Friday 25 July 2008

Eat Locust (Move Over Cacao...)


Don't get me wrong - I've enjoyed eating (and making) a lot of raw cacao (mostly in the form of raw chocolate) since going raw. My family's enjoyed it too, and I'm sure it's helped lots of people ease into raw food ('you mean I can still eat chocolate?'). I've made raw chocolate at RawforLife classes, and, if you offered me some tomorrow...I think I might eat it!

But, there are these nagging things...

Can it really be classed as raw? The beans don't taste good in their natural state and, to get the chocolatey flavour, have to be piled up to ferment. They can get quite hot, and even though we're told they're turned regularly, can we really be sure the beans are kept below the 118 F cut-off point that's generally deemed to be the point at which enzymes and nutrients are preserved?

Is the 'high' it gives us (and it does) really good for our bodies in the long term? ('Natural Hygiene' says that stimulants create euphoria because our bodies are on 'all systems go' trying to eliminate a toxic invader.) My experience is there is often 'pay-back' later (tiredness) after raw chocolate.

How 'natural' are raw chocolate bars when cacao butter (the fat of the bean only) and chocolate powder (the bean less the fat) are combined into a concoction that has much higher fat than the natural food?

When it comes down to it, although I do love the taste of raw chocolate, there are just a few too many 'what-ifs' about cacao, and I don't find this happening with my other raw foods...

Enter the Carob

I remember carob in the Seventies/Eighties; it was marketed as a 'chocolate substitute', but, to me, on a standard cooked diet then, a 'healthy' carob bar, compared with a Mars Bar - just didn't cut it for me!

But, now, 30 years later, as my love affair with chocolate, and even raw cacao, has cooled a little, I find the unassuming carob, overlooked in favour of the flashier cacao, strangely attractive; I find myself using it more and more, and popped a carob pod into the recent RawforLife class goodie bags (along with the chocolate...)

What is the Carob?

It's a seed pod, from the carob tree. The carob tree is a real toughie (carobs are often planted close to homes to slow down grass fires), and it loves drought (so unfortunately not suitable for the UK). The carob, which can grow huge (up to 50 ft tall) is native to the Mediterranean and grown in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and in lots of other parts of the world with a similar climate (eg some parts of the USA and Australia). In fact, I've read that in Southern California young carob trees are classed as 'one of the worst weeds'! I know I have some Californian readers. Can't be true, surely...(and wouldn't carobs be rather helpful in a forest fire?)

The ripe pods fall to the ground and are eaten by various mammals, including us. Here are some carob pods my son, Joe, found wild in Spetses, Greece, just two days ago. He snaffled a small number home, not to propagate I stress, but for me to eat!

The pods are quite hard, but easily chewable for most, with a softer and sweet interior, which surrounds beans which are so hard that it's definitely best to discard them, unless your aim is to have them pass straight through you and then into the ground (which of course would be ideal..).

What do they taste like? Sweet, vaguely chocolatey (but taste-wise it's probably best to assess carob in its own right rather than compare it with something it's not), reminiscent of banana (I think) and, altogether, very good!

I'd been keen to experience the fresh, as previously the only raw carob pods I'd eaten had been those sold by the online raw stores. I'd imagined the fresh would be much softer, but in fact, there's very little difference. The fresh and the packaged -both quite chewy! As with anything, the fresh does taste best, but I'd say that the packaged pods are still good in comparison.

I normally buy my carob pods from Detox Your World. Theirs come from Turkey, and are collected from wild trees. Sometimes (not always, and perhaps it's to do with age) there's a faint cheesy taste on first bite, but that soon changes to sweetness.

There are references to carob-eating going back thousands of years. For example, we know it was eaten in Ancient Egypt. It was the most widely-used source of sugar until sugarcane became popular, and there are accounts of thousands crediting their survival in wartime on the carob pod.

