Yes, we’ve recently celebrated Easter and, amid the many significances of this special time of year, it’s a fabulous time for the bakers among us, right? So why, oh WHY did I pick Easter week to reevaluate my eating habits and try raw food for the first time? Could it be the subtle influence of Deepak’s soothing voice as he guided me through the daily reflections I did as part of his latest 21-day meditation challenge? Could it be that I recently watched the film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and, overnight, found myself obsessed with the idea of juicing? Or could it be that I have been craving a change and, despite the fact that I try to eat an organic, well-balanced diet, I still believe there is still too much refined sugar, gluten, eggs, dairy and other stuff I don’t “need” in it? Clearly for me it is a combination of factors, fueled in part by a deeper realisation that my toddler is already learning to do as I do, not as I say. I want to create the most nurturing, balanced and healthy environment I can for my children… and I believe it starts with me and the choices that I make for myself. And so, rather than pondering the changes I would like to make, I have begun to make them. Already I feel so much the better for it and can see the positive impact my healthier lifestyle is having on my home and family. The following is an excerpt from my 21-day meditation challenge online journal listing some of the changes/additions I have recently made to my daily routine:
- I have started trying to use paraben-free products where possible.
- After participating in Earth Hour, we decided to have “lights out” time every night… lighting candles and our smokeless fireplace and having quiet family story time and cuddles.
- I am starting my day by drinking ginger tea (even my toddler is into it now, taking sips of mine).
- I am drinking 2 liters of water a day consciously.
- I have a daily program that I follow with things that I can cross off and keep track of both for me and my kids.
- I am doing body brushing, juicing, journaling, meditation, pelvic floor exercises, etc. everyday.
- I did a raw food and juicing reboot for 3 days and have kept eating mostly veggie/vegan/raw/gluten-free since.
- I am trying out more eco products, not just for me but for my kids (eg, paraben-free shampoo for me, biodegradable and cloth diapers for my baby).
- I have started exercising with my kids- doing a very relaxed version of Zumba with my toddler and doing gentle yoga with the whole family.
- We are also shopping as a family and letting our toddler help choose fruit and veggies. He loves it!
WHY TRY RAW FOOD?
Well, in my case sheer curiosity was a major motivating factor! I have spoken with friends who have done raw food (un)cooking classes at the recently opened Bliss Cafe in Stockholm and with friends who have gone on detoxification retreats that prescribe a raw food diet. I currently have two friends (that I am aware of) who eat raw food exclusively and swear by its benefits. Basically, raw food (or “living food”) is food that has not been cooked or exposed to temperatures over 48°C (118°F), the temperature at which the natural enzymes in food are supposedly destroyed. These enzymes, according to raw foodist Robert Ross, “are considered essential for all the chemical processes in your body, especially digestion”. Chemical by-products with damaging effects on health are also allegedly produced by cooking. Cooked carbohydrates can produce a carcinogen called acrylamide and frying makes oils oxidize, creating free radicals and “increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease and premature aging”. The argument for raw eating is bolstered by the notion that fire is a recent discovery in archeological terms and that humans are the only species on the planet who “intentionally eat cooked food”. I didn’t think it could do me any harm to give raw food a go… and, in fact, if the raw community is indeed correct in its assumptions, I would have a better standard of health by doing so.
It appears, as mentioned above, that micronutrients are sensitive little critters and the value they provide the body with can be compromised through the heating of foods. Add to this the fact that many people will not reach the quota of 6-8 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, which seems the norm as far as modern health authority recommendations go. Juicing is without doubt an easy way to virtually guarantee that you will reach your daily target for vegetables whilst ensuring your body gets plenty of micronutrients (that cooking and processing food destroys by altering their shape and chemical composition).
Juicing helps the body absorb all the nutrients from fruits and vegetables. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting through 2 cucumbers, a bunch of carrots, a couple of raw beets, a pineapple, a cup of berries, 2 grapefruits, a lemon, a bunch of spinach etc, in one sitting, yet juicing allows you to consume an optimal amount of fruits and vegetables in a highly efficient, easy to digest manner. No matter what the rest of your daily diet looks like, you can ensure that you are meeting your quota of “rainbow” foods (foods of many colours) via juicing and perhaps even expand your vegetable horizons somewhat by introducing things to your juice that wouldn’t normally end up on your plate. As an added bonus, regular food rotation decreases your chance of developing an allergy to a certain food.
