THE NEOS KOSMOS NEWSPAPER interviews Maria Harpas, on the merits and pitfalls of a raw food diet, for healthy eating.
by PENNI PAPPAS
Whether it’s a need or desire to be healthier, or to lose weight, people generally find a diet that will suit their needs. From the grapefruit diet of the ’80s to the ‘say no to carbs’ message of the ’00s, we seem to turn to food to sustain and balance our insides. After all, food is our fuel. It gives us energy to survive, it determines how we feel and, ultimately, it gives us health through its nutritious value. A diet made up of raw foods is one way to ensure you are getting every nutrient from the purest form of food. But is this a healthy diet? Is it sustainable?
Maria Harpas, clinical nutritionist and naturopath, tells Neos Kosmos there are pros and cons to this diet.
The pros are that it’s a great way to detoxify the body, as you are ingesting live foods. You are eating a diet high in plant foods that are natural detoxifiers. Raw foods are nutrient (vitamins and minerals) dense, as opposed to empty calorie foods such as white refined products. Raw food diets are high in superfoods (nutrient dense foods) and because they are high in plant foods – fruit and veg – they are very high in fibre. They are nearly always gluten, grain, soy and dairy free (foods which are more likely to cause food intolerances/allergies for people). A raw food diet supports ‘whole food eating’.
The cons are that sometimes you may not get enough protein as this diet is generally a vegan diet. And because you are lacking in animal products, you need to check vitamin B12 levels too. Raw food diets are not supported by traditional Chinese medicine philosophies. They are not tolerated in individuals with nut and/or salycilate (chemicals that occur naturally in many plants) intolerances. Most raw food diets are high in natural sugars (which can be an issue for diabetics and for those wanting weight loss – although there are ways around this). And people with certain digestive issues may not tolerate the amount of fibre in a raw food diet.
There’s another aspect that many may not think about when partaking in this diet. The social factor. Food is a great way to interact socially with people, and as humans we are social creatures. Taking that away from us leaves us somewhat secluded and isolated.
“There’s a social disconnection with a lot of people who eat a raw food diet,” explains Maria, stating that many who partake in this diet find they associate with others on this diet, or a similar one to theirs, so they can connect with each other, have dinner together and feel the social interaction that’s needed.
But what is a raw food diet in its simplest terms?
“A raw food diet is a diet made up of foods that have not been cooked or processed,” says Maria. “The raw food concept is that you are not cooking and destroying the enzymes. The enzymes found in foods have not been destroyed – in a raw food diet they are all intact, which means the food is live and it’s the purest form of taking in food.”
Maria says that many ‘raw foodies’ are mostly vegans and don’t include animal products in their diet. But the ones who aren’t enjoy animal products such as raw fish (sashimi), raw meat (carpaccio or steak tartare), unpasteurised dairy products and raw eggs. The raw food diet also includes foods that have been dehydrated, as long as it doesn’t go over 42 degrees.
“A raw food diet isn’t necessarily good or bad, but people need to get advice,” says Maria. Apart from seeking advice, Maria suggests as an individual you will need to work out why you are doing this diet in the first place, what the purpose is and what the individual wants to achieve.
Maria first entered a career in naturopathy when she noticed certain ailments – such as hayfever – would remain long after she took medicines to assist with symptoms. She started reading more about leading a healthier lifestyle and was alarmed by what she was uncovering – especially with food. How adulterated food was, how many chemicals and hidden additives were put in our food – our fuel for life. But also the way we are living, sitting at desks all day surrounded by technology, exposed to chemicals and toxic substances.
“There are a lot of things in relation to a healthy lifestyle that are out of our control, but food is something we have control over,” says Maria.
What initially started as a hobby soon became a lifelong passion for Maria, who has an advanced diploma in functional nutrition and a degree in health science for complementary medicine.
Maria is now working from Adelaide, assisting clients in finding a balanced diet that is essential to survival, but also creating a diet that is the best suited for her clients, adding that individualised treatment is the best way to go.
“I never recommend people look in magazines and pick their diet,” she says, adding that sometimes she sees clients who are on a raw food diet but are feeling unwell. That could be because they are missing out on essential vitamins for their diet.
“People can mix up their diet, so they can get all the nutrients they need. They can go raw for three quarters of their diet and have a balanced diet for a quarter. So they could eat raw food for breakfast and lunch and then for dinner they could have cooked foods, it makes it easier and they get the protein they need too.”