The Bible says that John the Baptist lived on honey and locusts. In fact, it's thought by many that something got lost in translation here, and that the reference to 'locusts' should have been 'locust beans' (another name for the carob). And in fact a common name for the carob tree is Saint John's Bread.

So, if we are to believe these accounts of people living soley (or almost solely?) on carob, then surely carob should be classed as a... superfood! Detoxyourworld does describe carob pods as 'nutrient dense' (and more on that later). Just after World War II, when chocolate and sweets were hard to come by, markets in the UK were selling carob pods to schoolchildren to chew on - wonder if they realised how lucky they were!

Carob in raw food recipes

Many raw food recipe books feature carob, most often in smoothies, desserts and cakes, and carob can be substituted for cacao in many recipes. The best form of carob to use in raw food prep is carob powder, and if we buy 'raw carob' from reputable online stores we can be sure that it has been processed at a sufficiently low temperature to protect nutrients (standard health shop carob powders have often been heated to as high as 200F).

I've been making this smoothie a lot recently (makes two big glasses - enough for two, or one greedy me).
  • 3-4 spotty bananas
  • 2 chopped dates (soak first if ordinary blender)
  • 1 tbsp raw carob powder
Blend, adding water for desired consistency.

Apparently, carob has been used to make dog treats, so, if you have a raw pet, see what you can come up with!

Carob or Cacao?

Well, I've suggested carob should be assessed in its own right, but inevitably comparisons will be drawn, so..

Taste? No, it doesn't really taste like chocolate - just a bit like it. But it still tastes good.

Like cacao, it contains a whole range of nutrients: Vitamins A, B1, B2, calcium, magnesium, potassium and trace minerals iron, copper and others. It doesn't contain as much magnesium as cacao, but does contain three times the calcium.

The carob pod is sweeter than the fermented cacao bean. It contains around 45% sugar, whilst cacao contains 5%. This makes carob a good source of carbohydrates, giving simple sugars which provide fuel and are digested easily. For cacao to be as sweet as carob, sweeteners need to be added, such as the 'debatably-raw' agave nectar.

Carob has lower fat (7%) than cacao (23%). As some notables in the raw food world (eg Dr Doug Graham) believe that sugar problems are linked to fat in the blood, it's good to see that the high sugar in carob is to some extent balanced by the low fat.

Carob contains neither caffeine nor theobromine, the two most controversial substances in cacao.

And, to summarise, there is no reason to have the slightest twinge of doubt as to whether carob is a good thing to eat.

No contest really.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Raw Food And Hayfever

OK - this article is mostly about hayfever and even if you don't suffer from hay-fever, PLEASE...pass this on to someone who does.)

The girl in the picture could be me as a teenager - I couldn't have spent more than 15 minutes in a field like this in June before getting wrecked with sneezing, and streaming eyes.

I was diagnosed with hayfever at the age of seven. In the Sixties, I was a bit of a rarity; not many people had it then, but of course since then the number of people suffering has grown enormously. As a child and teenager, my life from late April to early July was blighted by it. It got me in the country, by the sea, and in the middle of cities. Outdoor games at school were misery, and it was a big problem at exams, and the vital revision period leading up to them. I tried every anti-histamine under the sun (little effect) and lost a boyfriend through mixing anti-histamines and alcohol and spending most of our relationship half-asleep. I had allergy tests, courses of injections, annual booster injections...and in my twenties remember one particularly bad summer where whenever I could I'd stay in my flat with all windows closed.

Then, I discovered Beconase, a steroid spray. This seemed to be the answer;It reduced symptoms significantly and I was able to enjoy days outside in June again, as long as I remembered to puff this drug into my body three times a day, every day...It also seemed to me that my hayfever was improving slightly with age. But - I still never managed to get through a whole June without Beconase.

Until...raw food.

I've now had three summers on raw food, and...NOT ONE symptom of hayfever!

