The raw-food diet

Uma Thurman and Natalie Portman are devotees, but is the raw-food diet just another impractical and half-baked fad? Genevieve Roberts cuts out the cooking to find out
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Indy Lifestyle Online

There was a time when only hippies and health fanatics would consider living on raw food. No more. A raw-food revolution is under way - and celebs are leading the way. Uma Thurman, Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone have all been eating uncooked food in the name of optimum health. Woody Harrelson went so far as to publish a 400-page tome on Living Cuisine. But then, the beautiful people, I suspect, were beautiful and shiny haired before they gave up ovens. What could raw foods do for me? I decided to give my oven a rest for a week, to see if I can catch any symptoms of glamour and gorgeousness.

Tuesday

Bloating is not the nicest word. So thank you toSamara Reid at London's Hale Clinic for the warning. The angel of traditional Chinese medicinal doom also warned me about weight gain. "Cold food can stay in the intestines for a long time," she says. Which may not be so bad - if my lunch is lurking, I won't be spending my time hunting for raw things and pretending they constitute a meal. Except that "according to the Chinese way of thinking, food is warmed in order to promote digestion. Cold food is not a good idea, because the body has to warm it to digest, which depletes stomach and spleen energy."

She threatens me with weight gain on my upper legs, a muzzy head and unclear thoughts. Apparently, chewing every mouthful of food 50 times will help. How do you chew a lettuce leaf so many times without it disappearing like candyfloss?

But I get some sympathy from Deborah McManners, a naturopath at the Hale Clinic and GP. She knows I will be suffering. It is a "drastic plan" that she does not recommend anyone to try for more than a week. No chance of that, the 168-hour countdown to real food is on.

I am to avoid tapeworm-riddled raw pork, but beef, venison and veal are safer, unless I have any intention of getting pregnant.

She suggests that I eat vast quantities of pumpkin seeds, raw nuts, avocado and fresh juices. "Juicing bursts open cells so the antioxidants in plants, which are proven to prevent cancer, can be absorbed," she says. "Uma Thurman would probably drink fresh juice and eat fruit for breakfast, and salads with grain, avocados and sprouts for lunch." A bit of Uma would not be so bad.

My blood pressure is a pleasingly low 96/60 and my weight is, um, just fine. She tells me I will lose several pounds. I am happy. Scoffing sushi and satsumas by day and night, I complete day one, hungry.

Wednesday

What to eat? Bread is the most difficult thing to give up when eating a raw-food diet, says Karen Knowler, author of Raw Food for Beginners. The bread-basket on the table at Chez Gérard is as difficult to resist as chocolate in an advent calendar in November. "Bread is addictive, people find it quite difficult to go a day without wheat products. Cravings do vanish after a few weeks or months," Knowler says. A few months? By that time I will be emaciated, probably hospitalised, whispering the word "toast" to anyone who will listen.

A true disciple of the religion of raw, there were only three weeks during her pregnancy when Knowler did not eat raw food. "I did not want to believe it could make so much difference, but the purity of food gives results, you feel the freshness running through your veins," she says.

The science of the religion of raw is like Darwinism to an evolutionist. "Cooked food has less water and no oxygen. Phytochemicals, which make you feel good, get destroyed by cooking and enzymes in food are destroyed at 48 degrees Celsius," Knowler says.

But, she tells me, my body will be cleaning out the caffeine residue from many years of relying on coffee to trigger some semblance of alertness in the mornings. I will have peaks and troughs, but there will be periods where I feel elation. I hope so. She recommends almond milk, which is filling, and smoothies with bananas. Commercial fruit juices are pasteurised so I should make my own, and add nuts, olives, avocados and seeds to salads for extra energy.

I top the salads and fruit off with steak tartare - Gordon Ramsay says the British do not eat enough raw meat - and it tastes good.

Thursday

Feeling exhausted, which may be the lack of caffeine, but is likely to be too much time thinking about what food I am not eating, and a lot of energy spent chopping raw vegetables.

Friday

The Little Earth Café in Primrose Hill is London's only raw-food eatery. While America has plenty of raw restaurants, buoyed by references in Sex and the City, Britain is lagging behind. Well known to the local A-list contingent, who drop by for juice or to order a takeaway, the café smells faintly of banana and sweet incense. Guests take their shoes off on entering, yoga poses are optional, everyone exudes health.

Katia Narain, 29, and Christophe Reissfelder, 25, are the chefs. They look as if espresso to kill a morning hangover has never passed their lips. They look as if morning hangovers do not exist. The food is vegan; the café does not promote eating meat. I drink Fresh Breeze, a mixture of apple, celery, cucumber and mint juice, and eat organic raw pink sushi, nori sheets rolled with avocado, cucumber and sprouts filled with a sweet beetroot pâté.

