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Saturday, October 16, 2021

I tried raw veganism for a week, and here’s what happened

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After reading about the glamourised health trend of raw veganism, I decided to see for myself if it’s a body burnout or system starter. Here’s how it went.

“Yesterday, I stood in my garden barefoot just eating tomatoes right off the plant. They were divine, multi-layered in flavours, and satisfying,” says Natalie Norman, a 13-year raw vegan.

A certified raw food educator and coach, Norman turned vegan over 34 years ago. While she is an avid runner today, and feels more empowered than ever, this was not the case when she first turned plant-based.

“Gurus at that time promoted diets consisting of large quantities of cooked starches such as rice, potatoes, breads and pasta,” she recounts. The nutritionist found she had persistent cravings, and after becoming a mother, she experienced serious health issues. That’s when she discovered raw veganism and jumped into the deep end. She now says: “I can’t fathom going back to cooked foods”. Admitting there were times she stood in her kitchen perplexed about what to eat for her next meal, she says raw vegan food is easy, fast and healthy.

The fundamentals of a raw vegan diet are pretty simple:

  • No caffeine
  • No refined or pasteurised foods
  • No heating above 118°F

It’s basically veganism, but without the good stuff.

Aside from Norman, the Internet is scarce of research on the benefits and risks of raw veganism. So I decided to test it for myself. The recipes seemed simple and fast. But as I started to put my own meal plan together, all I could hear was my own mother’s voice in my head: “Is this going to be enough to sustain you through the bitter English cold?” I made it out the other side though, so how did it go?

Monday, November 16

I start the day positive and well-rested. While I make the conscious decision of skipping my run, it’s still going to be a productive morning. A cold shower and a glass of water power me through the first two hours of writing and email-checking.

Usually by now, I’ll have had a frothy cappuccino but with no caffeine in my plan — I decide to make a green smoothie. All my ingredients are from Asda, fresh or frozen, and while I have spent double the amount on groceries this week, this is mainly because I’m used to sharing my groceries with three other people. My green smoothie is just a concoction of one banana, baby spinach, frozen raspberries, frozen mango and lemon juice. On top, I sprinkle some desiccated coconut, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds and chia seeds.

raw vegan smoothieAt 1pm, after my morning class, my stomach calls for more food. While this usually entails a fresh salad, with either tofu or chickpea to top it off, it’s being replaced by homemade walnut meat, lemon juice, and a dollop of raw tahini. This chopped salad includes baby spinach, tomatoes, red bell pepper, cucumber, spring onions, a quarter of an avocado, cashew nuts and sunflower seeds.

I get back to work, spending the rest of my afternoon writing. While I start to notice I am feeling quite fatigued from the lack of caffeine, I don’t seem to encounter any hunger pangs throughout the afternoon. Where I would sometimes graze on nuts or grapes throughout the day, today I am feeling pleasantly satisfied.

In the evening, my housemate and I go for a good 8km walk. We come in from the cold desperately craving hot tea and blankets. Unfortunately for me, the former is out of bounds — so I settle for water and double the layers instead.

For dinner, I’ve already made myself some cauliflower rice: one head of cauliflower placed in a processor for five minutes until it reaches a couscous-like consistency. I mix this with some turmeric, cumin and chilli powder, some pistachios, red bell peppers and tomatoes, to make Norman’s Curry Cauliflower Rice. For dessert, I slice an apple and dust it with chaat masala.

I go to bed, feeling full but sleepy, which is expected on day one. Unfortunately, though, I wake up abruptly in the middle of the night feeling nauseous and dizzy. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s because I’m overtired or haven’t eaten enough, or because of the drastic change in diet, but I struggle to keep it in and am very sick the rest of the night.

Tuesday, November 17

When my alarm goes off at a quarter to six, I feel like slamming it against the wall and falling back to sleep for another three days. But somehow, even after the night I’ve just had, my body gets itself out of bed, dresses itself, and drags itself out the door for a run. The worst run I’ve had in months, but still a run.

Returning from my 6km run, I drink lots of water, take a hot shower, and ensure to keep hydrated for the rest of the morning. My body feels shivery, but I have no appetite, and choose to fast until lunchtime.

One o’clock rolls around and I manage to put together a chopped salad with walnut meat. While I still feel the nausea and slightly faintish, I know my body needs energy. The food stays down, but the rest of the day is a blur of intermittent naps and a long walk clouded by headaches. Once dinner rolls around, I’m ready to give up.

My prep is raw quinoa with vegetables, and while I love every element on the dish — my stomach isn’t ready for this quite yet. A glass of lemon water, a breather, and a talk with my housemate help me put things into perspective. Dinner is chopped up red bell peppers, cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes, with a tahini sauce and a sliced apple for dessert. Quinoa can come back into my life when it’s cooked again.

It’s early to bed tonight as the day has left me emotionally, physically and psychologically drained.

Wednesday, November 18

The alarm goes off with a start again today. But my body is up after the second beat, and I am dressed and running by six o’clock. The run feels easier today, like I’m getting used to things. But it’s still a struggle to reach 7km.

Once nine o’clock rolls around, my tummy declares its hunger and I make myself a green smoothie. This time, I use the same ingredients, but add more water — this makes it more creamy and less acidic. Two hours later, I am faced with dangerous levels of fatigue. My housemate is making coffee and all I can think about is not being able to taste it for four more days.

Luckily, lunchtime arrives and I am ready to launch into chopping vegetables and mixing them with my homemade raw cashew cheese and kale and spinach pesto. These coat the bell peppers and cucumbers wonderfully, and the cashews make for a good protein alternative to the walnut meat. This salad, followed by another apple, leaves me full for the next few hours. Two walks in the cold later, I return to the kitchen to start preparing dinner.

