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Review: Becoming Raw – The Essential Guide to a Nutritious Raw Vegan Diet

January 28, 2011

Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan DietsI’d been interested in this book since it was published last winter, but I borrowed it only recently when I finally managed to get a copy through the local library.  It’s quite a popular reference, and for very good reason, too.  My opinion of this book quickly changed from one that found it interesting to one that felt anyone interested in their well-being would be well advised to read it.

Becoming Raw is not a book just for those of us who eat raw diets, who dabble in raw food occasionally, or who are considering eating more whole foods.  While the intention of the authors, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina,  may have been to create a reference for raw foodists, the information in the book applies to anyone who eats food, regardless of the kind of diet they choose.

Having read Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-based Diet, I wasn’t prepared for Becoming Raw to contain so much clinical data.  Compared to Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw is so much more detailed in a way that gave me greater insight into my own diet than Becoming Vegan ever did.  I wish I’d had Becoming Raw long ago, because to me it is like a companion book to Becoming Vegan –  Becoming Raw contains information that enormously adds to the groundwork already laid out in its predecessor.

For new vegans looking for guidance on what to eat (and not to eat), I highly recommend reading both books simply because the honest facts they contain go a very long way in informing us about the questions we might have about our nutrition. For vegetarians and meat-eaterts alike, Becoming Raw is important simply for the fact that your health could only be improved by reading it.  You don’t have to be vegan to read it.  And with all of the confusion nowadays about our health and how we should eat, just reading Becoming Raw is a way better way  to go about learning of nutrition issues rather than relying on word of mouth on some forum or social media site or by what so-and-so read in the newspaper the other day.  Instead, take the word of a few experts who really do know what they’re talking about.

The authors write in an unbiased, non-judgemental voice that aims to empower people with facts while also dispelling common dietary myths.  They also explain why some of the ideas surrounding the supposed superiority of plant-based foods is not always as true as we might believe.  That is, they’re honest about both the benefits and potential drawbacks of eating some foods, or eating too much of one thing.

While I have no intention of ever going completely raw, some of the information I gleaned from the book definitely has me reconsidering what I eat and how I eat it.  For instance, having recently given up all caffeinated drinks, I still wanted something hot to drink in the mornings.  I thought using grain-based coffee substitutes, like Teechino or Caf-Lib, would be a tasty replacement. And they are, if you don’t drink them all the time.  The authors explain in detail the problem of roasting, or merely steaming and baking, some plant foods at high temperatures.  Acrylamide, a crystalline compound usually used in industrial processes, can spontaneously form in foods such as potatoes (and potato chips and French fries), some cruciferous vegetables, garlic, some grain-based foods like crackers, and grain-based coffee replacements when they’re heated above a certain temperature (and particularly when foods are fried.)  While the authors explain the concerning health impacts related to this compound far more in-depth than I can here, learning of this has me seriously rethinking my love of roasted veggies.

I love to roast broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in the oven to the point that even I think there’s very little nutrition left in them (but oh, the taste!)  I also love French fries (and sweet potato and rutabaga fries too.)  And I drink two large travel mugs of what I call my fake (grain-based) coffee every day.  I’m not big on potato chips, but several of my family members are.  As my own diet seems to be heavy in many of the plant-based foods that have a likely potential of developing acrylamide, which has been classified as a significant carcinogen, I think it’s probably a wise idea to eat more of my food steamed, not roasted.  I could be consuming a toxic amount of the compound due to my love of cruciferous veggies. (Really, I could eat roasted broccoli every single day, several times a day if I let myself.)

Another invaluable bit of information I got from Becoming Raw was how essential fatty acids work (omega-3 and omega-6), how they are converted in the body, why conversion is not always optimal, and why it’s important to maintain a 2:1 balance between omega-6 and omega-3.  Since I tend to eat a few things higher in omega-3 than omega-6, it was good to know how to balance my intakes by knowing what the best sources are of these nutrients.

