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Originally published Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 5:32 AM

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Raw-food revolution: beyond carrot sticks

A raw-food diet — even part of the time — can be a boon to your health.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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If the thought of a raw-food diet conjures up images of bland greens and handfuls of nuts and seeds, then it may be time to re-imagine the possibilities of raw food.

"Not many people can envision the raw-food diet; they think of apples or raw meat," said Monika Kinsman, founder and CEO of Thrive, a vegetarian restaurant in Seattle that aims to make raw food accessible.

Raw-vegan-food diets are based on the belief that plant food in its natural state contains the most nutrition for human bodies. Raw-food proponents believe that cooking with temperatures higher than 118 degrees breaks down food enzymes, which are essential for digestion.

"The whole idea of raw food implies giving up flavor, which is the biggest misconception," said Larisa Goldin, who eats meat about twice a week and is a Thrive customer.

But the possibilities are bountiful, with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs dehydrated, marinated, blended and juiced into such tantalizing dishes as coconut curry and a chilled mushroom miso soup.

For Goldin, integrating largely raw meals into her diet, reducing sugar intake and eating less meat contributed to 20 pounds of weight loss.

"I still slip up; sometimes at midnight I'll get a Sourdough Jack at Jack in the Box," Goldin said. "But it (raw food) is a way of balancing out my bad days."

Accessibility to resources, education and a burgeoning raw-food community have contributed to more interest by the public in using raw food in meals, Kinsman said.

Seattle is home to several businesses that cater to those interested in a raw-food diet. Jodee's Desserts in Green Lake offers raw-food pies, chocolates and cookies. Chris Maykut, owner of Chaco Canyon Organic Café, with locations in the University District and West Seattle, says he first offered a daily raw-foods menu when he opened for business in 2003. He did so in part because he had noticed raw foods were gaining in popularity.

"It was sad to me there was a community that couldn't go out to eat," he said. Offerings include sweet bell peppers stuffed with a carrot curry pâté and an enchilada plate with tomato-flax tortillas filled with herbed cashew cheese, spiced veggies and avocado.

Raw food has been a subject of debate, with critics questioning its sustainability and whether raw-meat consumption falls under the raw-food-diet umbrella — most say it doesn't.

Debates aside, adding one raw meal a day or incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into a diet can reap benefits, says Seattle-based physician Ilene Ruhoy. After a few weeks of more raw-food-based meals, she noted higher energy, higher quality of sleep and increased mental quality.

"Incremental benefits are greater than none and can still have a huge impact on our health," said Ruhoy, who is enthusiastic about practicing food as medicine. "You have to take [raw foodism] meal by meal."

Kinsman said she founded the largely vegan restaurant in 2008 as a way to present raw food as a demystified option for anyone interested. Kinsman believes that fewer than 1 percent of her customers are raw foodists.

Thrive has more functions than a typical restaurant; it offers culinary classes, raw-food resources and a supportive environment for those interested in sampling elements of a raw-food diet.

With raw, gluten-free and dairy-free sweet-treat options ranging from tiramisu to cacao-covered cherries to almond-milk-based smoothies, the idea of eating raw food seems less daunting, said Kinsman.

What Maykut has noticed are the customers who don't even realize they are eating off a raw-food menu. One regular customer was a fan of the café's carrot cake but didn't realize for several years that it was made of raw ingredients.

"We really don't espouse anything as far as this is the way to do things," Maykut said. "We just put out food that we believe in."

Sandi Halimuddin: 206-464-3765 or shalimuddin@seattletimes.com.

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