Answering the perennial question rawfoodists get asked!
As someone who claims to prefer tropical sunshine somehow I find myself yet again doing winter in the dark and cold of these magical isles. By now I have a strategy and each year I seem to put together more of the pieces. In the process of being raw at a latitude such as that of Britain we can learn much about human needs that we would never need to even think about if we lived in a biologically more suitable climate.
Something I personally noticed the first winter I was completely raw was how much warmer I felt in the colder months. I had always been the kind of person who felt the cold pretty extremely – I like to be very warm. Now I found I could enjoy treading out in the frosty garden with bare feet and that I no longer needed to soak in hot baths to restore my circulation after a trip out. I noticed that eating raw food gave me a kind of summer feeling, leading to the conclusion that much of the apparent effect of winter is to do with stodgy food and disconnection from nature. I know that people vary in the way that a raw diet affects them. There are many ways to do raw food and many different constitutions. Sitting writing this in a sleeveless top on a December evening, I am hoping that some of the suggestions in this article will help you experience some of the same benefits.
As well as stodgy food, potential disconnection from nature and lack of exercise by staying indoors there are of course two major hazards associated with winter – lack of light and lack of warmth. These are real biological concerns for our species. We could be said to de designed for a life in the tropics or sub-tropics where the amount of light, warmth and tropical fruit is ideal for us. However, as a supremely adaptable species we are capable of flourishing in a wide variety of circumstances if we put our minds to it. In this article we will look at how we can happily eat raw food in winter and thereby enjoy that summery feeling inside. Also we will consider how we can boost our metabolisms to help us keep warm and help our immune systems functioning optimally. Then there is the question of how we compensate for reduced sunlight. Last, but not least there is the importance of maintaining connection with the earth and exercising.
Raw does not mean cold!
When people think of the horrors of eating raw food in winter they are in all likelihood thinking of limp salads straight out of the fridge and missing the rich foods and warming soups and drinks that we find so comforting in winter. Actually there is no reason at all not to have warm foods and liquids as part of a raw food diet. In our natural environment our food would all be slightly warm anyway so it would seem to be an ideal way to consume it. Warm superfood elixirs and vegetable soups can be made by using herbal teas as a base or even heating very carefully over a low heat. The key point is to keep the food at or below 'biological temperature' which is around 40 degrees celsius or the temperature of your body. Above that temperature the actual structure of some of the nutrients can begin to change. Dehydrators are another way of warming food if you like more solid foods. Spices such as cayenne and ginger boost the circulation and help keep us warm.
Coconut butter/oil and creamed coconut are great ingredients because they support the thyroid and therefore boost metabolism, helping us produce more energy and heat. Iodine is important for the function of the thyroid too and most of us lack it. This is largely because of depletion of mineral levels in the soil, the minerals have been effectively swept out to sea, sea vegetables and particularly kelp are some of the best sources. We need to be cautious about habitually eating large amounts of cruciferous vegetables raw because they contain goitrogens, compounds which interfere in the uptake of iodine by the thyroid. However small amounts of goitrogens may have a beneficial health effect if balanced by ample amounts of iodine in the diet. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include kale, spinach, broccoli and cabbage. In traditional diets they were often fermented which introduces helpful probiotics. You can watch how to make cultured vegetables here: www.tinyurl.com/rawcultured
Animals who live in cold climates and fish who swim in cold waters have a high percentage of omega 3 fatty acids in their bodies, and in the case of animals, especially in their feet. Many people notice that when the weather gets colder they are drawn to foods that contain these oils. Omega 3's are polyunsaturated fats which stay liquid at low temperatures and it would seem that they help our bodies function in these circumstances. Seed oils such as those of flax and hemp and also fish liver oils are examples. It seems like we need denser foods in general in winter to compensate for the lack of warmth and sunshine in the outside world. If you think about it the energy, nutrients and genetic life information are stored in the seeds of plants during the winter season, ready to sprout forth in the spring. Along similar lines, 'medicinal' mushrooms such as reishi, lion's mane, chaga, tremella and cordyceps feel particularly good in winter and help our immune system. The dried mycellium powders (mycelia are the underground or root-like portions of the mushrooms) are delicious in marinades, dehydrated breads and elixirs. Herbs which boost the immune system also include echinacea, ginseng, garlic, astragalus and cat's claw.
Emotional comfort is important too. There are plenty of raw food snacks we can make and now buy in winter that will help us get through. Green powders such as barley grass, chlorella and spirulina can make up for the reduced availability of salad and wild greens and also help us keep alkalised if we are eating more nuts and seeds than in summer.