And as someone who has to be concerned about hypothyroidism, Becoming Raw gave me information on something I’d never heard of before – although cruciferous veggies, which includes kale and collards, are not specifically goitrogens, they do contain phytochemicals that, when ingested via raw foods, can contribute to the malabsorption of iodine by the thyroid gland.  Again, as someone who *loves* cruciferous veggies and eats a lot of them, this was a bit alarming to me since I recently developed thyroid disease.  And this is particularly concerning because I have quite a fondness for raw cheesy kale chips.  The interesting thing about this information in Becoming Raw is that the authors don’t mention that the cooking of cruciferous veggies actually breaks down the phytochemicals of concern to me that are present in these veggies when they’re raw.  (I verified this with a medical doctor who specializes in nutrition.)  So I can indulge away, as long as I don’t roast things to a crisp either.

You can see, then, how the information in Becoming Raw is important to anyone.  And  you can read it knowing that the next time you lift fork to mouth, you’ll be doing so a lot more wiser than you were before.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2011 2:16 pm

    very interesting sounding book. thanks for the review!

    i’ll add to the book list…

  2. January 30, 2011 7:56 pm

    This book does sound rather fabulous from your review. I, like you, have no intention of becoming a totally raw food vegan, but I would like to include a few more raw dishes in my repertoire and know what things are best raw and things that aren’t. It seems a shame that they don’t mention info about the potential benefits of eating some things cooked, such as the goitrogenic foods you mentioned. Other things would be tomatoes, which you get more lycopene from when cooked, and phytates, which are lessened when beans are cooked thereby reducing their inhibition of zinc (and iron etc.) absorption.

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a book on being half raw and sensible and vegan and tasty! Surely somebody can do this… I’m a bit busy making cupcakes… which I’m fairly sure are better baked!

    Thanks for the review, it definitely got me thinking about including more raw stuff in my diet and I shall hunt this down at the library.

    Cheers,
    Leigh

  3. January 31, 2011 8:41 am

    Hey Leigh:

    Thanks for your comment! I should clarify that when it’s relevant, the authors do briefly mention the benefits some cooked foods have over some raw foods. But this is only when eating something raw (or cooked) results in the need for comparison between the two kinds of food and their nutirional benefits. Overall though, the discussion about cooked foods is limited, I think, mostly because it’s a book about raw food. They do take the time to discuss people who follow different kinds of raw diets, including some that do include a small percentage of cooked foods (like cooked grains, for instance.)

    They do make mention of the phytates issue, but again this is in the context of raw versus cooked foods, and vice versa. I believe they also mentioned the issue surrounding lycopene. I was surprised by the goitrogen issue only because I was really concerned I had been doing some sort of damage to my thyroid health based on what they said in the book. When I asked my doctor, she clarified that this is not so much an issue if the food is cooked. Why this wasn’t mentioned in the book I’m not certain, though I think it’s a point that should have been discussed since it could lead to some confusion.

    I think reading Becoming Raw is the kind of book that is useful to people like me and you who want to eat some raw food but also still eat cooked food as well. That’s why this book is so great – you can take the information from it that you want to use because it really does apply to everyone.

    The book has some great recipies in the back of it – they’re tasty-sounding enough to get anyone interested in having a little more raw in their diet. Hope you enjoy it 🙂 (P.S. Mmmm! Cupcakes! I’ve never heard of raw ones, but I’m sure they could be tasty – especially if they were mini cupcakes!)

  4. February 9, 2011 2:56 pm

    Thanks for the reply and the clarification! This book is definitely on my birthday wishlist now! I’ll have to ponder the raw cupcake question a little longer… and there’ll need to be an awful lot of research conducted heee hee!

  5. January 10, 2012 8:59 am

    Thanks a lot for sharing this good review about “Becoming Raw”-The Essential Guide to a Nutritious Raw Vegan Diet. You have given the right information needed to get to know this book more.

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