Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Playing Around with the Raw Diet

Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. This book has received a fair amount of attention lately. It’s a great read, and makes its central thesis persuasively: the essential transformation in getting to human is not fire or meat-eating, important as those are — it is our evolutionary adaptation to something that follows on fire, cooking. We are adapted to eating cooked food. Well. Family away the last ten days, I decided to try a basically raw diet, a little bit as Wrangham describes in his opening chapters. Not completely — I ate fish and buffalo in quantities, plus some (extraordinarily delicious — I made them with garlic and fresh lime juice and lime zest) black beans and some cooked quinoa-amaranth mush. But I ate a head of lettuce a day, a couple of massive tomatoes, avocados, bell pepper, cucumber, green onion and other vegetables, a lot of blueberries, peaches, strawberries, raw nuts, etc. I didn’t lack for calories, certainly not protein, given the meat and fish, some cooked carbs, and also my customary intake of olive oil and liquid fish oil. (I’m a foodie in three things: coffee, chocolate, and, increasingly, olive oil — and California olive oils are getting exceptionally yummy.)

Results? I was not doing this out of any dietary purity thing; no, just curious and partly interested in seeing if it would lead to weight loss. I wasn’t on it long enough or consistently enough to test the weight loss part. But just as Wrangham said about raw foodists, I was constantly hungry, even though I was plowing through a lot of food and my stomach was full, and fell full, even over full. After 7 days I was starting to crave hot cooked food very specifically — not just calories, and not sweets, but something starchy, hot, cooked. The other thing, though, was that my stomach found it hard dealing with all the crude leaves and plant material. Possibly I would adjust over time. I don’t mean intestinal problems, diarrhea, etc. — I mean specifically my stomach wrestling with all this raw stuff. I deliberately didn’t shred things up small, but forced myself to chew — but it felt as though my stomach was unused to processing all this. I tried eating corn raw off the cob, without any heating, and that caused immediate indigestion — again, in my stomach. Wrangham talks about the physics of food and calorie extraction, and I have a much better idea of what he meant. I also have a much better idea about what he meant about how long it takes to chew leaves, even delicate baby spinach.

Sounds pretty interesting.  The rest of this gentleman's summer reading list is here.