Photo: Beth Berry
In March 2008, Beth Berry was very sick. Her body was wracked with pain so severe she spent most days in bed. She suffered from a herniated disc, but more troubling, Berry's doctor diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disorder characterized by widespread joint and muscle pain.
"I was given a 90-count bottle of Vicodin," Berry says. "I got mad. I was pissed, and kept saying: 'That's it? Just take narcotics for the rest of my life? I'm only 38 years old!'"
Instead of filling the prescription, Berry pored over the latest research on the benefits of diet and nutrition on autoimmune disorders and learned about the successes people suffering from symptoms similar to hers were having with raw food diets. "That's when the real journey began," she says. "Within three days of being on raw food, almost all of my symptoms had gone away."
In an era of ever-rising healthcare costs and increased attention to holistic, organic living practices, using diet and nutrition to treat disease and illness has become more popular than ever. Raw foods, probiotics and macrobiotics are just some of the diets people are following on the path to better health.
What Is a Raw Food Diet?
According to Berry, a raw food diet consists of removing all processed foods from the diet; eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, avocado and young coconuts; and avoiding any foods that have been cooked at higher than 105 degrees. The idea is that raw food is easier to digest and expends less energy in digesting and more in cleansing and healing the body.
"When people first hear about the raw food lifestyle, they instantly imagine sitting down to a glorified veggie tray for every meal. But with cookbooks full of raw versions of tacos, nori wraps and the most incredible desserts you've ever tasted, you'll rarely resort to a veggie tray," Berry says. She estimates most people on a raw food diet follow it 75 to 85 percent of the time, incorporating some cooked whole grains, or as she says, having "an occasional slip off the old wagon."
Eating primarily uncooked foods was a daunting proposition, and Berry looked for help from others. In August 2008, she created Raw Fu, a online social networking community that today boasts nearly 3,000 members who incorporate raw foods into their diets. The group exchanges recipes, strategies and support on a daily basis, making the journey easier. "We take 100-day raw food challenges together, and our members commit to all different levels of raw food," she says. "We have members who start with just eating one salad a day and others who only drink smoothies or juice."
Though some of the more complicated recipes require pricey kitchen equipment—the dehydrators, mixers and juicers that most raw foodists swear by can run upward of $500—Berry says the cost of food depends on how many people in a household follow the diet. For a single person to follow a raw food diet, she estimates $80 a week for produce, with the summer months providing a break when local food is in season and more widely available. Typical grocery lists include greens such as spinach and kale, apples, bananas, raw dairy products, sea vegetables and raw meats like sushi. Grains that have been sprouted are allowed, and many sprouted-grain breads are available in mainstream grocery stores. Crackers and chips made from flaxseed, corn and nut flours that are then dehydrated at a low temperature until crisp are allowed on the diet.
For Berry, the immediate changes in her health have changed her life, to say nothing of her relationship with food. "I took all moral value away from food," she says. "I began to make choices based on which food would give me the most nutrition, instead of the guilt-induced diet system of making choices of 'good' or 'bad' foods." Though it took her some time to retrain her taste buds, she said after 40 days she quit looking at salads as deprivation from something better to eat.
"You begin to feel a connection with the earth and feel like a creature of the planet where your food comes from," she says. "I play a game with my 5-year-old in the grocery store when he picks up a bag of chips. I ask him, 'Have you ever seen a bag of chips like that growing on a tree?' He naturally giggles and says, 'No!' Then it's not food, and we don't eat it."
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