The raw bruschetta, which accompanies artichoke pâté and olive tapenade, is made in a dehydrator with nuts, and bears no relation to its distant cousin, bread. The food is not just edible but delicious. Maybe this is the elation that Knowler was preaching.

Katia and Christophe learnt to not-cook raw meals through "trial and error". "We kept making food until it turned out right, it took some practice," Katia says. "Nuts are substituted for dairy to make things creamy, so the beetroot pâté is made in a blender with beetroot, cashews and red peppers."

Apparently my drastic plan is not the best approach to raw; cold-turkey on cooking can easily result in a relapse. Katia advises people to use almond milk as opposed to dairy, honey instead of refined sugar, and cut out caffeine. "By opening your eyes to this world, it becomes easier to make more changes," she says. "A raw diet is not for everybody, but if you get in tune with your body you will know how much raw food you need. Processed food is one extreme, raw food is at the other end of the spectrum. Most people eat emotionally, but with this diet you eat for nutrients, nibbling through the day and drinking juices."

Christophe says: "Just adding vegetable juice to a daily diet has a real effect, and when people notice the difference they may really change their methods of eating. In one large juice there are five helpings of fruit and vegetables. Morning is the best time to drink juice." They recommend drinking green juice in the morning, for example kale or spinach, celery, cucumber, apple and fennel.

They both advise me to drink juices and smoothies throughout the day and avoid raw meat and fish because only very few people on a raw-food diet eat either.

Saturday

Out to dinner for my friend Pip's birthday. I feel my will for raw slipping as I look at a mouth-watering menu - lobster, fish bisque, steak. Will one small deviation count?

My friends are choosing what to eat with the light-hearted joy of normal diners. Going out for dinner is about so much more than the food, but the restrictions are not making me feel sociable. A glass or so of fizzy wine, and the sympathy that I have forcibly extracted from my friends restores my spirits. I stay strong and stick to salad.

Sunday

Juicers are the kitchen implement of the gods. My day is spent feeding oranges and ginger, strawberries and banana into the lawnmower-sounding appliance. The results are sublime.

A trip down to the local organic store to stock up on alfalfa sprouts, unroasted nuts and almond milk. Just buying the products makes me feel healthy, and I enjoy peering into my fridge because it too is looking healthy.

Friends who come round are served guacamole, tabouleh, salads and fruit salads. It is so hot that they do not need to sneak off mid-way through the evening for a pizza.

Monday

Heston Blumenthal, owner of the Fat Duck at Bray in Berkshire, which was voted the world's best restaurant by Restaurant magazine, is not impressed with my raw diet. "As early on as man made fire, we have cooked," he scorns. "Cooking gives food flavours. It is pointless eating to live, you may as well take in nutrients in tablet form. There has to be a pleasurable element to food. If you eat raw the pleasure starts to disappear."

He thinks a mix of raw and cooked food is good, suggesting a caramelised fennel, braised fennel and raw fennel concoction.

My blood pressure is up to 110/70 but this is probably just because I have been rushing around in the heat. But I have lost weight. Two kilos, which is five pounds, which is almost half a stone. In just one week. No sign of celebrity gorgeousness yet, but maybe that will come. Perhaps raw is the way forward.

The diet: green salad, fruit and more green salad

TUESDAY
Breakfast: Satsumas and plums.
Lunch: Tuna and salmon sashimi with salad.
Dinner: Sashimi, salad, more satsumas and plums.

WEDNESDAY
Breakfast: Cherries, grapes.
Lunch: Green salad and fruit.
Dinner: Oysters and steak tartare with side-salad.

THURSDAY
Breakfast: Avocado with lemon dressing.
Lunch: Melon, sashimi.
Dinner: Salad with mango, pineapple and almonds.

FRIDAY
Breakfast: Satsumas, apple, pistachio nuts.
Lunch: Little Earth Café, 6 Erskine Road NW1 (020-7483 3344). Fresh Breeze drink (£4). Organic raw pink sushi, nori sheets rolled with avocado, cucumber and sprouts, filled with a sweet beetroot pâté (£4.50). Raw bruschetta with artichoke pâté and olive tapenade (£6.50).
Dinner: Green salad with avocado and walnuts.

SATURDAY
Breakfast: Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, raisins.
Lunch: Guacamole, celery, cherry and banana smoothie with almond milk.
Dinner: Salad, almonds and alfalfa sprouts. Fruit salad.

SUNDAY
Breakfast: Fruit.
Lunch: Strawberry and banana smoothie, fresh strawberries. Tomato juice.
Dinner: Green salad, guacamole, tabouleh.

MONDAY
Breakfast: Green juice: celery, spinach, apple.
Lunch: Green salad with pineapple and grapes.
Dinner: Strawberry and banana smoothie. Guacamole.

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