Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Omega-3 - NOT just from fish...

Advertisers have seized on the links made with omega-3 and brain development, to the extent that parents with young children can worry that, if their children are not eating fish and/or taking cod-liver oil tablets or consuming products fortified with omega-3 (even bread) they'll never get into their nursery school of choice...

The fatty acids group called 'omega-3' is certainly essential for our bodies. Experts believe that a lack of long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acids in our brain tissue can lead to neurological problems, and supplementing our diet with omega-3 can safeguard against this. This is supported by a study led by Pascale Barberger-Gateau, reported in the Journal of Neurology: 'Eating a diet rich in omega-3 oils may significantly reduce a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In a study in France, 8000 people aged over 65 - all in good neurological health at the start of the research - were questioned about their diets. Four years later, 183 of them had developed Alzheimer's and 98 another form of dementia. The reseachers found that participants who had regularly eaten omega-3-rich oils, such as flaxseed oil and walnut oil, were 60% less likely to have developed dementia than those who had not. Omega-3 also lowers the total amount of fat in the blood, which keeps blood pressure down. So, omega-3 is good for the brain and heart.

The good news for the raw vegan or vegetarian is that omega-3 is contained in many plant foods, such as dark green vegetables (like spinach and broccoli), walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and wheat, but one of the very best sources is...flax seeds (also known as linseeds).

When I went raw I was surpised to find that my beloved olive oil, that I had drowned my food in for most of my adult life, just didn't taste so good any more. Although I do still enjoy it in some dishes (eg kale and avocado salad) I now greatly prefer the taste of flax oil, made from flax seeds.

I came up with this salad after enjoying the leaves with mango in a 'green smoothie':

Rocket and mango salad

2 cups of young spinach leaves, torn
2 cups of rocket (US - arugula)
1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
1/4 cucumber, finely-chopped
1 tbsp whole sesame seeds
1/2 tbsp flax oil

Combine all ingredients.

Here's a recipe from one of my favourite raw food books, 'Sunfood Diet Success System' by David Wolfe:

Orange and Flax Energy Drink

5 oranges
3 tbsp flax seed oil

'Peel the oranges, but maintain the nutritious white pith...Blend the oranges and flax seed oil together. Do not remove the orange seeds as they are nourishing and contain anti-fungal qualities. Drink slowly. The fat in the flax oil allows the sugar in the oranges to release slowly over time. This provides excellent energy over several hours. This is a particularly beneficial blend to drink before a business meeting or as a starter in the morning.'

Is flax oil expensive?

Yes! As all the best oils are. It can be bought at supermarkets, health food stores, and on-line. Three brands I've tried are Tesco (Linusit), Waitrose (Granovita), and Stone Mills. The Tesco and Waitrose oils are around £5. The Stone Mills is £9.50 (300ml).

Is it worth paying almost twice the price for Stone Mills? Yes!!!

Having tasted all three, I can tell you that the Tesco brand tasted unpleasant, with the flavour bearing no resemblance to the flax seeds it was (apparently) made from. The Waitrose brand was 'OK' - I could tell it was flax oil. But the Stone Mills flax oil is so delicious that I really can drink it from the bottle. I think it tastes of ice-cream, but then I'm a bit odd...suffice to say it is head and shoulders above the cheaper brands taste-wise. Stone Mills say that their flax oil is 'pressed at temperatures below 40 C (105 F) which is less than half that of some other oils. Pressing oils at higher temperatures reduces the availability and efficacy of the delicate omega-3 oils.' (I'm thinking that maybe this also accounts for the superiority of the flavour - note that some oils that say 'cold'-pressed are actually pressed at 160 F plus). So - not all flax oils are the same. Stone Mills is available direct from the manufacturer - Stone Mills, or from Funky Raw, or The Raw Greek (P/P free in each case).

And if you find it difficult parting with £9.50 for such a wonderful oil, that will almost certainly last before you've finished it all up (keep it in the fridge), think how much, pre-raw, you might have spent on a takeaway, and how much that would have contributed to your neurological development (or not)...

Friday, 22 February 2008


Like many raw fooders, I have enjoyed on occasions a little 'raw ice-cream' (using a frozen-banana base). I've also been sampling lately frozen (and freeze-dried) durian. I've been telling myself that, whilst freezing might affect the enzymes and nutrients in food a little, it doesn't nearly as much as cooking, and, after all, freezing has been used as a method of food preservation for thousands of years. But, then, people have cooked food for thousands of years, and I've always resisted the notion that just because 'everyone' has done something 'for ever' it's gotta be the right thing to do... So, I thought I'd find out a little bit more about the effects of freezing on food.