One lovely spin-off from this dietary addition is that I have taken the opportunity to introduce my 2 year-old to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables via the juicing process. We shop together, talk about fresh produce and why it is good for you and I let him help me choose produce for juicing. He likes to repeat the names of fruits/vegetables/herbs, hold them, try them out, tell me which ones he wants me to juice first… then, of course, he drinks the juice too. The other day, whilst drinking one of our delicious homemade smoothies, he announced “I like vitamins!” It seems my ploy is working! 😉
- I have chosen to incorporate juicing into my diet, rather than detox on juice, fast on juice or consider juice the mainstay of my diet. There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that I am not overweight, that my diet is already well-balanced and that I am a nursing mother (and need to make sure I am keeping my calorific intake in check so as not to affect milk supply/quality). I think it is important to consider too that vegetable juice contains little protein and virtually no fat. I “bulk up” the juices I make for breakfast by adding other things to, in effect, make smoothies. Cashew nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, frozen berries, frozen mango and fresh, ripe bananas whizzed in a blender along with fresh fruit and vegetable juice really helps to make a meal out of things 😉
- The juice you make should taste good and make you feel good. There may be certain tastes that you want to counter balance (like the bitterness found in some green veg) with other flavours (lemons and limes are great for this purpose).
- Use organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Celery, spinach, lettuce, carrots and cucumber are all fabulous for juicing, but NOT when loaded with chemicals used in non-organic farming practices.
- Fresh ginger and mint leaves can add a lovely, refreshing zing to your juices- not to mention extra health benefits (such as the absorption and assimilation of essential nutrients in the body that ginger can aid and the blood cleansing properties of mint).
- Drinking freshly made juice right away is preferable, however if you are like me (ie, ridiculously busy in the morning) storing pre-cut fruit & veg or fresh juice carefully is a decent second best. Juicing is time-consuming, so although at first I was attempting to do it every morning, I soon realised that preparing fruit and veg in advance (washing, peeling, etc) or even juicing the night before worked so much better for me. You can store juices with, according to some experts, “only moderate nutritional decline”. I store my juice in an airtight container in the refrigerator and, although it is recommended to store them for 24 hours, I often make enough juice for a couple of days to save on work/washing up.
I am a bit (ok, a LOT) in love with juicing right now! Juice is a part of every day for me at the moment. I usually have a BIG micronutrient rich smoothie for breakfast these days. As a long-time massive fan of breakfast cereals, I thought I’d be missing them painfully. Not so! I haven’t missed them once since I started juicing as opposed to loading up on grains and gluten-y carbs in the morning. As with raw food, I feel like I am starting my day “clean” when I juice. And the delicious smoothie blends I create are so satisfying and refreshing. Oh, and I really should mention that I continue to nurse my baby on demand and the latest weigh-in at the doctor’s office confirmed what I had suspected… that she has been putting on the pounds ;). She has, in 2 months, put on 2 kilos (or approximately 4.4 pounds), so we need have no fear that she is not getting what she needs in terms of nutrition via her mama!