OK, so we know that all sorts of illnesses disappear on raw food, and with many there's an obvious connection. Instead of chucking into our bodies damaged toxic food we're running on good fuel instead.

But why should the raw food diet cure hayfever, which is said to be an 'allergy' to pollen, and which indeed always affected me most badly on windy, warm, 'high-pollen-count' days? What would food have to do with it?

When I first wrote this article in the summer of 08, I said 'I'm not sure why.' And went on to present a few theories.

Editing the article in summer 09, I'll run briefly through a couple, finishing with the one that does make total sense, and explains the true cause of hayfever.

In short, I am sure now what food, or, more accurately, an unhealthy lifestyle in general, has to do with hayfever.



This I'd got from something I'd read pre-raw. It's that little bits of pollution in the air attach themselves to the pollen flying around, and that the bodies of healthy, vibrant, sensitive individuals will do their best to expel them.

Obviously, that somewhat flattering theory had always attracted me. Problem with that: I really wasn't that particularly 'healthy and vibrant' through my teens, when I had hayfever worst, and, anyway, after adopting a raw foods diet, one would think that the body, being 'ultra clean', would be more sensitive than previously, ie that I'd be sneezing even more rather than not at all.

So that theory doesn't really wash.



Pasteurised milk milk is linked with all sorts of illnesses, particularly asthma, which is part of the eczema/asthma/hayfever 'atopic' trio.

I never liked the taste of milk as a child and was allowed not to have it at school (we had free school milk in those days). But - I was OK with having it 'disguised', ie in tea, or in 'Nesquik' (milkshake) and did have cheese. So, it's possible that by the age of seven I'd ingested a lot of a substance that my body really didn't want.

Possible problem with that one: in my first summer without hayfever, I was probably 80-90% raw. What did the 10-20% include? Mozzarella and feta! However, it's true to say that I'd reduced my dairy significantly, so...could be a factor. (The second summer I was 100% raw vegan).

So 'milk theory' - a possible...


A general diet connection

The symptoms were at their worst in my childhood and teens. As a child, and teenager when at home, my diet was standard cooked, including meat, dairy, and desserts. I didn't eat a lot of salad or fresh fruit - I expect it was around, but I wouldn't have eaten it as back then I found fruit and salads boring! At school we used to sneak out at lunchtimes and a typical lunch was a plate of chips (French Fries) followed by two or three bars of chocolate.

As an adult, my diet was better. For most of my adult life it was vegetarian, or fish-and-vegetarian, and I loved salads (and remember eating a ton of fruit and salad each day when pregnant).And, from late 20s onwards, my hayfever wasn't as bad as it was as a child and teenager.

So - better diet = reduced hayfever symptoms. Seems plausible. But what's missing here is the WHY the better diet might lead to reduced symptoms.


This is the only complete explanation.

The true cause of hayfever is a build-up of toxins that cause inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes. As to what these toxins might be, there could be thousands of suspects in the unhealthy lifestyle of 99% of those in the developed world. In the diet, cows' milk is a likely contender. In the lifestyle, exposure to smoke is one.

The lining of the membranes becomes inflamed and very sensitive to irritation. The inflammation is there constantly, and means that the nose in particular is particularly sensitive to any irritants in the environment.

Pollen is not the cause of hay-fever. The cause is what led to the permanently-inflamed membranes - the toxemia in the diet. The pollen is simply an irritant.

Natural Hygienist Dr Herbert M Shelton: 'The systemic condition of sensitised membranes is present before the plants shed their pollens. With most hayfever sufferers, these conditions are present all the year round. They do not become conscious of the sensitivitiy of their membranes until these are brought into contact with outside irritants. Pollens irritate sensitive membranes; they do not make the membranes sensitive. The real cause of the hayfever is the cause that sensitises the membranes.'

