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Winter scenery, frosty trees and snowstorm in a city park

It’s a cold December night here in Connecticut (just outside of New York City) with rain and ice particles tapping against my window. I’m warm inside with the heat on which is certainly a stark contrast to the temperature outside. Even where Rick and I live in northern California, winter weather can be cold at times, especially at night. We’ve even had a couple of frosts there in recent years, but we know that many of you live in much colder places, so….

It’s not surprising that one of the many questions Rick and I are asked is how to stay raw or mostly raw in the winter time, especially in a cold or very cold climate. This question is especially pertinent and the answer is one I know from my own personal experience. I started my raw food journey in February of 1990 here in the northeastern United States. Snow was on the ground, temperatures were below freezing on most days, and good quality produce was scarce. I found out rather quickly that I would need to be creative in my raw food approach, given that many of the available raw food books at the time extolled the virtues of beautiful tropical fruits that I had never heard of and the benefits of moving to a warm climate. Neither was my reality at the time, so here are some tips that made that winter of 1990 a success with raw food along with some other strategies and thoughts I have learned since then:

  1. Keep it simple – My first winter on raw, I focused on produce that was available in my local grocery store. There weren’t any “health food” stores that sold produce in the area where I lived so I made the best with what was available to me. Availability of raw fruits and vegetables that winter back in 1990 was much more limited than today. Fruit choices included bananas, oranges, apples, pears, grapes, dried papaya, raisins, and some others. Leafy green choices included three different types of lettuce, spinach, and other greens that I had never tried, like kale. I was so excited with how good I felt on raw that the limited variety of produce in my area did not really phase me much at all. Instead I enjoyed my adventure exploring foods that were new to me and along with different raw food preparation methods.
  2. Make warm dressings for salad – Back in 1990, I made dressings in my low powered blender and found that they would get somewhat warm during the process. Years later, when Rick and I purchased a high-power blender, we found that our dressings and sauces could get quite warm.
  3. Use of warming spices can be an option – Back in 1990, I did not use warming spices mostly because I was not yet familiar with them. Now, many of our students speak about their use of ginger, cumin, curry, turmeric, and others in their recipes.
  4. Warm soups in the dehydrator – I did not have a dehydrator back in 1990, but in recent years I have used our dehydrator to warm various raw soups.
  5. Exercise! – I think this is one of the most underutilized strategies for people trying to stay warm in cold climates. I can understand why, especially if one has to go outside to exercise in cold or extremely cold temperatures. Since I have been running regularly for several years now, winter temperatures do not seem as cold to me. I find that my hands and feet are warm throughout the winter, which makes sense, given that one of the many benefits of exercise is increased peripheral circulation.
  6. Check on the availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables – Seasonal fruits for late fall and early winter include some of my favorites including persimmons and pomegranates. Many varieties of leafy greens grow in California during the winter and can be found at many markets throughout the winter here in the US. Back in the winter of 1990, I had much more slim pickings in the produce department, but with growing demand for quality produce in recent decades, it is likely much easier to find better-stocked produce departments in cold climates.
  7. Freeze fruits gathered in summer for winter – Another strategy for having a wider variety of produce available in the winter would be gathering and freezing seasonal berries in the summer. If gathering is impractical for you or if you live in an urban area, stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s have some varieties of organic frozen fruit available year ‘round. I know that freezing may not be optimal, but this may be better than the alternatives if there is little produce availability. These frozen fruits can then be used to make smoothies or defrosted to for use in fruit salads or other recipes. In the winter, when I make a smoothie with frozen ingredients, I find myself allowing the smoothie to warm for several minutes at room temperature so it won’t be as cold when I eat it.
  8. Raw food does not have to be cold – When I take vegetables out of the fridge to make salad for Rick and I, by the time the salad is finished the vegetables are close to room temperature. Adding a warm blended dressing on top of the salad makes for an even warmer meal.
  9. At what temperature do we comfortably eat cooked food, anyway? How many times have you experienced a burning sensation on the inside of your mouth eating food that was too hot? Before I became interested in raw food, I found myself blowing on hot food in an attempt to cool it to a temperature that was comfortable to eat. Through many searches of the scientific literature over the years I’ve found that certain vitamins, phytonutrients, and enzymes start to degrade at around 104°F (40°C) and find that food warmed in a dehydrator to 104°F is comfortably warm for me. When I haven’t had access to a dehydrator, I have warmed food on the stove to 104°F on a couple of occasions. My point here is that we often find it uncomfortable to consume hot foods, so does food really have to be cooked first in order to be warming to our body? Just some food for thought 🙂 …..

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