MY SUPER MICRONUTRIENT SMOOTHIE
This is my daily breakfast right now! I decided to do a little research into the health benefits (which I share with you below) of the base juicing ingredients I use, curious as to why it is that I feel so great starting my day this way. The extra additions to my juices (such as kiwi fruit, pears, etc.) vary a little depending upon what fruits and veggies are available/fresh/organic, but the basic mix I use at the moment includes:
Packed with vitamins and minerals (including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus and potassium), pineapples can help stave off colds, build and maintain strong bones (thanks to manganese, a trace mineral that your body requires to build bones and connective tissues), alleviate pain associated with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome due to its anti-inflammatory qualities and improve digestion (yay for bromelain!). Oh, and they’re delicious, of course! 😉
Spinach is a winter superfood and research shows that taking it in juice form is actually the healthiest way to consume it. Oxalic acid, a compound found in spinach, blocks the absorption of calcium and iron, but an easy way to solve this problem is to pair spinach with foods rich in vitamin C (very easy to do when juicing!). Spinach is known for its ability to help nourish the eyes, build healthy bones and aid digestion. It flushes out toxins from the colon and regular consumption of fresh, organic spinach juice has been shown to improve skin health dramatically. A well-known good source of iron, spinach is also loaded with vitamins and minerals that can be hard to find in other foods. Like other dark greens, spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant that helps combat heart disease and cancer. Spinach contains lipoic acid, which helps antioxidant vitamins C and E regenerate. Lipoic acid also helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
Low in calories, but rich in pectin and containing no saturated fats or cholesterol, oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C (providing 53.2 mg per 100 g, about 90% of your DRI). Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant and pectin helps to protect the mucous membrane of the colon by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer-causing chemicals. Pectin also aids in reducing blood cholesterol levels. Vitamin C rich foods help scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the blood and assist the body in developing resistance against infectious agents. Oranges contain a variety of valuable phytochemicals and very good levels of vitamin A, plus other flavonoid antioxidants such as alpha and beta-carotenes and lutein. Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy skin and mucus membranes. Flavonoids help to protect the body against lung and oral cavity cancers. Oranges are a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin and folates and minerals like calcium and potassium, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
Mango is rich in vitamins, minerals, polyphenolic flavonoid antioxidant compounds and pre-biotic dietary fiber. Trial studies suggest that the polyphenolic anti-oxidant compounds found in mango offer protection against breast and colon cancers. Mango fruit is an excellent source of vitamin A and flavonoids including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Just 100 g of fresh mango provides 765 mg or 25% of the recommended daily levels of vitamin A. It is also a very good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin C and vitamin E. Furthermore, it contains moderate amounts of copper, required for the production of red blood cells and a co-factor for many vital enzymes.
Being 95 percent water, cucumbers help keep the body hydrated whilst eliminating toxins and they contain most of the vitamins the body needs in a single day. Cucumbers are fantastic for promoting your body’s overall health, however the nasty chemical pesticides with which they are often sprayed are not, so please do buy organic (or grow your own). The phytochemcials found in cucumbers will help kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath. Cucumbers are known to contain lignans which research shows have a connection to reduced risk of several cancer types, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer. Cucumber juice may be beneficial to diabetics as it contains a hormone needed by the cells of the pancreas for producing insulin. A compound known as sterols in cucumbers may help reduce cholesterol levels and the high levels of potassium, magnesium and fiber they contain are beneficial for regulating blood pressure. Cucumbers are an excellent source of silica, which is known to help joint health by strengthening the connective tissues. They are also rich in vitamins A, B1, B6, C & D, plus potassium, folate, magnesium and calcium. When cucumber juice is mixed with carrot juice, it can relieve gout and arthritic pain by lowering uric acid levels.
and that brings us to…
Famed for their ability to improve eyesight, carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A in the liver. Vitamin A is transformed to rhodopsin (a purple pigment necessary for night vision) in the retina. Beta-carotene has also been shown to protect against senile cataracts and macular degeneration as well as acting as an antioxidant, helping to slow down the aging of cells. Carrots are one of the only common sources of the compound falcarinol, believed by researchers to have anticancer properties. Vitamin A and antioxidants found in carrots help protect the skin from sun damage, prevent premature wrinkling, acne, dry skin, pigmentation, blemishes and uneven skin tone. Vitamin A assists the liver cleansing toxins from the body. Research has shown that diets high in carotenoids (carrots contain both beta-carotene and alpha-carotene) are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Drinking raw apple juice is a tasty, easy way to deliver essential vitamins and nutrients to the body. The vitamin C found in apples is a necessary compound instrumental in the growth and repair of body tissues. It is required for collagen production, which aids in the creation of scars, ligaments, skin and blood vessels. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C prevents free radical damage and also prevents health conditions such as heart disease and helps to reduce inflammation in the body. Vitamin A is essential for the maintenance of healthy tissue, teeth and skin and additionally can improve vision and promote reproductive health. Enzyme stimulant phytochemicals found in apples aid in the breakdown of toxins within the body and prevent damage simultaneously. Flavonoid phytochemicals, commonly known as the antioxidants citrin and vitamin P, can protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis, inhibit inflammation and regulate immune responses. The soluble and insoluble fiber in raw apple juice can prevent constipation and treat diabetes and diverticulosis. Insoluble fiber speeds the passage of food through your digestive tract, while soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease. A recent study also suggests that regular consumption of apple products could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We always use fresh organic apples for juicing.