The reason some people get hayfever and others do not, is that it is simply that inflammation of the membranes is the particular way in which the bodies of those people have reacted to toxins in their lifestyles. Others may express their toxemia via other ailments. Shelton et al do say that those with 'neurotic tendencies' tend to express via inflammation of membranes (we-ell...OK, I'll go with that :-)).

So, how to cure hay-fever? Remove the causes of the inflammation.

Why I do know this explanation to be correct?

I wasn't born with hay-fever. As a toddler, I didn't spend half the summer sneezing. This is because it would have taken a while for toxins to build up to the level at which my mucous membranes became permanently inflamed.

As I mentioned earlier, the only thing that had ever 'worked' for me was Beconase. Beconase desentises the membranes of the inside of the nose! The fact that Beconase worked obviously said something about the state of the inside of my nose. However, as I don't want anyone rushing out to buy this as a 'short-cut', it did not remove the causes of the inflammation. It simply suppressed symptoms. The true causes remained, and were no doubt wreaking havoc on my body in other ways. And the drug itself would have had a negative effect on my body, depressing its self-healing ability.


So, those who would like to wave goodbye to hayfever, for it never to return, need to make a radical change in diet, and that is to a raw, vegan diet, or at least raw vegetarian free of cow's milk and ideally very low in dairy. In the first summer that I had no symptoms, I was only 80-90% raw, but worth noting that I'd also stopped drinking tea and coffee, and had reduced dairy significantly. Note that dairy is a 'likely suspect', but there are vegans who suffer from hayfever as well! There could be all sorts of elements in the diet and lifestyle that cause inflamed membranes. All I can say for definite is that, before raw, I'd had hay-fever every single summer from the age of 7 to 48. In the three summers since raw - no hay-fever.

I went raw in the winter - six months before the hay-fever season, and it would appear that by that time the toxins had been sufficiently eradicated from my system for my hayfever to be cured in the first season.

However, those going raw just before the hayfever season may find that symptoms in the first summer may be worse. This is actually a good sign. Your body, being freed of the onslaught of the usual toxic burden, will be taking advantage of that to have a good 'clean out'. Bear with it. Next year, and every year of your life after, symptoms should be gone.

Here's me (really me this time), two summers after going raw.

So please pass this to a hayfever sufferer you know. Because it is WONDERFUL being able to roll around in the grass in the summer, spend all day outdoors (without drugs!) and not have to seal the hatches when the lawn's being mowed!

Saturday 5 July 2008

'Where do you get your...calcium?'

'Where do you get your calcium?' Probably the second most commonly-asked question of the raw vegan (after 'Where do you get your protein?') and sometimes followed (especially if one is a woman of a certain age) with 'Aren't you worried about osteoporosis?' And those who ask are concerned because they've understood all their lives that we 'need' dairy for calcium.

Now please remember I'm neither doctor nor dietician etc etc, so please take everything I say with a pinch of salt. (On the other hand...don't do that.) I've drawn my conclusions simply from information gleaned from trawling the internet over the past year. But, this does suggest that raw vegans need not worry about calcium intake, or indeed osteoporosis (brittle bones). And, if you're a man, please do keep reading, as osteoporosis isn't confined to women, do have teeth (I hope).

Why do we need calcium?

Altogether now... 'for healthy bones and teeth'! (and we need it for quite a few other things as well, eg proper blood clotting, muscle functioning, hormone activation, etc, and it's essential in the maintenance of the acid-alkaline balance.).

How much do we need each day?

UK Dept of Health recommends 700 mg (more when pregnant and breast-feeding)

Where can we obtain calcium on a raw vegan diet?

Two of the best, and widely-available, sources:

Dark green leaves (eg spinach/kale) (2 cups) 200 mg
Nuts (eg almonds, hazelnuts)(100g) 200 mg

Also good:

  • Sea vegetables (100g) 200 mg
  • Watercress (100g) 150 mg
  • Lettuce (2 cups) 80 mg
  • Parsley (1 cup) 80 mg
  • Broccoli (1 cup) 80 mg
  • Figs (4 medium) 72 mg
  • Sesame seeds (50g) 70 mg (buy whole-calcium reduced by 90% when de-hulled.)
  • Olives (100g) 60 mg
  • Oranges (1) 50 mg (note the calcium is in the pulp and pith)

And calcium is also found in many other plant foods.

