thinking about....until my digestive system went haywire and everything made me ill. Make changes slowly like when we introduce them to an infant for the first time-the full affects of change take time to show up! Hope you continue to learn and adjust and reap the benefits.

Anne said...

"It seems unfair that a handful of cherries (very anti-cancer, btw), the occasional sugar snap pea, and a half cup of hummus can have such a disastrous affect on my BMI.....one of my complaints is that many of the things that are carby enough to make me gain weight (fruit, legumes, root veg) are also the things that make my blood glucose levels go down."

You may find an explanation of some of that here at Dr William Davis heart scan blog:






and.... well you don't need any more links by now. Just remember that fruit is roughly 50% fructose.

But also remember that your blood glucose levels may appear to be down after carbs but if you were able to watch them continuously they would doubtless be going very high, then the insulin spurt (which incidentally would turn those sugars into fat) would lower them rapidly. When you measure your blood glucose you may see them low because you've just had a spurt of insulin. I once had a high carby meal followed by fruit cake and my blood glucose went really low.....that didn't mean the meal and fruit cake were good for my blood glucose, quite the reverse, I just happened to catch the low caused by the high.

To keep your blood glucose on an even keel and at a healthy level (approx 85 to 100) you need to avoid carbs, not just the traditional carbs but also fruits, legumes and root veg, all except leafy green veggies I'm afraid. Leafy green veggies are the kind of carbs that give you tons and tons of anti-cancer nutrients and, in moderation, don't affect your blood glucose and won't cause a rise in your BMI.


Carrie K said...

Wow, I thought I was doing good cutting out Butterfingers and doughnuts.

Roberta said...

I hate the fact that things I used to love eating now rise up a and bite me back like a rattlesnake. It's all part of the fun I guess. Sort of like gambling in Vegas...only with no payoff.