Firstly, needs to be said that frozen vegetables on sale in shops will have been 'blanched' before freezing. Blanching is cooking food for a short while in boiling water and one reason it is carried out is to 'neutralise' enzymes to maximise shelf life. So, as raw fooders take care to preserve the enzymes in food to minimise the burden on our own digestive enzymes, we won't be buying supermarket frozen veg (note that some juice and smoothie bars use frozen fruit, although fruitarian Anne Osborne has contacted companies selling frozen fruit, and it would seem that frozen fruit is seldom blanched).

But what about foods we've frozen ourselves, without blanching, then dethawed? To what extent is freezing a method of food preservation? Is everything preserved?

My son Joe, in his first week of a BSc in Nutrition, learned that 'when food or solution is frozen, only the water molecules turn to ice and anything else is trapped in vacuoles - in effect dehydrating the food and often denaturing the cells in the food.' 'Denaturing' means changing the properties of the food. For example, when amino-acids (from which we make protein) are changed they can be less easily assimilated by our bodies.
So, freezing does change our food.

Susan Schenk ('Live Food Factor') describes the freezing process thus: 'Unlike most other chemical compounds that contract when they freeze, water expands as it forms ice, and the tiny ice crystals in all cells that contain water are like little bombs going off inside the food. These destroy enzymes, vitamins and all sorts of other molecules.' I happen to know Vitamin E is destroyed by frost.
So freezing does destroy some nutrients.

Enzymes are certainly destroyed through freezing, although there is some uncertainty as to how much. I assume the percentage varies by food, and it would also of course be dependent on how long the food has been frozen for (as pre-raw we all understood that frozen foods have a 'freezer life'). David Wolfe says that freezing destroys between 30% and 66% of enzymes. There is no consensus, but the lowest estimate I've seen puts the destruction at 20%.
So freezing destroys a significant percentage of enzymes.

Some believe that nuts and seeds are resistant to freezing. Susan Schenk says: 'nuts, seeds and dehydrated foods are not much damaged by freezing, and their enzymes are not destroyed because they have no water.' Some say that, certainly with nuts and seeds, freezing doesn't destroy enzymes but simply renders them dormant, and offer as proof for this the fact that nuts and seeds will sprout after freezing. And we all know that seeds can survive a harsh winter and grow into strong plants when the warm weather comes. But, is 'life' in a dark, airless freezer quite the same thing as life outside?

I decided to investigate this further. Firstly, a quick google revealed that nuts do actually contain a little water - they're about 5% water. On this basis I hypothesised that freezing would change and destroy things in nuts and seeds.

Here's how I tested this:

I took two 1/4-cups of wheatberries (wheatseeds). One lot I'd frozen for seven days. The other lot were fresh. I soaked each for 24 hours in same-size containers and same amount of water. I then drained them and left them to sprout.

In each pair of photographs, the berries on the left are the previously-frozen ones.

This is how the wheatberries looked after two days:

Some of the previously-frozen berries had started to sprout. All of the fresh berries had sprouted.
So, even though dethawed, the previously-frozen berries did not sprout as quickly as the frozen, which indicates enzyme activity had been affected.

This is how the wheatberries looked after five days:

The shoots of the previously-frozen are greener than the fresh, and longer. Is that good? Looks as if the previously-frozen are valiantly trying to make up for lost time, and more! But gardeners know that plants that grow quickly initially don't always stand the test of time. What we can definitely say is:
There was a difference in the appearances of the previously-frozen and fresh wheatberries.
I also shook the glasses so that any ungerminated seeds would fall to the bottom.
There were more ungerminated seeds amongst the previously-frozen seeds.
(This leads me to question Susan Schenk's statement that freezing doesn't destroy enzymes in seeds.)

At the five-day point I decided to submit each to a 'taste test'. I tasted the fresh wheatberries. Lovely - sweet. I was just about to taste the previously-frozen wheatberries,
but was put off by the smell!
Please bear in mind I am no Gabriel Cousens and this 'home experiment' would need to be replicated under rigorously-controlled conditions to draw any firm conclusions from it. I simply share my experience with you.

And Marti Fry, Natural Hygienist, in her article 'Does Freezing Harm Foods?' felt that we're OK freezing nuts and seeds as they have 'little water content'. On the other hand, she's not happy with freezing other foods, such as fruit. She summarises the nutritional losses as follows:

1) Cell walls burst and cell contents are spilled due to the internal water expansion; hence the cell's life is lost. When cells burst, certain of their organelles release self-destruct enzymes called lysosomes. While these enzymes are not active during freezing (and some are even destroyed), those which remainintact will speedily decompose the cell contents upon thawing.