Note that natural sunlight is vital to calcium absorption. So, if the sun's shining outside right now, you know what to do when you've read this article! We can store Vitamin D for months. Were there any days in the summer where the sun was shining outside and you were spending (unnecessary) time on the computer? As well as Vitamin D, our bodies need Vitamins A, C, magnesium, phosphorus and various amino-acids to absorb calcium, so the healthier the diet overall, the more calcium will be absorbed.

(You may have heard that foods high in oxalic acid can inhibit calcium absorption, and that spinach is one of these. However, my research indicates that this would only be a problem if we have vast quantities of the tougher, mature leaves rather than the young leaves most of us eat. Chard and beet greens are also high in oxalic acid. I find Swiss Chard burns my throat and guess this is the acid, so avoid it for that reason. Beetroot itself gives me this sensation occasionally. The young spinach leaves I buy (and grow) don't when I eat them in leaf form, but occasionally do in smoothies. Basically, let your taste buds guide you.

Unnaturally large amounts of fibre can impair the body's ability to absorb calcium, but the key word here is 'unnaturally'. Bran, for example, is a fractured food - the fibre having been removed from the whole food, and bran can inhibit the absorption of calcium. Fibre that is ingested within whole fruit and veg should not have adverse effects.)

Salt can also have an adverse effect on calcium absorption. The World Health Organisation, in 'Vitamin and Mineral Requirements in Human Nutrition' tell us that sodium competes with calcium in the body. The more sodium, the less calcium is absorbed and that 'salt restriction is likely to lower our calcium requirements.'

'But I only eat one or two of those foods each day. How am I going to reach 700 mg?'

Fret not.


(1) The allowances are liberal to start with. They've been set high deliberately to allow for 'calcium loss' (and one of the causes of this is meat-eating! More later.)

(2) They are based on what scientists believe the average person needs. The average person is unhealthy and eating cooked food - the average person is malnourished. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that healthy individuals eating raw, whole foods are thriving on a fraction of the allowances recommended for conventional eaters.

(3) According to the Vegan Society, vegans are not generally calcium-deficient and they do not appear to have a higher rate of osteoporosis than the general population (and more on that later).

(4) Chinese living in rural areas (unlike those living in towns, where the diet is more westernise) have a very low calcium intake and osteoporosis is rare.

Taking the above into account, I think it's fair to say that the raw vegan is going to need significantly less than 700 mg a day. The average intake of those rural Chinese is less than 200 mg a day (dairy consumption is very low) and they appear to do just fine on such a 'low' intake.

Vegans, calcium and bones...

And vegans don't appear to have bone problems...

Do vegans suffer from more 'calcium deficiency' than the general population? No, according to the Vegan Society.

Do vegans have lighter bone mass than the average? Yes! (According to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine).

But did these light-bone-mass vegans have osteoporosis? No! (same study). And, what's more, the study reported that people on a raw vegetarian diet (this was defined as 'only plant-derived foods') not only have no higher incidence of osteoporisis than the average, but they have higher levels of Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption (perhaps because raw vegetarians/vegans, taking more care with their health generally, spend time outdoors a little more than the average.)

And new research appears to indicate that high bone density early in life is associated with osteoporosis, and high calcium intake is associated with bone-fracture in old age (see Wikipedia 'raw foodism' page - the footnotes will take you to the research source). Hmm...not what we've been led to believe, is it?!

So who's likely to have on osteoporosis problem?

Ironically, those eating animal foods...

