Life in the raw
Karen Brown's morning ritual involves stuffing spinach, kale, dandelions and fruit into a blender, a concoction she swears is delicious.
When you first start, make it 60 per cent fruit - it makes it more palatable, she says.
Brown has followed a 95 per cent raw food diet for about three years and says the green smoothies are a mainstay of her daily menu.
Two years ago, she founded the Christchurch raw vegan group, and has since seen the diet gain momentum in the city. There are more than 100 names on the mailing list and her regular potluck dinners are popular social events for the diverse, all-ages group.
The raw food philosophy is built around the notion that food loses a lot of nutrients and enzymes during the cooking process, and that fresh, raw fruits and vegetables carry the highest benefits for health. Raw foodists believe uncooked food is easier for the body to process, and that nothing should be heated above 45 degrees Celsius.
The ancient diet had a wave of popularity in the 1930s and has grown in popularity again since the 1980s. The diet is now particularly popular in the United States, with numerous Californian restaurants dedicated to providing only uncooked food.
Brown was vegetarian and dairy- free for 20 years before going raw, which she believes helped with the transition. However, the radical change took careful consideration. "It was a big plunge. I really didn't like the thought of not having a cooked meal at night-time."
Many people choose to follow a partially raw diet, rather than Brown's all-or-nothing approach. Either way, she recommends easing into it to allow the body time to adjust, rather than going cold turkey.
"There is a detox period where you will feel tired for a few days at the start. After that, your energy levels go through the roof."
The main benefits for Brown are her abundance of energy and increased mental clarity. She speaks of feeling lighter, and no longer experiences the sensation of food sitting heavily in the pit of the stomach. She rarely gets sick and cannot remember the last time she had a cold. "The Western diet makes you sick. Illnesses are ultimately a result of the way we live."
Internationally, there is research to suggest the raw food diet can benefit those with a range of health complaints, particularly diabetes.
Brown rarely has cravings for junk food or a particular cooked dish, and finds it is more the textures of cooked food that she misses the most. The difficulty with sharing a spontaneous meal with friends is another aspect she sometimes laments.
She usually brings food from home for work lunches, although many cafes provide salads that fit in with the diet. Eating out at restaurants is her biggest challenge. "Most places have salads but they like to add extras. I have to ask them to take things out and use raw substitutes. It does make you stand out a bit if you're eating with a group."
Some vegetarian eateries have raw options, and she enjoys the selections at The Lotus Heart in Cathedral Square and Earthly Delights cafe on High St.
"It's not about becoming obsessive. Sometimes you can't tell whether certain foods like spices go through a heat process, but you have to allow yourself some room."
She finds dehydrators and juicers have a million different uses when it comes to preparing raw dishes. She makes raw noodles with a spiraliser - a device that turns food such as carrot or zucchini into fine strands - and adds a raw tomato sauce to her version of spaghetti. Some of her favourite meals are bok choy salad with tahini and honey dressing, and carrot soup with cashew nuts, goji berries and baby coconut.
Coffee is obviously out due to the bean-roasting process, and although some alcoholic beverages are technically raw, Brown does not believe in adding unnecessary toxins into a diet so centred on healthy food.
She warns about getting carried away with gourmet raw, which can involve too many rich nuts and seeds. An abundance of these foods can mean a diet that is seemingly healthy but very high in fat and difficult to digest.
Brown advises raw food beginners to keep it simple. "You don't have to go into expensive health foods."
She grows a lot of her own vegetables and says eating a wide variety makes it easier and more interesting. "It's really about balance and eating healthy, and it's very environmentally friendly."