A few weeks ago, I published a podcast episode about my most recent diet experiment: 80/10/10, also known as fruitarian.
The diet is 100 percent raw and very low in fat (only 10 percent of calories), but I’ve made it slightly less extreme by eating cooked food for dinner most nights.
I’ve felt spectacular on modified 80/10/10, but after a month of giant salads, half-watermelon lunches, smoothies made from eight bananas, and more mangoes than I’ve ever eaten in my life, I’ve had to make further modifications, and the way I’m eating now only barely resembles true 80/10/10.
The problem? It has nothing to do with all the fruit — that’s actually been really fun. Instead, it’s my weight. Eating this way, I simply couldn’t keep it on, even with only moderate training (25-30 miles per week right now). I don’t keep close track of weight these days, but I know I lost a good eight pounds in the last month, maybe more. And considering I started around 140 lbs, that’s too much for me to lose.
The thing is, I’m not convinced the weight loss is unhealthy. I’ve heard Michael Arnstein say that he likes to be at 117 pounds when he’s racing a 100-miler, and he’s won more than his share of big ones at that weight. Judging from the incredible amount of energy I felt on this diet, it’s quite possible my weight was simply moving toward its ideal, dropping intramuscular fat and approaching a maximum strength-to-weight ratio.
If running were my career, and walking around at 120 pounds was simply part of the deal, I might be okay with weighing so little. But that’s not the case. I’m not a pro or an elite or even an obsessed recreational runner — I like running, but I like a lot of other things too. Including looking healthy. When I give talks, attend Vegfests, or simply meet people and talk about my diet and what I do for a living, I don’t want to be so thin as to play right into the stereotype of the skinny, malnourished vegan.
The Silver Lining
Like I said, I love how I feel. I don’t just feel more physically energetic and require noticeably less sleep than before; I’ve also found a new enthusiasm for running, work, and setting goals (I’ve got my eye on another 100-miler in March). Same with my wife, who started training for her first marathon since having kids.
Now that I’ve felt that energy — a boost far beyond how I normally feel, even on a pretty healthy vegan diet — I don’t want to lose it. What’s more, the extreme restrictiveness of 80/10/10 (raw fruit and leafy vegetables and very little else, not even many nuts and seeds) has recalibrated my taste buds and my sense of willpower around the food choices I make. What seemed very hard before — Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian diet, for example — now feels completely doable. Easy, even.
I’m eating more raw foods than I ever have before. I’m still loving a smoothie made mostly from bananas; it’s just that now I’m adding some walnuts and flaxseeds to it. I’m still eating giant salads for lunch, but I’ve started including a cup of beans and a raw, nut-based dressing
Choosing Raw: Making Raw Foods Part of the Way You Eat
Gena was one of my original inspirations for becoming vegan. She made it seem easy. And now that I’m at a similar place with raw food — interested, but without any real desire to give up the fun and (perhaps) health of cooking — her lead is again an easy one to follow.
The title Choosing Raw might lead one to assume that it’s a raw cookbook. But it’s really not that. We’ve cooked six or seven meals from the book, and when I say “cooked,” I mean it: many of the meals in Choosing Raw aren’t raw. They include plenty of raw ingredients, but what I love about Gena’s approach is that she has no ideological attachment to “being raw.” She’s a nutritionist, not a purist. So when cooked black beans, tempeh, or quinoa add to the health and appeal of a meal, Gena doesn’t hesitate to include them.
What’s more, Gena’s a “small steps” person like I am — she understands that even the healthiest diet in the world wouldn’t help anyone if nobody could make it last. And so the 125 recipes in Choosing Raw are organized into three levels, to slowly first introduce readers to vegan cooking (sweet potato black bean enchiladas, for example) before shifting to meals with a higher proportion of raw ingredients. A 21-day meal plan is included, along with adaptation suggestions for those who want an easy start, higher protein, or an even higher focus on raw foods.
A perfect (and delicious) example, which Gena herself says “embodies flexible, high-raw cuisine at its finest,” is the cover-photo recipe: lentil and walnut tacos, whose sole cooked ingredient (lentils) serves to add heartiness and flavor to an array of raw foods like avocado, romaine lettuce, salsa, walnuts, and sun-dried tomatoes. Come to think of it, I don’t know if sun-dried tomatoes count as raw … but that doesn’t matter to me, and what I love about Gena’s approach is that minutiae like this doesn’t matter to her either.
Finally, though it’s easy to focus on the recipes, the nutrition primer that makes up the first one-quarter of the book is perfect — I learned a lot and am I glad I took the time to read every word of it. Gena is not afraid to challenge accepted dogma or admit shortcomings in the plant-based diet that many vegans and raw foodists won’t — like the difficulty of getting EPA and DHA fatty acids, the need to supplement with vitamin B12, and the flawed reasoning in some pretty central tenets of raw foodism (like the enzyme-denaturing bit and the idea that fruit “ferment” in our stomachs if incorrectly combined with other foods). She also clears up long-standing myths and contradicting advice about soy, juicing versus blending, and good old protein, and somehow manages to keep all of this information concise and interesting.
Root “Rawvioli” with Nut Cheese and Pesto
Here’s a recipe from the book, one that my family and I made while we were practicing for the Woodstock Fruit Festival last month. This dish is raw with the exception of nutritional yeast, but the richness of the cashew “cheese” and pesto make eating ravioli made from raw beets surprisingly not-weird. We really enjoyed this one, and had leftover pesto and cashew cheese to use elsewhere.
For the Rawvioli:
2 large beets, scrubbed, peeled, and rinsed
For the Cashew Cheese (Makes 1 1/2 Cups):
2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained of soak water
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Kale and Pistachio Pesto (Makes 1 Heaping Cup):
1⁄2 cup pistachios
3⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil
2 cups loosely chopped kale
1⁄3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
1. Cut the beets in half through the center, horizontally (so you’re separating the top half from the bottom, not the right side from the left side). Use a mandoline to slice them into very thin (almost paper thin) slices. You’ll want between thirty-two and forty slices altogether (four or five rawvioli per person).
2. Make the cashew cheese: place the cashews, salt, nutritional yeast, lemon, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade. Pulse until the cashews are broken up well. Run the motor and drizzle in 1⁄3 cup of water. Keep blending until the mixture is very smooth and creamy. You may need to stop a few times to scrape the bowl down—be patient! The key to perfect cashew cheese is to scrape the bowl down a lot, and also to blend for a very, very long time. Your ideal cashew cheese should be thick, but easy to spread. Add a little extra water if needed. Check the cashew cheese for seasoning. Add black pepper to taste. Cashew cheese will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the fridge.
3. Make the pesto: grind the pistachios and sea salt together in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade until coarsely ground. Add the garlic, basil, and kale. Pulse a few more times to break down. Turn on the motor and drizzle in the olive oil slowly. When the olive oil has been incorporated, pulse in the lemon juice and nutritional yeast. Store in a jar or other airtight container in the fridge for 5 days. You can freeze any pesto you don’t have a chance to use.
4. Place four or five beet slices on a serving place. Place a heaping tablespoon of cashew cheese on top of each slice. Place another beet slice on top of the cheese, and press down slightly to flatten the rawvioli. Top with a dollop of pesto. Repeat on the three remaining plates, and serve.
From Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw. Reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong, © 2014.