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Eating raw food - a (short) personal journey

I started my journey to health by eating raw food.

I was introduced to the raw food diet via Raw Vegetable Juices, a book by the late Norman W. Walker.

I was fully convinced by what he wrote about the importance of vitamins and enzymes and about milk being mucus-forming. I took his advce to drink lots of carrot juice and was drinking four to five mugs per day, until my palms turned orange - but I was assured that it was okay.

I also started the habit of eating raw food - fruits for breakfast, followed by more fruits or raw vegetable salads for lunch and dinner.

That was in 1985, when I was 30 years old. Up till then, I was a weak and sickly person who was falling ill and visiting the doctors every two or three weeks.

My main health problem was very serious sinusitis. I would sneeze for about an hour after I wake up each morning. During the day, I would sneeze at the slightest reason - when I entered or left an air-conditioned room, when there was dust in the air, when a woman wearing perfume walked by...

Drinking carrot juice and eating raw food helped put an end to those problems. I stopped visiting the doctors as frequently. I felt very much better.

I went on to buy other books about the raw food diet, including Raw Energy by Leslie Kenton and her daughter Susanah, as well as Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. I became totally convinced about the "wisdom" of eating raw food.

That early experience with a raw food diet literally changed my life. At that time, I was working as a journalist in Business Times. A year later, I started writing a weekly column on natural health in the newspaper. In 1989, I left my job to publish my own natural health newsletter, The Good Life (which ran till 1997).

Skin rash from eating raw food

Not all was well, however. After the initial improvement in my health, new problems started to appear.

One was a persistant rash that would arise each evening, mainly around my abdomen and inner thighs. It afftected both my wife and I, yet it never occurred to us that it could have been due to the fact that we were both eating raw food.

My skin also became extremely sensitive. I remember once, a conference table at the office had been newly varnished and just by entering the room, my hands would break out in rashes and the skin (between my thumb and first finger) would start to open up in deep cracks.

My regular doctor did not understand my rash but he was kind - and open-minded - enough to recommend that I consult a Chinese physician.

That recommendation caused my doctor to lose me as his patient, because as I became acquainted with Traditional Chinese Medicine, I began to lose faith in medical science. But I have the highest respects for this doctor who dared recommend a patient to a non-medical physician.

The Chinese physician took a long time to solve my rash. Looking back now, I think it was because I stubbornly continued eating raw food against his advice. I was just too sold on the idea that a raw food diet was not just healthy but also an "ideal".


More alarming was what happened after a had a raw salad for dinner one cold, rainy night. That night, I woke up with an asthma attack even though I was not known to be asthmatic. True, I had weak lungs. I had tuberculosis when I was five and often coughed when I fell ill. But never before did I experience an asthma attack, until that night.

Can eating raw foods trigger asthma? Here is an email I received recently from someone with a similar experience:

So glad to have stumbled on your website. I recently started a raw food / juice fast, and noticed that my Asthma, which has been nearly non-existent for a while now, came back with a vengence. 

Trying to find some information, just about every site on the internet recommended raw foods to cure asthma, which just made me think I was crazy. It was then that I found your site about treating pneumonia naturally, and finally, someone presented the idea that raw foods could actually worsen symptoms. Thanks for offering some sanity. I'm headed back to a more macrobiotic approach.

In that article I had written: Some websites recommend fruit and vegetable juices, as well as a raw diet of fruits and salads, for treating pneumonia. This, to me, is very dangerous advice coming from raw food advocates who view a raw diet as the solution to every iillness.

If you understand macrobiotics or Traditional Chinese Medicine, you will know that a raw food diet can definitely cause, trigger or worsen asthma. Frankly, I don't know much about Traditional Chinese Medicine, except that asthma is considered a "cold" condition and that raw foods are obviously cold.

My understanding of the macrobiotic principle of yin and yang tells me that a raw food diet is yin or "expanded", since cooking causes food to contract. (Consider, for example, how a huge pile of vegetable is reduced to a small plate after frying.)

Asthma is also a yin / expanded condition. Asthma attacks occur when lung tissues become swollen or "expanded", thereby blocking the air passages. Also, what actually happens during an asthma attack is that the person cannot breathe out - and, as a result, cannot breathe in. This inability to breathe out is another sign of not having strong enough yang or "contracting" energy.

Likewise, a skin rash is also a yin / expanded condition, since it is a problem that manifests outwards. My skin cracking and opening up when exposed to varnish was due to strong yin / expansion energy. No doubt the varnish contributed to it. But to begin with, my condition was already yin from eating raw food.

Meeting raw foodists

During the course of writing my natural health column and, later, The Good Life, I had the opportunity to meet several people who advocate eating raw food. They included:

In their own ways, these were all healthy people. They generally do not fall sick and some had even recovered from serious illness through eating raw food.

However, they all shared one thing in common - when I shook hands with them, I could feel that their palms were extremely soft, almost jelly-like.

I rememnber especially Dr Ann Wigmore... her palm, besides being soft, was very very red. From the macrobiotic perspective of yin and yang, this showed an extremely yin / expanded condition. Redness indicates that the blood vessels beneath the skin had become very expanded, such that they become highly visible.

A yin diet

Ultimately, a raw food diet is a very yin diet. It is an unbalanced diet. It may suit certain people with an overly yang / contracted condition, such as those with a long history - including family history - of eating plenty of meat. Such a diet help balance their past conditions, but eventually they will reach a point where a raw food diet becomes weakening.

Those who do well on a raw food diet usually have some other way to balance the strong yin energy. One member of the Singapore Vegetarian Society whom I know, for example, swims in the sea for about two hours every day. The long exposure to sunlight, and the absorption of salt from swimming in the sea, are both strong yang factors that help balance his yin raw food diet.

In places like the United States, many followers of a raw food diet find themselves eventually moving to warmer states like California and Florida. They spend long hours basking in the sun, they cannot tolerate cloder climates. In contrast, some followers of a macrobiotic diet - which emphasizes cooked food - are even able to withstand cold winters without central heating.

Other possible yin effects of eating raw food excessively include:

Often, people with these conditions will feel better when they eat a more yang diet of cooked food, including meat, fish and other animal protein.

Click here for Part II of this article on eating raw food, which examines the validity of some claims about the benefits of a raw food diet.

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