2) Oxidation occurs where air reaches the frozen foodstuff; hence nutrients are lost.

She further comments 'Does this mean that banana 'ice cream', fruit smoothies made with frozen bananas, and other frozen foods aren't truly healthful? Well, unfortunately, YES.'

Raw fooders that follow a 'high raw' rather than 100% raw diet may feel just as happy including a little previously-frozen food in their diets as they do cooked food occasionally, and I'd be the first to say this flexibility can make all the difference in being able to stick to a raw food diet (having started out at 75% myself). And, of course, a high-raw diet is still light years healthier than the standard UK diet, with many experiencing big positive health changes on it. But, if you are going to eat food that has been previously frozen, I'd suggest giving it a (sort of) 'pass mark' only if, when dethawed, it looks, smells and tastes just as it did in fresh state and be aware that there is bound to be some nutrient loss.

And those of us who are 100% raw - er - aren't we being just a shade 'inconsistent' if we proudly claim that not a morsel of food heated above 117 F passes our lips (in order to conserve vital enzymes and nutrients) and then tuck into frozen ice-cream or durian. And I will have to say at this point...'oh bother!' (or words to that effect). Thinking about the freeze-dried durian in the cupboard, it does occur to me that, if food is dehydrated before freezing, then there may be no water in it to expand and denature the food? Marti Fry does at least give some comfort here: 'dried foods which are frozen are not harmed because of their extremely small water content: there's not enough water to expand and burst the cell walls.' Good...perhaps I'm OK (!), as long as, of course, the drying temperature doesn't exceed 118 degrees F...:-)

Friday, 15 February 2008

Drum roll...Raw Fooders' Favourite Foods (International Top 10)

On the international forum recently, Philip McCluskey ( asked raw fooders for their top 10 favourite foods.

I couldn't resist analysing the 70 or so replies that came in to find out which foods unite raw fooders around the world. And, here they are! In order of popularity...
1. Green Leaves, various (spinach clear leader)
2. Avocado
3. (joint) Apples, Tomatoes4. Cucumber
5. (joint) Cacao, Young Coconut
6. (joint) Mango, Blueberries
7. Watermelon
8. (joint) Celery, Dates, Bananas
9. (joint) Figs, Peaches
10. (joint) Cantaloupe Melon, Strawberries, Oranges
Runners-up: hempseeds, almonds
We like our greens, don't we! And isn't it great to see the humble apple 'top fruit', above the more exotic fruits? What also cheered me in this list was seeing the appearance of several foods that are not only easily available in the UK, but relatively low-priced, and easy to grow ourselves, such as green leaves (of course!), apples, tomatoes and cucumber.

So, we may envy those Californians their climate and raw food restaurants, but good to see that when they visit their farmers' markets they're just as likely as we are to be filling up with spinach, avocados, apples, tomatoes and cucumber (oh, and young coconuts perhaps...Tesco does sell them occasionally, they can be found at 'ethnic' markets, and you can buy them at Kensington Wholefoods any time! That is, if you have an arm and a leg to spare.)

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

'Drink your greens!'

I dragged my feet buying a juicer, having really gotten into smoothies, and feeling quite virtuous in the knowledge that in the smoothie I was getting the whole plant, that is, the nutrients inside the leaves and the fibre. However, I became sold on green juices after being served a truly delicious one by the raw chef Russell James, and further sold when my husband, who dislikes the texture of smoothies ('it's like drinking a pudding'), declared he liked 'the juices with the greenery' - praise indeed from one who, a year ago, would have laughed if anyone had told him he'd be happily starting each day with 'spinach juice'!

Why green juice?

Well, for me, it's the taste and texture of green juice that wins over green smoothies, and any nutritional losses are at least partly outweighed by the fact that my family are far more willing to 'drink their greens' in a juice than a smoothie. It's a great way of consuming far more green leaves than we might feel like eating in a salad, so juices made from, for example, spinach or kale can pack in the Vitamins A, C, K, the minerals magnesium, iron and calcium, and other vital nutrients. And the 'wasted' pulp? Returns to the ground via the compost heap.

