Raw in Montreal interview with Purna Bhattacharya
I recently sat down (well, figuratively speaking thanks to modern technology) to interview a young and truly enthusiastic raw vegan coach, Purna Bhattacharya, owner of RAWk'n'Heels, about her personal health challenges and the launch of her new business in raw food. She will be officially launching her business at our bimonthly raw vegan potluck gathering on March 17th, 2012 at the Crudessence loft. Look out for a special column on our blog with Purna where she will be answering your questions on how to transition to a healhty raw vegan diet and other diet and life style questions.
Purna is an upbeat Raw Vegan & Wellness Coach, as well as a Raw Culinary Instructor. After conquering a life-threatening health condition, she has created RAWk’n’Heels, a company that focuses on educating the public about the extreme health benefits of the raw food diet and lifestyle in an honest, passionate and realistic way. Be careful, her enthusiasm is contagious! Purna coaches individuals to reach their health goals using raw foods and natural alternatives for emotional and mental wellness. She also provides culinary instruction at local Montreal health centers and in the privacy of people’s homes for group events and for private, intensive coaching that are educational, interactive and full of fun for everyone who attends.
Raw in Montreal : What has been your journey like transitioning to raw foods and for what reason did you turn to this way of eating?
Purna Bhattacharya: I was really sick for half of my life. An inflammatory-based pain spread all over my body, but especially my throat. It got so severe that I couldn’t eat or speak for weeks at a time - it’s a miracle I’m still alive, and I am thankful for this every day. I started to see an excellent naturopath. I saw dramatic improvements and also learned I was allergic to all foods excluded on the raw food diet. So, the next step was to go raw - and I’ve never looked back!
RIM: What’s the biggest mistake in your opinion in transitioning to a raw food diet and how can we avoid it?
PB:While everyone is different, most people can’t simply transition to raw foods overnight. It involves not only many dietary changes, but lifestyle changes as well. Many people who are new to raw foods don’t know what gluten is - it can certainly take a long time to be sure they are not consuming ANY gluten, so imagine how much work it must be to learn about all the foods that are excluded from a raw diet on one’s own.
My advice is to take things one step at a time for an easy and smooth transition to raw foods, and when making any dietary and lifestyle changes. Go ahead and steam those vegetables if eating purely raw veggies isn’t something you’re ready for yet - it’s certainly a better alternative to frying or boiling them. Want to get more exercise? Great! Start with a small frequency and duration per week, and gradually increase it. Don’t overdo anything because it will likely backfire.
RIM: Where should a new comer to raw food focus most of their initial effort? What’s the one thing we should keep in mind when setting up our a raw food friendly kitchen?
PB: Good questions! I don’t believe in a one-model-fits-all method, which is why each person needs to learn what they are comfortable doing as a first attempt, and what would be stretching their limits. For some people, this is difficult to learn about oneself, and a private coach is especially crucial to ensure their success on a raw diet and in achieving whatever their health goals may be.
In general, excellent ways to start going raw are trading in traditional desserts for raw desserts (for which I have an e-book that will be available by March 17th, 2012), and making green smoothies and salads. Smoothies and salads are really easy to make and it’s key to include a lot of leafy greens. As for desserts, although learning to make them can be a learning curve, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, most of my recipes are super simple, as most recipes ought to be. Using desserts as the first step to going raw can also allow people to realize they do not have to give up their favorite foods in order to be a raw foodist.
In terms of setting up a raw food kitchen, again, take things one step at a time and make sure you are arranging it according to your needs. What kinds of foods and meals you will primarily be making will dictate which appliances you need. You also don’t need the top-notch, highest-quality brands right away - stick with standard items (cost and brand-wise). If, with time, you find being a raw foodist is something you can and truly want to pursue in the long run, invest in better gear at that time. Also, ask yourself what the needs of your family are - will they be eating raw as well? Preparation is key.
RIM:What advice can you give to people who have multiple food allergies or sensitivities and are trying to eat more raw?
PB: :Don’t be scared, because I’m one of them! There are tons of ingredients that are commonly used on a raw diet which I exclude, and it’s much easier than it seems. It’s all about creativity, learning about the science behind food, and understanding how foods work when combined with others in recipes. I’ve spent years doing research on this and applying them to my own life, so you can trust me when I say there‘s always an alternative, even if it takes time to figure it out.
Here’s what I’m allergic to: gluten, dairy, peanuts, coconuts, eggs, and seafood, and I’m sensitive to a host of other foods, including all nightshade vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, mushrooms) as well as soy, certain sweeteners and cacao (yes, I even have to limit RAW cacao!) I’m sure I’m missing something in this list, there’s so many!