Studies in recent years have suggested that those eating meat and dairy products (who, according to Joseph Pizzorno ND 'Total Wellness' only ingest 40-50% of the RDA anyway) will then be losing calcium from their bones through eating those very foods!

This is because: for healthy bones we need a 1.5:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus in our diets. Problem is...meat contains 10 to 20 times as much phosphorus as calcium, and, overall, those on a standard diet including meat consume roughly 2 to 4 times as much phosphorus as calcium (University of Maryland Medical Center). When there is more phosphorus than calcium in the system, the body leeches calcium from the bones. Result - some body functions protected, but at the expense of teeth and bones.

Meat and fish have an acidic effect on the body. And, as above, our bodies try to correct this by taking (alkaline) calcium from the bones. Eskimos eat a lot of fish; they also have a high rate of osteoporosis. After the age of 40, Eskimos of both sexes have a 10-15% greater bone loss than the US average.

There is also too much phosphorus in cows' milk. Harvard School of Public Health compared post-menopausal women drinking three glasses of milk a day with a control group who didn't. The milk group lost bone at twice the rate of the control group. Osteoporosis is more common in Westernised countries where consumption of dairy is high.

We're told to eat dairy for calcium, but although it may contain calcium, it's difficult for our bodies to get it. The calcium is wrapped up in a sticky protein called casein, and the only thing able to split casein is rennet. Humans only produce this when they are babies. The problem is exacerbated when milk is pasteurised. The complex organic salts of calcium and magnesium, in conjunction with carbon and phosphorus, are decomposed by heat, resulting in the precipitation of insoluble calcium phosphate salts. These inorganic salts are not assimilable by the body.

Another problem with eating protein such as flesh or dairy is that the stomach has to work hard to break these foods down, and has to secrete significant amounts of hydrochloric acid to do so. The liver then has to neutralise that acid to prevent burning of the small intestine. The major element in the bile salts produced is...calcium. The bodies of those who consume lots of dairy (and most on the standard cooked diet do) are likely to run out of stored calcium to cope with the onslaught of all the 'concentrated protein' food and, again, leech it from the bones.

Interestingly, the American Dietetic Association in 1993 said that the daily calcium allowances recommended were increased because of the calcium losses incurred by the typically high-protein diet!

(note vegans still need to be following a healthy diet as salt, alcohol and carbonated drinks such as Coke (not applicable to raw vegans of course!) can all contribute to calcium loss).

People should be less concerned about the amount of calcium they're taking in, and more concerned about the things they're putting into their bodies that are interfering with calcium absorption, and causing their bodies to leach calcium from the bones to correct internal ph. As healthy raw vegans won't be ingesting any of those things, the raw vegan is likely to need to ingest far less calcium than a person on a standard cooked diet.


Women suffering from bone problems have traditionally been told to consume more dairy. Whilst I have explained why raising dairy could lead to a net loss of calcium, it may also raise cholesterol, clog the arteries and cause other health problems associated with high consumption of pasteurised dairy.

On 10th July, I'll be spending two hours having various tests taken and questions asked about my diet and lifestyle as part of the national Biobank project (longitudinal study of thousands of people in the UK 40+). Amongst the tests will be a bone density scan (!). I've already been warned that this test is a crude one and that a 'proper' test can reveal a quite different result, but even if the test(s) does show that I have 'low bone density' - I won't be rushing out to buy a block of Cheddar.

(EDIT 11th July 08 - my bone density result was 76 dbh/MHz, which was classed as 'good'). All my 'measurements' were good, including blood pressure of just 105/59, which is what I'd expect as a raw vegan who, even when raw vegetarian last year, ate very little dairy. Basically, my heart doesn't have to pump very hard to get the blood round, as my arteries aren't clogged. I remember reading a heart specialist say that if his patients all turned raw vegan then he wouldn't have any more work to do. ).

(EDIT Feb '10 - my blood-level calcium was tested recently. I don't have the exact figure, but the doctor informs me it is 'normal'.)