By Victoria Boutenko Reprinted from The Raw Family newsletter. Copyright 2005
My husband, our two younger children and I have been on the raw food diet for more than eleven years. We were able to heal all of our incurable, life-threatening diseases. However, after several years of being raw, each one of us began to feel like we had reached a plateau where our healing process stopped and even somewhat began to go backwards. Since then a burning question in my heart grew stronger every day. The question was, "Is there anything missing in our diet?" The answer would come right away: "Nope. Nothing could be better than a raw food diet."
Yet, however tiny, the unwanted signs of less than perfect health kept surfacing, in minor but noticeable symptoms like a wart on a hand, a gray hair, etc. that instantly brought doubts and questions about the completeness of the raw food diet. Finally when my children complained about increased sensitivity in their teeth, I reached a state when I couldn't think about anything else. I drove everybody around me crazy with my constant discussion of what could possibly be missing.
In my eager quest, I started looking at every single food that exists for humans. As my grandmother used to say, Seek and ye shall find. After many wrong guesses, I finally found the right one. Whew! I found one food group that particularly matches ALL human nutritional needs: greens. The truth is, we in my family were not eating enough greens. Moreover, we did not like them. We knew that greens are important, but we never heard anywhere exactly how much greens we need in our diet, just a vague recommendation to eat as much as possible.
In order to find out how much greens we need to eat, I decided to study the eating habits of chimpanzees, since they are the closest creatures to human beings. According to recent scientific research, they share 99.4 % of the same genes with humans.1 I am not trying to say that humans developed from chimpanzees. I am simply grateful for the reality that there is another species in this world that closely resembles us. There are thousands of chimpanzees living in Gombe Valley, Africa. The most remarkable fact is that majority of those chimps of Gombe, as opposed to humans, have not been touched by civilization. I went online and purchased $300 worth of books and DVDs about chimpanzees and their diet and lifestyle. I wrote a letter with my questions to the Jane Goodall University. I traveled to three big zoos that have chimpanzees and spoke to many people who feed them and take care of them every day. I discovered so much fascinating information about chimpanzees that I totally changed my view of them. They became one of my favorite beings. My research gave me a solid idea that humans are supposed to eat a lot more greens than I would have guessed.
As long as I can remember, in books and pictures I always saw chimpanzees depicted with a banana or an orange in their hands. That definitely misled me to the assumption that they eat only fruit. To know that greens compose almost half of their diet became a revelation for me. As far as root vegetables are concerned, the chimpanzees don't eat any of them unless there is a famine and nothing green is left. Based on how much fruit we consume in my family (about 4 or 5 pounds per day per person) I estimate that we need to eat about two good sized bunches of dark leafy greens per person per day, and probably reduce the consumption of nuts, seeds and roots.
Another thing I noticed is that the chimpanzees really love greens. I remember watching at the zoos, how excited they became when given fresh acacia branches, young tender palm tree leaves or kale. I was so inspired looking at them that I went to the nearby bushes and tried to eat acacia leaves, but the truth was that the green leaves were not very palateable for me and that presented another problem. To eat greens was always more like a duty for me. I would think to myself, I have to have my greens. Some days I would "cheat" by juicing my greens. I would quickly drink a cup of green juice and consider myself good for a couple of days. Or I would make a delicious raw dressing and sink my greens into that dressing. That was another way for me to enjoy greens. But I could never imagine sitting and eating two bunches of kale or spinach.
The more I read about the nutritional content of greens. the more I became convinced that greens are the most important food for humans. If I could only find a way to enjoy them enough to consume the optimal quantity needed to become perfectly healthy!
I tried countless times to force myself to eat large amounts of greens in the form of salad, or just by itself, only to discover that I was not physically able to do that. After about two cups of shredded greens I would have either heartburn or nausea. All along, I was aware that my body was missing the nutrients that are available only from greens.
One day, while reading a book on biology, I became intrigued by the amazingly tough composition of plants. Apparently cellulose, the main constituent of plants, has one of the strongest molecular structures on the planet, because it is one of the longest and most complex carbohydrate molecules. From this I understood that in order to assimilate the many needed nutrients from greens, the human body needs to be able to break down these tough structures. However, cellulose is insoluble. That means in order to get nutrients, its structure has to be broken into the tiniest pieces, preferably down to the molecules. In simple words, we need to chew our greens to a creamy consistency in order to get the benefits.
Secondly, in order to digest the released minerals and vitamins, hydrochloric acid in the stomach has to be very strong, pH between 1 and 2.
These two conditions are absolutely, vitally, necessary to the assimilation of nutrients from greens. Apparently, I did not chew my greens well enough and possibly did not have a high enough level of hydrochloric acid in my stomach.2 As a result, I experienced unpleasant signs of indigestion, after pushing myself to eat greater quantities of greens. Hence, I didn't like eating greens altogether!