I use frozen organic blackberries as they are delicious, nutritious, less pricey than their freshly picked counterparts and they help turn a humble juice into a deliciously luscious and full-bodied smoothie. I use them in whole form, whizzed up in a blender together with spinach, mint leaves and lots of yummy freshly made juice. Blackberries are among the highest fiber content plants in the world as they are composed of many individual “drupelets”, each like a small berry with one seed, extra skin, pectin and dietary fiber. One cup of blackberries contains over thirty percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, promoting healthy digestion and reducing the risk of heart disease. Rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, blackberries are highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants. Additionally, they are low in carbohydrates, fat and calories, making them one of the best fruits to include in a balanced diet. Blackberries get their dark color from anthocyanins, an antioxidant shown to reduce inflammation and destroy cancer/damage-causing free radicals. The ellagic acid found in blackberries protects the skin from damage from ultraviolet light and may also repair skin damaged by the sun and have anti-cancer properties. One cup of blackberries contains half the DRI of the antioxidant vitamin C, which protects the immune system, heals wounds and may even lessen the appearance of wrinkles. Perhaps the greatest benefit from eating blackberries is their high level of phenolic acids which are antioxidant compounds known to be powerful anti-carcinogenic agents. Studies of cyanidin-3-glucoside, a compound found in blackberries, showed it prevents skin cancer by inhibiting tumors from growing and spreading. Phytoestrogens found in blackberries may help relieve the common symptoms of PMS like food cravings and bloating and menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. Blackberries are a good source of vitamin K, used by the body for the clotting of blood and to aid the absorption of calcium, offering 36% of the daily recommended amount of this nutrient.
Mint has been shown to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including indigestion and colonic muscle spasms. These healing properties of mint are apparently related to its ability to relax muscles. Perillyl alcohol is a phytonutrient and it is plentiful in mint oil. This particular phytonutrient has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary and liver tumors in animal-based studies. The essential oil of peppermint has antibacterial properties and has been found to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus as well. Rosmarinic acid has several actions that are beneficial in asthma. It has the antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals and has been shown to block the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Mint is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A. Aside from all its healing properties, mint is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, and calcium and vitamin B2. Additionally, its high nutrient density and low-calorie status make it a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and copper.
Delicious strawberries are nutritional powerhouses, just one cup of these little gems containing over 13% of the RDA of dietary ﬁber, yet very few calories. The dietary ﬁber in strawberries helps aid digestion and lower blood pressure. Strawberries contain a chemical compound called phenols, one of which is called Anthocyanin, gives a rich red color to the fruit has antioxidant properties. The phenols in strawberries help ﬁght inflammatory disorders, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and atherosclerosis, by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) in the same way that the drugs aspirin and ibuprofen do, but without any unpleasant side effects. The onset of many different forms of cancer can be combated via the combination of antioxidant and anti-inﬂammatory agents found in strawberries. The vitamin C, folate and the ﬂavonoids quercetin and kaempferol that strawberries contain provide defense against potentially cancerous cells. One cup of strawberries contains an amazing 136% of the RDA of vitamin C, which helps to ensure a healthy immune system, lower blood pressure and ward off the development of age-related ocular diseases. Additionally, one cup of strawberries contains 21% of manganese, an essential nutrient, anti-inﬂammatory agent and powerful antioxidant. The manganese, potassium, vitamin K and magnesium found in strawberries are all important for bone health. I whizz whole strawberries (organic, frozen) in a blender along with my juice mix and other yummy goodies.
Beetroot contains potassium, magnesium and iron as well as vitamins A, B6 and C and folic acid which is crucial to the development of a baby’s spinal cord in utero. Carbohydrates, protein, powerful antioxidants and soluble fibre. Beetroot also contains iron, making it great for mums-to-be suffering from fatigue during pregnancy and people with anaemia. Cooked beetroot has lower levels of folic acid than raw beetroot, so juicing beets is a great way for expectant mums to boost their folic acid intake. The high content of nitrates in beetroot produce nitric oxide in the blood which widens blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and reduces its associated risks such as heart attacks and strokes. Betacyanin, the pigment that gives beetroot its colour, is also an antioxidant believed to help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus protecting artery walls and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The mineral silica helps the body to utilise calcium, thereby promoting musculo-skeletal health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Beetroot contains soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and carotenoids and flavonoids, which help prevent LDL (or ‘bad’ cholesterol) from oxidising and depositing in the arteries. Virtually fat-free and low in calories, it has an extremely low GL (Glycaemic Load) of 2.9 which means it is converted into sugars very slowly, therefore helping stabilise blood sugar levels. The high content of nitrates in beetroot may also help fight the progression of dementia, as nitric oxide in the blood helps increase blood flow to the brain.