Juices, like smoothies, are easy to digest, meaning that our bodies can divert energy to detoxification ('house-cleaning'). Juices made from green leaves are highly alkalising. Our daily activities produce acid, and alkalising foods help our bodies achieve balance. Illness will thrive in an acidic body, and processed food, cooked meat, fish, dairy, grains and alcohol all contribute towards making our bodies over-acidic. My husband, although he's more raw than he used to be (due to my delicious raw meals of course) still consumes some cooked food and alcohol. But, after his first green juice he actually rang me from work to say how surprised he was that he hadn't experienced the usual 10 am 'gnawing' feeling in his stomach. That 'gnawing', that is so often felt by cooked-food eaters, even just a few hours after eating, is often confused with hunger, resulting in cravings and over-eating. It's also sometimes experienced by those in the early stages of a raw diet, as the body adjusts. Here's William Hay, MD, on that: '...arrange the feeding habits so that no gnawing will ever again occur, even when the stomach is entirely empty. Every gnawing feeling is evidence that the stomach contains a very uncomfortable amount of acid, the acid debris that follows the meal...' In my second year of raw, I never experience that 'gnawing', even after 24 hours without food.

Before moving on, there is one investment needed for green juicing, but one that will be repaid so hugely in terms of your health and enjoyment.

Which juicer?

Basic 'centifrugal' juicers (£30-100) juice by cutting and straining. They can do a terrific job with fruit and many vegetables, but won't 'cut it' with green leaves. For these, a 'masticating' juicer is needed (but note that even the popular Champion doesn't cope well with fibrous greens - and it doesn't juice wheatgrass). So, if you're going to be juicing greens as well as fruit and other veg, make sure that the juicer you buy is up to the job. There are several masticating juicers in the medium price range, including the Oscar, Matstone and Samson (£100-200) that will juice all types of greens. These are 'single gear' juicers.

Top of the range are the Green Power/Kempo/Hippocrates (around £300, so shop around). These are the most efficient juicers of all, and also include magnets which produce a magnetic field which helps extract more minerals during the juicing process.

I have an Oscar 900 and, although it squeaks a little (not sure why), has faithfully juiced everything put into it every day for several months now. And I can take it apart and clean it in a minute or two.

So, what about the taste...

Some say the cleaner the body, the better a juice made exclusively from green leaves will taste.
Personally I quite like the taste of green leaf-only juices, but love them when they're sweetened with apple, so perhaps my body has a little way to go! In the meantime, I'll share with you a recipe for a juice that should be popular with raw and non-raw people alike.

The key ingredients are (apart from the star of the show of course!): celery (the salt element) and apple (the sweet element).

Juice: 2 cups of spinach (tightly-packed), 1 long stick of celery, 1 apple (I use a Granny Smith).

Here's a pic, taken next to my 'Christmas Rose' , or helleborus (that actually never flowers before February).

Variations: Replace 1/2 to 1 cup of spinach with other green leaves, such as lambs lettuce, rocket or kale. Try adding a little mint, and floating a sprig on top.

Drink it up quick!
Do drink freshly-made juice straight away, as juices start to oxidise as soon as they're exposed to air. In as little as 20 minutes they can lose a lot of their nutrition. David Wolfe ('Sunfood Diet Success System'): 'We can see the colloidal leaf minerals (eg calcium, in green leaves) precipitate out of freshly-made, green juices if we allow the juice to sit and lose energy. As a juice loses energy (zeta potential) it begins to change from an alkaline medium to an acid medium; it no longer has the energy to hold minerals in suspension.' There...(you knew that, didn't you)

Just before Christmas, I was feeling a little pathetic one evening (I moan when it's cold, despite being raw - I haven't managed to emulate the Boutenko family, who sleep outdoors in the winter). It was the sort of evening that, in a past-never-to-be-revisited, would have called for a g & t. I made a green juice, served it in a wine glass (thanks to Karen Knowler for that idea!) and snuggled by the fire. It was...nectar. Cheers!
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Thursday, 7 February 2008

RawforLife E-zine February 2008

Just a short message to let you know that the RawforLife monthly e-zine no 1 has just been sent to subscribers. If you are currently a subscriber, I hope you enjoyed it!

If you'd like to sign up for the e-zine, please go to the RawforLife website at and enter your e-mail in the sign-up box on the front. You should then receive an 'activation' e-mail, and it is essential to click on the link in that to complete the subscription process.

If you are wary of signing up for yet another 'newsletter', please let me assure you that the RawforLife e-zine is different. Yes, I do mention my 'products' (currently two day classes) but this comprises a tiny fraction only of the content. The RawforLife e-zine contains articles, other information and fascinating facts for you - all given to you without your having to spend a bean.

If you'd like to have a look before considering whether to sign up for the March issue, the February issue can, at least for a few days, be viewed here: