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Raw Food Craze

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Cavemen may have thought nothing of sinking their teeth into the raw flesh of a freshly slaughtered animal, but things have progressed somewhat since then. Boiled, baked, griddled and grilled, almost everything we eat has been cooked in some way before it reaches our lips. But all that is set to change. The raw food revolution has swept the United States - and now it is spreading around the world. Forget the low blood sugar GI diet and the fry-up friendly Atkins. The only rule for the raw food diet is that nothing is cooked - whether it be beef or beetroot, lamb or leeks. A-list Hollywood actresses such as Uma Thurman, Demi Moore and Natalie Portman are devotees.

A plethora of "cookbooks" is also being launched to promote the advantages of a raw food lifestyle, and several nutritionists and food experts have launched courses in how to make the switch to raw. The fad became mainstream in the diet-conscious US after the appearance of a raw food restaurant in Sex and the City. There are now more than 30 eateries without ovens across the US - a trend set to take off internationally. Just because the food is not cooked does not mean meat is off the menu. While chicken and other poultry cannot be eaten raw, some red meats can. Veal, beef and venison can all be eaten safely providing they are prepared correctly.

"A lot of people are a little bit intimidated about eating raw meat and fish," said Ramsay, "which is a great shame, because I think they are really missing out - it is a very healthy and natural way of doing things." The health benefits of going raw are, claim its proponents, numerous. Raw food has live enzymes that help provide more energy. If food is cooked at above 47,8C, the enzymes die. Raw food will increase your energy levels and, according to those who eat only raw, will cut down the amount of sleep you need each night.

Gillian McKeith, who presents Britain's Channel 4's You Are What You Eat, and has written several books on healthy eating, said more people were beginning to include raw food in their daily diet. "The message is starting to get through because it really works. When you eat only cooked food you do not feel as alive. You will notice a huge difference. "I have seen people who have complained of headaches and digestive disorders. They have started eating raw food with their cooked meals and suddenly realize such a difference in their health."

The first raw food restaurant in Britain has already opened, in London's Primrose Hill, and more restaurants are planned in the next two years. Katia Norain, the co-owner of the Little Earth Cafe, was converted to raw food after spending time in Hawaii with friends who ate nothing but uncooked. "It is an amazingly interesting way of preparing food; it is good to have live enzymes in your system and, most important, it is yummy," she said. "This is not carrot sticks."

Dietitians are not all convinced that a 100 percent raw diet has health benefits. Dr Frankie Phillips, a registered dietitian with the British Dietetic Association, said: "The jury is still out on whether they make a difference to people. It will provide plenty of fiber, but people should try and have a variety of raw and cooked."

There were food safety issues regarding raw meat, "but," she added, "venison and beef can be safe to eat raw if it has been prepared safely. Carpaccio, for instance, is delicious." Evangelists for the raw food diet are spreading the word through one-to-one coaching sessions and food preparatory courses. Karen Knowler, director of the Fresh Network, an organization that promotes raw food, said interest in the diet had increased as awareness had grown of the dangers of obesity.

"The word 'raw' puts some people off," she said, "but it is about much more than lettuce or apples. Interest in raw food has increased enormously over the past two or three years. More people have a desire for a healthy diet these days. "The best thing is, you do not need to fuss about calories - you can eat as much as you want."

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