Lime is probably one of the first fruits to spring to mind when it comes to medicinal uses. The health benefits of lime include weight loss, skin care, good digestion, relief from constipation, eye care, and the treatment of scurvy, piles, peptic ulcers, respiratory disorders, gout, gums, urinary disorders, etc. Lime juice is beneficial for skin when consumed orally. It has rejuvenating properties, helps protects it from infections and reduces body odor due to presence of a large amount of vitamin C and flavonoids, both of which are class-1 antioxidants, antibiotic and disinfectants with detoxifying properties. Flavonoids, the compounds found in the fragrant oils extracted from lime, stimulate the digestive system and increase secretion of digestive juices and bile. The acids present in lime help clear the excretory system. Antioxidant properties found in limes protect eyes from aging and macular degeneration and flavonoids help protect against infections. The high potassium content of limes is very effective in removal of the toxic substances deposited in the kidneys and bladder and its disinfectant properties help cure infections in the urinary tract. Limes are believed to be beneficial in the curing of arthritis, rheumatism, prostrate and colon cancer, cholera, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, fatigue, heart disease and fever. Limes (and indeed all citrus fruits) are fabulous for counter-balancing the bitterness that may be present in green vegetables and the earthy flavours of juiced root vegetables. I always use plenty of citrus fruits when juicing.
Lemons may be acidic, but they are alkaline-forming, helping to restore balance to the body’s pH. They are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids that work against infections, colds and flu and help to neutralize free radicals linked to aging. Lemons are a great liver detoxifyer and dissolvent of uric acid. They increase peristalsis in the bowels, helping with the elimination of waste and increasing regularity. The citric acid in lemon juice helps to dissolve calcium deposits, gallstones and kidney stones. Internal hemorrhages may be prevented by the vitamin P (bioflavinoids) in lemons which strengthens blood vessels. The rutin found in lemons may reduce symptoms of eye disorders, including diabetic retinopathy. Lemons have powerful antibacterial properties and experiments have shown the juice of lemons can destroy the bacteria of cholera, diphtheria, malaria, typhoid and other deadly diseases. Lemons contain 22 anti-cancer compounds, including flavonol glycosides (which stop cell division in cancer cells) and naturally occurring limonene, an oil which has been proven to slow the growth of cancerous tumors in animals.
I use raw organic chia seeds, simply sprinkling a couple of tablespoons on top of my finished blended smoothie then stirring them in. Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids (which reduce joint stiffness and pain whilst boosting mental energy and mood levels), ALA, fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients. The essential fatty acids in chia seeds increase HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) while decreasing LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and triglycerides, thus improving heart health. They are high in both insoluble and soluble fiber, which further helps lower cholesterol. The ancient Aztecs called chia seeds “running food” due to the energy boost they give (via hydrophilic properties that help to regulate electrolytes). The complex carbohydrates found in chia break down slowly helping maintain energy levels for improved endurance and stamina. Chia seeds have a very low GI, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for high sugar foods. Fiber, complex carbohydrates and protein slow the digestive process so hunger isn’t triggered as quickly as with sugars, starches and simple carbohydrates. The insoluble fiber aids in preventing constipation and digestive disorders by “sweeping” the colon. The high levels of essential fatty acids in chia have anti-inflammatory properties, aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Studies have shown that reduced inflammation lowers the risk for certain types of cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Phew! That’s a lot to digest (no pun intended 😉 )
Oh, and before I forget, Happy Belated Earth Day! Did anyone do anything special to celebrate?
I baked yummy vegan banana bread (recipe to follow!), have been conscientiously cloth diapering my baby and I plan on making a donation to earthday.org or one of its partners tonight 🙂