Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Olive - 'One of the Most Perfect Foods'

I was a 'foodie' in the Eighties (in the days when I ate...everything) and, on the raw food diet, still am - always on the lookout for the best ingredients, the most delicious taste experiences! One food I missed in the early days of raw was olives, but oh how that has changed, due to my discovery of truly raw olives (more later).

The Roman poet, Horace, described his own very simple diet thus: 'As for me, olives, endives and smooth mallows provide sustenance.' How can this be? We are always being told we need to consume a wide variety of foods for a 'balanced' diet. But, unless Horace was fibbing, apparently just three foods were supplying his nutritional needs! Well, as raw fooders know, it is possible to be healthy eating a relatively small number of foods, provided those foods are whole, and undamaged by heat.

The olive was described by the philosopher Lord Monboddo as 'one of the most perfect foods'. And 'the science bits' can explain why. The olive is a fatty fruit, but the fat is mostly monounsaturated (the good kind, that lowers cholesterol). It also has an alkalising effect on our bodies (disease thrives in an acid environment). Olives are loaded with beneficial omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (the ones some would have you believe are only contained in fish). They're also high in Vitamin A (carotene) and Vitamin E and are full of antioxidants (that destroy the 'free radicals' that can cause cancer). They're rich in calcium and magnesium and high in amino-acids (which our bodies use to make protein). And of course the olive plays a starring role in the (cooked-food) 'Mediterranean diet'.

But of course these precious, and so delicious, little powerhouses of good things will only contain the full complement of nutrients if they're raw, ie not damaged by heat.

Since going raw, I've been aware that there is some confusion as to whether olives on sale at retail outlets are raw or not, whether it's possible to obtain raw olives, and if indeed raw olives would be good to eat; as a grecophile with a passion for olives I'm pleased to tell you that not only can I supply answers to these questions but I can also tell you where you can buy the most delicious, truly raw olives.

Are olives commonly on sale in the UK raw?

In 99% of cases, no - not even those sold in the deli or farmers' market. They'll have been pasteurised (heated to around 80 C for a few minutes). But, these premium olives, if soaked in brine only with no additives, are relatively close to the raw olive. So, if you're not 100% raw, and happy eating pasteurised olives, these are the ones to buy.

Give a wide berth to canned olives (often sterilised to 125 C for half an hour and mixed with preservatives). Also, be aware that green olives are (usually) unripe olives. As you know, they taste quite different from black olives. Did anyone enjoy their first taste of a green olive? I believe it's a taste we shouldn't have 'acquired', as fruit should be eaten when it's ripe and not before. Beware of 'black' olives (in jars or tins) that include ferrous glucomate. They're often green olives in disguise. Ferrous glucomate is variably listed as a stabiliser or colour, but the effect is to darken the colour of the olive. I used to find these sorts of olives didn't taste very nice either. They can often be found on cheap pizzas or in 'healthy' salads at fast food chains.

Is it possible to buy olives that have not been heat-treated at all? Yes, it is.

Are olives in their natural state bitter?

When writing the first version of this article, I asked Waitrose whether their olives were raw or pasteurised and they informed me that 'you can't eat olives raw - they'd be too bitter.' Well, you certainly can! Some on-line raw food stores sell unpasteurised olives, and they taste very good! However, some of the varieties are cured (salted) and perhaps what Waitrose meant by raw was not only unpasteurised, but not cured, ie 'from the tree'.

And many people do believe that olives from the tree, not cured (unsalted), are 'inedible', and 'too bitter'.

However, I have recently had the good fortune to sample uncured Greek olives. I found them delicious, and sweet (with a wonderfully crunchy texture)! These were ripe olives, air-dried. Unripe raw olives, by all accounts, don't taste good, but neither does any unripe fruit. Raw, uncured olives that are ripe, whether they've ripened on the tree or after falling to the ground, taste quite different. I wonder if the reports of uncured olives being 'inedible' possibly come from the fact that those producing olives pick them unripe?

I've heard there are differences between varieties, and although I find the raw, uncured Peruvian olives currently sold by the online stores palatable, I can't say that I enjoy them nearly as much as the Greek ones - they're less sweet. Although it's not really fair of me to tell you that, as the particular Greek ones I'd tried aren't on sale - yet. (But there's a very good alternative - more later!)

Perhaps the reason some describe raw olives as inedible, and others love them is simply because tastes do vary, as did those of the raw mother and daughter in this account:
Victoria Boutenko ('Twelve Steps to Raw'): 'During our travels that spring, we visited our friend Marlene. Marlene had a beautiful olive tree. There were olives underneath the tree already starting to rot. Valya said, 'I want to try them. Oh they are delicious.' I tried them. To me they were too bitter. Valya enjoyed the olives so much that she gathered them up in plastic bags to take with us.'

Heat is not necessary. Provided olives are salted only, and not heated, the vital nutrients should be left intact. Most olives sold throughout the world are cured, ie left in salt water for several months (some commercial processes speed up the curing by artificially oxidising the olives then adding caustic soda, then heat-treating to kill bacteria).