Also I have found just imagining being somewhere warm, and putting pictures up of sunny holiday travel destinations radically changes how I feel. They say that you feel the effects of bar of chocolate even when you are thinking about eating it, even taking the first bite, I have found that making plans to visit tropical locations has the same effect on me! Also when we are connected to the nature and the Earth our imaginations are much more connected to reality and therefore more powerful.
Personally I am for keeping ourselves as physically warm enough as we want to be when we are indoors. Below 28 degrees Celsius our bodies go into a mild form of stress maintaining our body temperature. By keeping warm we are allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to operate which means that both our bodies and brains function better. It may be more practical to keep just one part of our dwelling super warm - one of the benefits I have noticed living in a caravan in winter is how much warmer I can keep this small space and there fore how much more relaxed I feel.
Light is a nutrient
Now onto the issue of light. It seems that we assimilate food quite differently when we are in sunshine. Most people notice that they eat differently in summer and when on holiday somewhere hot. There are many clues about this by looking at the traditional diets of people around the world, for example in the work of Dr Weston Price. Basically, the further away you go from the equator, the higher percentage of animal foods including dairy products were traditionally included in the diet. It is as if when we moved away from our biological habitat we had to use the resources of species who could assimilate nutrients from plants that grew there, function successfully in the lower levels of sunlight, and could live unclothed outdoors to make use of the light there is. One of the factors involved is so-called fat soluble vitamins. They are principally vitamins A, D and K, which although found in plants, are in the form we can use them in animal products such as dairy. These vitamins are essential for the body to actually make use of minerals such as calcium. Of course we can get vitamin D from sunshine but the fact is that between about September and March in the British Isles, the sun is too low to shine UVB light on our skins to make vitamin D. So – either we need to eat vitamin D rich foods or use a supplement. Sun-showers (a kind of stand up cubicle version of a sun-bed which emits carefully regulated doses of UVB) are also helpful if there is one in your area. Of course many people find that full-spectrum lighting really helps them maintain a good mood throughout the darker months.
Charge up from the Earth not the mains!
It is tempting in winter to hole up indoors but actually if we can get out for a brisk walk in nature, even the local park, we are going to feel a whole lot better. Of course regular exercise improves our metabolism and makes us feel significantly warmer. It also helps us generate the feel-good brain chemical serotonin out of the amino acid tryptophan, get the lymphatic system moving and boost endorphin levels. We need connection with nature for mental well-being and, hesitant though I am to mention it, barefoot connection with the earth is as beneficial to us in winter as it is in summer. If you have not heard Clint Ober talking about the health benefits of earthing it is well worth listening to this fascinating interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY3w8kDn2Eo With all the preceding suggestions in place maybe a barefoot foray outdoors will seem appealing. Putting in all the components to keep well in winter takes more self-discipline and conscious awareness than in summer but is well worth the effort not least because it gives us a good start in spring.
On this note, I have noticed a strong if subtle difference to my experience in winter through wearing natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, organic cotton, bamboo and wool. They seem to help us keep a connection with the natural life force, the connection we take for granted in summer when we automatically tend to expose bare skin to the elements. Living structure has a pattern based on a ratio named the golden ratio which allows energetic information to flow freely through their material.
Enjoying the magic of winter We are very lucky in the British Isles to experience a kind of roller coaster of light levels which influenced the magical traditions and spirituality of the indigenous peoples for example the Celts. In summer we are very aware of the beauty of nature in the outer world. As the light levels fall in winter our melatonin production increases. This makes us feel more sleepy but also induces a more meditative state and gives us the chance to experience the magic of the inner worlds of our imaginations and psychic awareness. The more natural and nourishing we can keep our diets, the more elevated and relaxed we can keep our brain chemistry, and the stronger we can keep our connection with the Earth, the greater the chance we have to experience this.
Two delicious vegetable soups for winter
From Kenny Sunshine
Alkalising soup with vegetable juice and cucumber.
16 -20 oz juiced celery, beet, onion, garlic, ginger and lemon
half a red bell pepper
half a cucumber (English)
Blend all ingredients and warm gently if desired
Garnish with some tasty dehydrated crackers, cubed raw goats cheese and alfalfa sprouts
Rich and warming soup made with tea
1 sweet potato
60g creamed coconut
40g seaweed – wakame or sea spaghetti recommended
yogi or other tea
salt and pepper to taste
soak seaweed in tea
serve with garnish of sprouts or yoghurt .
Written by Holly Paige for funky raw magazine