Raw veganism. The lifestyle may sound too much to do at first, but it is definitely a healthy choice. But switching to a raw vegan diet overnight or maybe even IN the course of a few months can be overwhelming for those living in the UAE, especially since the country offers a rich gastronomical experience through several cuisines.
While the odds may be against your favour given all the tasty food available, it is not impossible.
One such person who is currently In the process of switching to a raw veganism lifestyle is 35-year-old Dubai-based restaurateur and cookbook author Dimple Khitri. And for those looking to make the change themselves, she’s got a few helpful tips…
I currently live on a 70 per cent raw vegan diet and found that the best way to do it is to switch up one meal to start. I found that breakfast was the easiest with fresh foods and lots of delicious smoothie recipes.
“A raw vegan lifestyle should always be taken in moderation. I currently live on a 70 per cent raw vegan diet and found that the best way to do it is to switch up one meal to start. I found that breakfast was the easiest with fresh foods and lots of delicious smoothie recipes. I instantly felt a change because I was no longer having refined sugars or refined oils in my meals. Also, when you have raw food you automatically cut down on gluten, which itself will reduce a lot of inflammation in the gut and body. And also you find yourself becoming more mindful of what to consume.
“However, initially lunch was challenging for me. As I was making the transition I actually started with store-bought salad dressings and dips until I realised how easy it was to prepare them at home. Soon enough I was able to make raw cheese dip, hummus and Thousand Island dressing too.”
1. Make the decision
The first step for change is to decide if you truly want to go for it. It’s always good to weigh in your pros and cons before you make a drastic shift.
2. Setting goals
It’s best advised that you make sure what your end goal is by going raw vegan. Whether it’s weight loss or a simple detoxification process, plan your journey based on duration, meals and maybe even reaching out to others who are in the process along with you.
3. Start small
Once you make the shift, start small. Transitioning to a raw veganism lifestyle can be tougher than you think, so it’s best to have one raw vegan meal and two cooked meals and then slowly increase your raw vegan meals as you wish.
4. Plan your meals
While making the transition seems doable, it’s always best advised that you plan your meals before you implement them. Whether you intend to juice your vegetables or eat it right out of the salad bowl, every meal decision you take goes a long way
This is harder than making the decision itself, because it is also a point of time where you could second guess if you really want to choose a raw vegan lifestyle. To execute eating a raw vegan diet on a daily basis may seem like a tough task, but you do have benefits. Maybe this could be a sign for you to buy that blender that you’ve been eyeing for a long time now.
On the road to good health – what is raw veganism?
Let’s start off with the basics. First introduced in the 19th century as a solution to avoid illness, raw veganism can be described as a diet that includes no processed or cooked food. When it comes to heating your food, one needs to be careful to heat it below 40 to 48C, which means that your food can be eaten fermented, fresh or dehydrated with low heat.
The tenet of raw veganism is that heating food beyond this temperature could result in loss of nutrients, making it toxic and quite hard to digest. But you’re options don’t have to be limited just because of that. You can also juice, blend, soak, sprout and dehydrate your raw ingredients and still have a balanced and healthy diet.
Is it costly?
Yes, it can be but not always. Personally I thought I’d give myself the chance to try out this choice of lifestyle only to find myself eating less and paying more bills especially since I couldn’t find the right substitutes. I made the mistake of chasing the most organic product in the supermarket and while I was rushing to try it out for the ‘health’ aspect, it did backfire quite quickly because I wasn’t choosing the right things. With the research I did, my brain registered ‘uncooked’, ‘healthy’ and ‘benefits’. But what I will guarantee you is that choosing a raw vegan lifestyle works wonders for gut health. To summarise, I spent around Dh150 a day to match my idea of raw veganism, and I only lasted 4 days.
When asked about the same to Khitri, she said: “It depends on which diet you are transitioning from but from a vegan to raw vegan what you will realise is that you can easily save… you can also quite literally make coconut milk at home and soon all these factors will help save more than spend.
“However, what you might also find that you could end up being on-par with a vegan diet, especially since you would be focused on buying organic produce.”
What do experts have to say?
Food by Gulf News was able to get in touch with three experts in Dubai – a nutritionist and two dieticians – who weighed in on the pros and cons of opting for a raw vegan lifestyle.
... it [raw veganism] is definitely heart healthy, gut friendly, helps in improving cholesterol, blood pressure, managing diabetes
Sakina Mustansir, a dietician at Prime Hospital in Dubai, said: “Since raw veganism is a combination of the vegan diet and the raw food diet, it excludes food from animal origins and adds that food should be eaten raw/uncooked or cooked at low temperatures. So basically the diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains and legumes and tends to be naturally low in processed foods.