Tonight, I’m making courgette tagliatelle — a lack of spiralisers has forced me to use a peeler and think differently. The tagliatelle are paired with a homemade raw vegan pistachio pesto: a combination of pistachios, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, basil leaves and black pepper. Nutritional yeast would often make an appearance on my pasta dishes, but sadly for raw vegans — this is a huge no-no.

For those who may want to transition for the long-term, Norman says: “If using nutritional yeast helps a person go raw and stay raw, I am supportive of that as a culinary and lifestyle tool.” The raw pistachio courgetti is creamy and delicious, and the pesto provides the perfect crunch. Tonight I go to bed feeling full and content.

Thursday, November 19

This morning I choose to lie in, and follow a half-hour yoga routine with my favourite Yogi, Adriene Mishler. On my walk the day before, I picked up a bottle of orange juice, so I drink a couple of glasses of that to get me through the morning. At eleven o’clock, I sip on another green smoothie, topped with cashew nuts, desiccated coconut and sunflower seeds, and then sit through four hours of online classes.

At half-past five, after more work and interview transcribing, I go on another long walk around the area. I’m slowly getting used to not having the comfort of tea — and not feeling the effects of caffeine withdrawal. The day is over before I know it, and for dinner, I prepare a fresh gazpacho soup, with kale pesto and cashew nuts on top. The colours are bright, and the dish leaves me feeling energised for a long day tomorrow.

Somehow though, I go to bed with a heavy stomach — almost bloated — and don’t feel like I am able to digest properly. The feeling soon fades, but returns the next morning.

gazpachoFriday, November 20

Despite feeling heavy and temperamental, I make myself go on my last run of the week. I successfully make it to 8km without a break, only to return home feeling dizzy and weak.

Despite the slow beginning, I am determined to turn my day around. More orange juice and a productive morning set things into motion. I make a huge green smoothie at 10 o’clock and leave for university at lunchtime.

While my next meal isn’t until half-past seven — it’s the best thing I’ll have eaten this week: a raw vegan lasagna. Strips of courgette, slathered with walnut meat, and layered with sliced red bell peppers, raw cashew cheese, kale pesto and more courgettes — this makes for the perfect comfort food on a raw vegan diet. My eyes think I can handle more than my stomach can take, but the lasagna — which only requires one courgette — can probably yield about four plentiful portions.

raw vegan lasagnaSaturday, November 21

This morning I wake up early for another yoga practice, followed by more orange juice. The following few hours entail a mass load of editing, writing, recording and lecture-watching, but I finish in time for lunch — the meal I consider to be the most important of the day.

My flatmate and I venture out to find any restaurants that might cater to raw vegan needs. Luckily, London is so vast and so inclusive, and we live near Canary Wharf. After walking in a few circles, we stumble across Island Poké, which not only does vegan food, but raw vegan food.

I create a salad bowl: kelp noodles, shredded carrot, leafy vegetables, avocado, wakame, nori, chillies, pineapple, and mango. The salad is the perfect balance of sweet and salty. Though there is no dressing, I don’t feel robbed of flavour. Instead, I feel as bright as the mango perched on top of the bowl.

For dessert, we find a Crussh, which specialises in raw juices and desserts. I have already acquired a Purifier juice, made with raspberries, strawberries, ginger and apples. My flatmate tries the raw banoffee pot, while I go for a raw nutty flapjack. We both agree the flapjack works better.

Our Saturday evening comes to a close with movies, more orange juice and leftover raw lasagna. While the day has been positive, my stomach doesn’t agree. I go to bed with stomach cramps, again.

raw vegan

Sunday, November 22

Sunday means a lie-in, bubble bath and self-pamper time. It also means a late breakfast of a big fruity smoothie, with more crunchy nuts and coconut to top. I catch up with my mum over FaceTime on a long walk in the winter sunshine — as she questions my sanity concerning my decision to go raw vegan for a week. “It’s too late, the week is already over,” I tell her.

Upon returning home, I suddenly feel hungry. I graze on some cashews, and sip on some orange juice, and go upstairs to nap for an hour. My cramps seem to be worsening, not improving, and I consider eating something warm for my last evening on the diet.

I don’t fall for temptation, and eat my leftover gazpacho instead. This, paired with leftover vegetables, cashew cheese, walnut meat and kale pesto, make for a filling dinner. And as I get ready to curl up for bed that night — something amazing happens. My period is here. For a woman who has a very irregular cycle, this comes as a miracle to me. And finally, all the mood swings, stomach pains, and drowsiness make sense. Raw veganism made my body work again.

Final thoughts

I woke up on Monday morning thrilled that I would be getting to drink coffee and eat hot, cooked food again. And while I would never recommend this diet to anyone, nor would I advocate for its health benefits — I believe it did bring me some advantages.

It improved my ability to commit, to persevere, and to build my stamina more than ever before. It certainly made me realise how much I’ve been taking normal veganism for granted. It pushed me mentally, and it showed me just how important some of the most simple things are in life. Courgettes, cashews, and orange juice get a special shoutout. I wouldn’t have made it without them.

I don’t personally advise people to try this out, unless you live in a hot climate. But if you are looking for a new challenge in 2021 — raw veganism may be the answer you didn’t know existed.

Olivia Rafferty
Olivia is the Assistant Editor of The Vegan Review. An aspiring Middle Eastern correspondent currently studying journalism at City, University of London, she is passionate about the planet, she believes veganism is the first step to solving the complexities of climate change.