So, in order to enjoy cured olives as close to the natural state as possible, find suppliers that salt the olives in the gentlest way possible and do not pasteurise before sale. Or, ideally, find suppliers that do not use salt in the curing.
And, hey, in the UK, we're lucky enough to have one! Gina Panayi of is selling delicious UNSALTED, RAW Kalamata olives! They're soaked in olive oil, so if you want your olive is near to 'off the tree' as possible, just rinse off the oil. I much prefer these to the Peruvian type - Gina's are plump and moist - like the Kalamatas we ate in our 'previous lives'!

Raw olives certainly cost more than the pasteurised cooked variety. But it's worth it for the preservation of all the nutrients the olive was designed to give us, not to mention the taste!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Do you eat the pips?

Were you ever told that, if you ate apple pips, an apple tree would grow inside you? Do you leave the core of apples? Do you happily eat pumpkin seeds, but remove melon pips?

Many believe that we're missing a trick health-wise if we don't eat the pips. For example, Arnold Ehret, one of the founders of the naturopathic health movement 'followed a high-fruit diet consisting mainly of apples and raisins with some green leaves.'

And in Ehret's time not only the apples but also the raisins would have included seeds, which would have supplied fat and other nutrients, suggesting that as long as we eat whole undamaged foods we can be healthy on a surprisingly 'limited' diet.

Many believe there are health benefits in consuming all sorts of seeds. For example, raw food promoter David Wolfe recommends eating orange pips as 'they are nourishing and contain anti-fungal qualities'. David also advocates eating fiery papaya seeds, to 'burn out' parasites in the digestive system, but I find myself thinking that their hot, and, to be honest, not very pleasant taste might just be an indication that we shouldn't be eating them...(this would be the Natural Hygiene view)

Some people are loath to eat apple pips because they've heard they contain cyanide. Well, they do (as do the seeds of apricots, peaches and other fruits) but in such tiny amounts that you'd have to eat a very large amount to experience any ill-effects. Also, recent research suggests that cyanide, when present in tiny amounts, might have had an undeservedly bad press in the past, with evidence suggesting that the cyanide and vitamin B17 present in certain pips can fight cancerous cells when it comes into contact with them. Please note that I am NOT suggesting anyone swig pure cyanide, as that would be dangerous :-) However, others claim that if the cyanide fights cancerous cells, it's just as likely to 'fight' healthy cells too...I'd suggest that we shouldn't worry if we accidentally consume a few with our apples, but perhaps not crunch them up in large quantities...

Leaving apples aside, as they may be a 'special case', should we swallow or chew? Well, perhaps we should just 'eat' without thinking too hard about what we're doing, as any or all of the following could happen (none of which would be a problem): some pips might fall out of the fruit as we're eating it, unchewed pips may 'go straight through us' (and after all, if we lived in the wild without toilet facilities, those pips would move from us into the ground to grow more food - how wonderful that would be), and pips that are chewed would provide our bodies with nutrients.

Arguments for eating pips are persuasive, and many people do eat pips that others would discard (in Thailand melon seeds are sold as a snack). And let's ask the supermarkets to put the pips back into our grapes! The more pips in our fruit the closer to the natural types they are. The less seeds, the more hybridised and weak the strains.

What do I do? I cut open a watermelon recently and ate the flesh and the pips (feeling a bit of a daredevil). It was much less fiddly than removing them and I enjoyed it just as much if not more than usual.

And this is what remains of the last apple I ate. But I didn't try too hard to chew the pips...just in case!

Monday, 14 January 2008


Hi everyone

Welcome to the RawforLife Blog!

I’m not normal. I’m a bit odd. I follow a 100% raw food diet. That basically means that I eat no food heated higher than 118 F, the point at which research suggests enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients in our food are damaged or destroyed. And I have NEVER felt better!

Raw transforms physically and psychologically; it's shown me what I’m here to do. For 10 years I was a communicator (advertising) and the next 10 years I was a teacher. I’ve always been interested in health topics, and…love my food! Everything in my life to date has come together to provide me with the skills to join the many raw fooders who enjoy encouraging and disseminating information to others in the raw food community. And, as I LOVE talking to people about raw – I’m feeling high just typing these words! – what better medium in which to do that than a blog?

Those who know me from the Raw Food UK Forum know how enthusiastic I get when I hear about great testimonials to raw, sources of truly raw ingredients, delicious raw recipes and fascinating information - I just love researching! There’s a lot of conflicting information out there (especially from the ‘raw gurus’), and I hope that in presenting and summarising different viewpoints I can help people steer their own path through them.

I’m also pretty much surgically attached to the computer, keep up with the raw network sites, and do lots of raw socialising. What this means is that I have my ear to the ground and can let you know about developments in the raw world minutes after they’re posted in cyberspace!

I’ll try neither to confuse nor patronise. If you’re new to raw and I use a term you’re unfamiliar with, ‘google’ it! If you’ve been raw for years, I’m sure you’ll find little bits of info every so often that you hadn’t been aware of. And even if you’re not a ‘raw fooder’ you should still find some of the articles of interest.

Now in my second winter of raw, with not a cough, cold nor any sort of illness in that time, and having waved goodbye to a host of niggling ‘normal’ health complaints, I’m just as passionate about raw as I was on Day One (actually that’s not true – I’m more so!). Raw is more than a diet. If you’re new to raw, know that raw will change you. Start running on the best fuel. Do you really want ‘normal’ any more? Who wants ‘normal’? Be extraordinary!