However, after more than a century of eating mostly heavily proccessed foods, mordern people lost their ability to chew normally. Our jaws became so narrow that even after extracting our wizdom teeth, we still need to wear braces.3 Our jaw muscles became too weak to thoroughly chew rough fiber. In addition to these compromizing conditions, many people have lots of fillings, fake or missing teeth. These conditions make chewing greens to a necessary consistency virtually impossible.
That is why I decided to try to "chew" my greens in the Vitamix blender. 4 First I blended a bunch of kale with water. I was thinking, I will just close my eyes and nose and drink it. But as soon as I opened the lid, I closed it back again quickly because I felt queasy from the strong, wheatgrassy smell. That dark green, almost black mixture was totally unconsumable. After some brainstorming, I added several bananas and blended it again. And that was when the magic began! When I slowly and with some trepidation removed the lid and sniffed the air, to my greatest surprise this bright green concoction smelled very pleasant. I cautiously tasted a sip and was exhilerated, because it was better than tasty! Not too sweet, not too bitter, it was the most unusual taste I had ever tried, and I could describe it in one word: freshness.
In four hours I emptied all I blended, which was one bunch of kale, four bananas and a quart of water. I felt wonderful and made more. Triumphantly, this evening I realized that this was the first time in my life that I consumed two good-sized bunches of greens in one day. Plus, I ate them without any oil and salt! And I enjoyed the whole experience.
That was in August, 2004. The solution was so unexpectedly simple. To consume greens in these way took so little time that naturally I continued experimenting with blended greens and fruits day after day. At first I didn't tell anybody. I didn't have any big health problems and I didn't expect any dramatic changes, I just didn't want to age. However, after about a month when a couple of my warts and moles peeled off my body and when I definitely felt more energized than before, I started sharing my experience with my family and friends. The next thing I noticed was that those little cravings I'd had once in a while for heavy foods like nuts or crackers, especially in the evening, had totally disappeared. I noticed that many of my wrinkles on my face went away and I began to hear compliments from other people about my fresh look. Also my nails became stronger. Another bonus I got was a wonderful taste in the mouth, all the time, even upon waking in the morning. I hadn't had this pleasure since childhood.
When my husband Igor saw the noticeable benefits in my health, he joined me in drinking green smoothies. He started to ask for a cup of "that green stuff" whenever I was making it. Let me point out that although I didn't like greens, Igor simply couldn't tolerate them, which is pretty typical of Russian men. Another two months later his mustache and his beard started growing blacker, which made his face look a lot younger. Igor got so excited about this that he became the green smoothie champion of my family. He would wake up early and make two or three gallons of smoothie every day: one for me, one for him, and one for Sergei and Valya to share. Both of our children enjoyed including this tasty green drink in their daily menu and even though they were already experiencing great health, noticed even more benefits, like the ability to sleep less, more complete elimination, stronger nails, and most of all the improvement in their teeth, which became less sensitive.
One of my fears was that I would get tired of green smoothie one day, and I wouldn't want it any more. Yet, after three months of regular consumption I was enjoying it more than ever. Now I couldn't imagine my life without my green smoothies, as it has become 80% of my diet. In addition to smoothies I eat flax crackers, salad, fruit and occasionally seeds or nuts. In order to always have the opportunity to make fresh green smoothie for myself I purchased an additional Vitamix blender for my office. Whenever friends or customers came in, they saw a big green cup next to my computer and I treated them to my new discovery. To my great satisfaction, everybody loved it, despite their different dietary habits. Unexpectedly for me, some of my friends and coworkers started to comment on their health improvements just from the cup of green smoothie they were drinking in my office! No kidding! I can tell you their names. My web designer began to crave more raw foods as a result of rather irregular helpings of smoothie and lost 15 pounds in a couple of months. The woman from the office across the road got rid of her ecsema, drinking a cup of green smoothie almost every day. The UPS guy likes it too.
Inspired by the warm reception, I wrote an article "Ode to Green Smoothie" and emailed it to my entire list. Almost instantly I began to receive strong positive feedback and many detailed testimonials from my friends, students and customers. While I felt compelled to do more research, it looks like the multiple benefits of green smoothie became obvious to everybody who tried them, and the number of people who are drinking green smoothie is growing rapidly every day. This "green wave" makes me more excited than ever! I am busily compiling all the information together with the research into my new book, due out in a few weeks.
1 Source: Chimps belong in the Homo genus? by Michael Matthews and Carl Wieland http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2003/0521chimps.asp
3 I would like to explain that the Vitamix is not just a simple blender like the ones you can find at any department store. It is called a high speed blender, because its speed goes up to 240 mph! That means that its blades don't even have to be sharp; even if they were just dull metal sticks they could still liquify something as hard as, for example, blocks of wood. In order to reach such performance, the Vitamix has a 2+ peak horsepower motor. Any simple blender will blend the tough cellulose of greens only so long as its blades are sharp. Unfortunately, when the blades become dull, they just move around pieces of banana and the blender very quickly overheats. Eleven years ago, after burning several blenders, I finally bought myself a Vitamix at the country fair. It still works like new.