June 21, 2012 1:18 pm

Toronto chefs sink their teeth into raw food diet


TORONTO – Douglas McNish and Francesco Comito, Toronto’s resident raw food chefs, won’t eat anything that is above 47 degrees Celsius.

A couple of years ago, McNish and Comito bid farewell to piping hot pizza, French fries, and pasta with cheese to accommodate their new diet.

Saddled with health problems, McNish and Comito decided they needed to make a change. The transition to an entirely raw diet was new territory for both, but not as hard as they had imagined.

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The process was gradual for McNish, while Comito opted for a more radical route, though not a step he would recommend. “I did it in about 30 days. I went from vegetarian to vegan to raw food. It was a very hard detox,” said Comito. “I wanted to do it because it was my last option.”

Comito suffered a long list of ailments and was taking a handful of medication for chronic fatigue, spastic bowels, and chronic sinusitis, which causes inflammation in the sinuses and can last up to three months or more.

McNish, on the other hand, made the switch for health reasons and ethical ones. “At the time, I was 270 pounds. I also saw videos of animals in slaughterhouses. It was an ethical choice for me as well,” he says.

The raw food menu generally scrambles together nuts, beans, produce, grains and seeds.

The foods cannot be heated above a temperature between 40 to 47 degrees Celsius. The philosophy goes that if food is heated beyond this range, the enzymes that we need to digest are lost, along with vitamins and minerals.

The body has a reserve bank of enzymes that are depleted during digestion.

“Your body still has to produce those enzymes and it takes a lot of energy to produce [them],” McNish says. “The more raw food you consume, you’re going to notice [that you have] more energy, more mental clarity, focus, stamina…”

Advocates claim that a raw food diet boosts the immune system, delays aging, and prevents disease. Though science has yet to fully embrace the trend and its assertions, the 1981 China-Cornell-Oxford epidemiological study discovered that plant-based diets minimize exposure to chronic conditions.

Dietician Julia Stanislavskaia, of the Taddle Creek Family Team, a network of health care providers, cautions people to consult their family doctor before embarking on a strict raw food diet.

In certain cases it may exacerbate underlying gastrointestinal issues such as regular constipation and abnormal bowel movements, says Stanislavskaia. “Most people adopting the raw food diet have to get enough sources of protein, to make sure they don’t suffer from nutrition deficiencies.”

Instead, she recommends a combination of raw and cooked foods as each has its own string of benefits attached. For instance, dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, actually release about three times more nutrients when cooked.

Stanislavskaia asserts that timing and having a balanced meal is more important to providing energy for the body than whether it’s been under the fire or not.

For those looking to incorporate small portions of raw food into their weekly consumption, there are plenty of quick alternatives to snacking on junk food.

Comito enjoys experimenting with avocado because it can be tossed into a savoury or sweet dish. For a quick snack that Comito says will whet the appetite of children, throw together (using a blender) a ripe avocado, with some raw cacao, honey, and vanilla powder to make pudding.

Another go-to dish for raw food chefs are sweet potato chips sprinkled with paprika, garlic and oregano to replace French fries. Enthusiasts rely on dehydrators, an appliance that uses low temperatures and a fan to absorb the water from food, while keeping the enzymes intact. Comito recommends using a dehydrator or setting the oven at a temperature of 46 degrees Celsius for the sweet potato chips.

For parents looking to trade off macaroni and cheese for a healthier option, McNish and Comito use zucchini and sweet potato as their pasta using a spiralizer, a tool that slices vegetables into strips. Comito likes to marinate it in sundried tomatoes, basil, olive oil, tomatoes, sea salt and garlic, while McNish likes to top his off with almond parmesan bread crumbs.

“I don’t have to just eat raw salads. There is so much you can create with raw food,” Comito says.


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