Given all the allergies I have and experiences I’ve had, if I can STILL be a raw foodist, then anyone who has genuine reasons for eating raw can do so as well!
RIM: In your opinion is it necessary to eat a 100% raw diet?
PB: Absolutely not! This is one reason I became a raw vegan and wellness coach. So many “guru’s” dictate raw foods like it’s a religion, that it’s black or white - either you eat completely raw, otherwise it’s useless. I want people to be know that every little step we take to improve our health is much better than continuing to follow the typical Standard American Diet. So many people are overwhelmed with the idea of being 100% raw, and who can blame them? We live in a society that is saturated with fast “foods” as a matter of convenience, filled with sugar, wheat, cream and so on.
Ideally, however, the key is to include as much leafy greens as possible . If you have a sweet tooth and truly need alternatives to traditional desserts, that’s fine! Go ahead and make the raw alternatives - it‘s much better than munching on flour and sugar-filled brownies!
For those who have been eating raw foods for awhile, I think it’s best to eat at least 75 to 80% raw. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable giving a percentage - how can we actually calculate it?
At the end of the day, I simply listen to my body’s cravings. There are weeks on end when I want nothing but green smoothies and salads. Sometimes I wake up and my body tells me to make a fruit salad or fruit ice cream instead of my green smoothie, so that’s what I have. There are times when I want dinner to be dessert, or granola cereal with fruit and raw cacao chunks (as was the case this evening). Even though that isn’t the best food combination for me, guess what? It will definitely find it’s way into my system!
Food is meant to be enjoyable, so love everything that you prepare and eat it with respect and calm, as long as you nurturing your mind and body’s needs with as much raw foods as possible, without feeling like it’s a chore. Stressing over what you eat defeats the whole purpose of alkalizing the body.
RIM: Give us 5 quick tips about creating satisfying desserts that are easy to make and do not require a lot of equipment or crazy ingredients?
PB: - Keep it simple! Fruit purees and puddings are amazing - just be creative!
- Make sure you always have fruits in the freezer, such as berries, mangos, pineapples, and bananas. You will not regret this when you are in a rush! You can make delicious ice cream with a juicer (depending on what kind you have) or a soft serve using any food processor.
- Always make sure you have herbs such as mint and cilantro on hand. They’re the most refreshing herbs to use in desserts, giving them a savory flavor that is otherwise difficult to have in fruit-based desserts.
- Raw cacao powder or nibs are a must in your pantry! With the powder, you can make brownies, warm ‘hot’ chocolates, chocolate puddings, and so on. Ladies, pay attention! Raw cacao has 360 times more magnesium than regular, grocery-store cacao powder, which means when your monthly chocolate cravings kick in, raw cacao powder or nibs WILL satisfy you. It’s super beneficial for your health and completely guilt-free!
- Try to avoid making desserts that require freezing. Why? We usually want to make desserts that we can eat right away instead of waiting for it, which can be a long and painful process, haha. If you want any dessert to solidify in the freezer, I would only leave it there for an hour at most.
On a more serious note though, I am currently doing research to find out how much of the enzymes and nutrition actually remain intact when foods are frozen because I am not sure what the findings are on this. Of course, I would like to believe that it’s better than cooking food, but I’d like to know the true details so I can give others the most accurate details they need to make decisions in their own diets and lifestyles.
RIM: What made you decide to become a raw food health coach?
PB: I have always been interested in and passionate about food and culinary preparations, as well as helping people to the best of my abilities. My interests, as well as my own illness, ultimately made me realize that I have the ability to spread the message of raw foods to others.
People need to realize that, to some extent, many are living in discomfort, whether they realize it or not. Headaches, insomnia, indigestion, acid reflux, lack of energy, being moody or depressed, lack of sexual desire, inflammation, diabetes, being overweight - you name it, most of us suffer from something, but don’t notice it because it’s become a part of who we are.
It truly doesn’t have to be this way. Raw foods CAN and WILL transform anyone’s life for the better is countless ways. Plant-based foods WILL heal you from illness. The body is a very forgiving living element - if you act now, even if it’s by taking one small step at a time, you WILL notice positive changes in your health. Gluten, table salt, refined sugar, red meat, coffee - none of these are real FOODS.
Also, being a raw foodist can seem daunting and scary to many people, and I want to show them that it’s much easier than it seems. There are solutions and ways around the finances on a raw diet, socializing and dating, time management, and so on. Making raw meals that are quick, easy, satisfying and nutritious is really simple!
RIM: Could you tell us a little bit about your different coaching programs? How can people get in touch with you?
You can also follow Purna on these social medai sites here: