Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Raw Deal

Happy Halloween!  And what a scary day it is due to all the devastation caused by Super Storm Sandy.

In any case, I thought the holiday defined by candy consumption was a perfect time to have another discussion about nutrition, ha ha!

There are so many diets out there right now, promising everything from extreme weight loss, to eternal health.  A raw food diet has been gaining popularity, particularly among the plant eaters.

While I love vegan foods, I have never been drawn to the raw food diet.  Aside from salads, I generally prefer eating my veggies cooked, and a life without cooked grains, in my opinion, is not worth living.  In addition, there is no evidence that a raw diet is any healthier than a diet involving cooked plant foods, and it is also way too restrictive for me.

Nevertheless, the look and sound of many raw recipes and dishes has always appealed to me, so I've been eager to try some.

When we were in San Francisco, we went to Cafe Gratitude for lunch one day.  I ordered their rendition of macaroni and cheese, which was basically zucchini in a vegan cashew cheese sauce.  I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

Yet when I recently read a glowing review of Rawlicious, I decided to suggest it as a destination for my dinner date with some girl friends last Friday.  The food just looked and sounded so amazing! 

I ordered the House Salad:


Followed by the Pad Thai:


My girlfriends split the Nacho Platter, and also both got the Pad Thai (Nacho Platter, below).


They said the guac, salsa and cashew sour cream were amazing, but the chips were more chewy than crunchy.

I thought my salad was fabulous - huge, and full of hemp seeds and pepitas, as well as beets, carrots and greens - and the ginger-date dressing was tasty.

I was disappointed by the Pad Thai.  It was tasty, but not as flavourful as I would have liked and while it was advertised as having both zucchini and kelp noodes (which I adore), I think I spied only 2 kelp noodles, while the rest was zucchini.  I love cooked zucchini, but raw, I find it meh.  Also, for me, it is not a satisfying replacement for real noodles, while I find that shiritake and kelp noodles both do that well.  Admittedly, one of my friends and I both expected the Pad Thai to be served warm...even though we knew it was 'raw'.  Perhaps it was because it was a wet, windy night, but it just wasn't as comforting as the real thing, and didn't taste at all like it either.

I think what I've realized is that the best raw dishes are the ones that mimic more traditional dishes that are typically served cold.

What's nice about going to a raw restaurant, is you at least know you are going to get nutritious food and no refined grains, sugars or fats like you find in most restaurant food.  Case-in-point: last Saturday we ordered Thai food from a place in our neighbourhood.  The menu listed a grilled salmon with tamarind sauce and brown rice.  This is what I ordered, but I was quickly told they no longer make brown rice, because it takes too long to cook.  Strike 1!  I ended up steaming some brown, jasmine rice myself.  When our food arrived, I discovered the 'grilled' salmon was actually breaded, deep-fried salmon.  Strike 2! Yuck!  But I was hungry, and I didn't want to mooch everyone else's meals, so I ate it.  It was gross.  Overcooked, dry and greasy.  Great, I gummed up my arteries, and it wasn't even an enjoyable experience!  At least the veggies and tamarind sauce tasted delicious with my jasmine rice.

Anyways, back to the issue of raw food.  I have to admit that I left Rawlicious feeling extremely full.  In fact, none of us had space for dessert.  Unfortunately, that full feeling continued the next day and my stomach felt heavy and full, in a yucky and not very comfortable kind of way, until late in the afternoon. I think it may have been from the vast amount of nuts and seeds in that meal.

There is no way I could ever live on the raw food diet.  I would just be miserable.  But that's how I feel about the Paleo diet, and virtually all other highly restrictive diets.  But here is what I'll say on the matter: If you enjoy following a diet, that is based on sound nutrition and whole foods, and it is able to keep you healthy and at an ideal weight, than go for it.  But don't bother with anything that makes you miserable because you won't be able to stick to it, and it's what you do long-term  that matters the most.

If you find you can't resist all the Halloween treats this time of year, here are a few tricks: (1) Fill up on healthy food so you are less tempted.  When your blood sugar gets low, that's when reason tends to go out the window in the face of fast sources of energy, (2) Only buy the candy that you DON'T like to give out.  If your favorites aren't around, then you'll be less tempted to indulge, or (3) Make your own healthier versions of your favorites, such as those created by Angela.