“When the diet is full on fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods and phytonutrients, it is definitely heart healthy, gut friendly, helps in improving cholesterol, blood pressure, managing diabetes. Such diets are also linked to lower levels of body fat,” added Mustansir.
Fermented products like miso, kimchi, seaweeds, sauerkraut, can be included. Natural sweeteners like raw maple syrup and jaggery can be part of the plan.
“Relevant studies in recent times have suggested that opting for a raw vegan diet reduces the occurrence of metabolic disorders by 75 per cent. Seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, of course. Grains and legumes can be included but must be soaked and sprouted prior to consumption. Fermented products like miso, kimchi, seaweeds, sauerkraut, can be included. Natural sweeteners like raw maple syrup and jaggery can be part of the plan. If your diet isn’t planned well, you could be diagnosed with vitamin deficiency, which could result in more complex problems like poor memory and poor functioning of the nervous system,” said Dubai-based dietician Saumya Mishra.
In terms of nutrition, Veenisha Fatnani, a nutritionist at New County Healthcare in Dubai said: “Veganism is a good way to realise the benefits of fruits and vegetables in the diet. It ensures that one is more plant based, it is also an environmentally friendly practice since meat releases a lot of carbon emissions. But vegans also lack vitamin D, calcium and Omega-3 in their diet which can cause a risk in heart health and bone health.
“Vegans must ensure that these levels of nutrients are then maintained through supplements if they plan on making it their permanent lifestyle. In general, your body absorbs some nutrients, like vitamin C, better from raw food because they're easily destroyed when cooked. But other nutrients, like iron, are most beneficial after the food they're in has been cooked. In fact, tomatoes, increase their antioxidant lycopene, through the cooking process.”
Seek professional help
According to theveganreview.com site, becoming a raw vegan takes a toll on the female menstrual cycle especially because users are consuming uncooked food on a regular basis.
“The diet is quite restrictive in nature, contrary to our traditional diets and hence if not well planned it can become nutritionally unbalanced which can lead to anaemia, poor bone health, nervous system damage etc. It could also impact fertility in women and irregular menstrual cycle. Hence should be strictly started and followed under professional supervision,” said Mustansir
Raw veganism also has an effect on women’s menstrual cycles since the uterus is better functioning when the body is at a warmer temperature
“Raw veganism could lead to indigestible food negating the positive effects of being vegan. Cooked food makes it easier for the body to break down in the food system. Too much of raw vegetables and fruits makes it harder for the body to process. Raw veganism also has an effect on women’s menstrual cycles since the uterus is better functioning when the body is at a warmer temperature,” added Fatnani.
Should you make the change?
“It’s best to maintain a balanced diet involving both raw and cooked vegetables since nutrition uptake differs for different fruits and vegetables. The best of both worlds along with being mindful of the missing nutrients as a vegan is important. One of the highlights of being raw vegan is lesser gut-based issues,” said Fatnani.
When it comes to raw veganism, most people focus on what they could eat more than how they would feel by adapting this diet. Here are a few tips from Khitri that you could implement in your own diet as you make your own:
- Start the morning with your favourite fruit.
- Resist the need to have coffee or tea for the first 3 days and your body will not ask for it again.
- Try to make it fun by giving yourself everything you crave for. Whether it’s a white sauce pasta or even sushi! Everything can be made raw with the same taste to satisfy your taste buds.
- And most importantly, believe in yourself and accept that it is a slow process.
- A well-stocked pantry makes a world of difference in flavours: “I always have a good stock of natural ingredients like coconut water, lemon, orange and grapefruits available for me to be able to make any drink. I also keep trying new spices but my favourites are cumin, chili, pink salt and nutritional yeast.”
While raw veganism has helped many like Khitri, it’s always hard to find the right substitutes for your favourite recipes. “One of the main challenges I faced was giving up coffee initially, it was difficult to not have coffee in the mornings and have a smoothie instead. I gradually got used to it.”
But, she does have a few words of wisdom to make the process easier and adaptable: “Have fun with it! When I started my journey to become a 70 per cent raw vegan, I asked myself what items I felt I would miss the most. I realised it was cheese and chocolate! I would say not to be quick to judge the book (literally and figuratively) by its cover and always ask yourself – can you re-create your favourite dishes in a raw state? You will be surprised by the number of options you can find.”