Green is the favorite color of Tiffin resident, Lauren Austin Smith. Clad in green, the certified raw food teacher, chef and nutritionist recently hosted a "Raw Foods 101" class for eight people with her teaching partner, Susan Gonzalez-Milliron.
Although Smith usually teaches her classes in a meeting room or at Susan's home, she decided to try a small gathering at her own residence in Tiffin. Each participant received a green-covered "Raw Revelation" booklet that includes recipes, a list of places in the area to purchase healthy foods, equipment needed to process raw items and directories of produce and herbs.
Her "healthiest foods on Earth" list includes pineapple, blueberries, spinach, red bell pepper, broccoli and tomatoes.
The two-hour "Raw Foods 101" was packed with much more information, along with samples of the recipes in the booklet. During the class, Smith prepared samples of a breakfast smoothie, oatmeal, almond milk, salad with homemade dressing, a main dish and desserts using nuts, whole grains, oils, natural sweeteners and uncooked or dried fruits and vegetables.
Smith said she has found new ways to fix familiar foods and added some items that were new to her.
"You need to eat. That's half the fun of going to a raw foods expo. I use a lot of things maybe you never learned to eat or things you might not have tasted," Smith said.
She told the class her family switched to raw foods when husband John was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor nine years ago. John sought treatment at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina; his prognosis was dire.
"They gave him three to six months to live. We decided that we were going to come up with a better option. That's what started our search. He did chemo and radiation. He also had brain surgery, but he opted out of chemo after a year," Smith said.
The doctors said vegan patients tend to fare better with the treatment her husband had been prescribed. The changes in diet tend to counteract the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Smith said her husband was able to work during treatment and to attend their daughter's school sports and other events.
The only problem was a drop in John's white blood cells.
Even though her husband had been a "meat-and-potatoes guy," Smith said he decided a longer life was a good trade for a healthier diet.
The Smiths started doing research and found the Hallelujah Diet as a starting point. Their daughter, Taylor, also became a "natural health nut." Having earned a psychology degree at Heidelberg University, she now is studying massage therapy and helping with her mother's food classes.
John has been cancer-free since 2003, but three years ago, he developed a limp and some paralysis on his left side. The doctor attributed his symptoms as side effects from chemotherapy and radiation.
""If I knew, when I first got diagnosed, what I know now, I probably wouldn't have done radiation and chemotherapy. I would have had the tumor removed, but I wouldn't have done anything extra," John said. "It wasn't that big of an adjustment, giving up meat and all that. ... Lauren did a lot of research, and I found out a lot of people have cured their diabetes, cancer and MS, so I was up for it."
As a bonus for efforts to help her husband, Smith lost 100 pounds. Her degenerative arthritis and acid reflux disappeared and her hair thickened. Taylor's migraine headaches stopped.
The family now eats little cooked food. Because raw foods are not heated, bacteria on them may not be destroyed. Smith advises her students to compensate with frequent and thorough washing of produce, utensils and hands.
One of the challenges of a raw food diet is finding places to buy chemical-free, unprocessed ingredients.
Smith's booklet lists places where she shops. She is a member of a food co-op at First Lutheran Church, which helps her to save money on raw foods and organics. Riehms Farm Market and Rock Run Bulk Foods carry nuts, dates, spices, herbs, oats and other ingredients for raw food recipes. Seeds of Hope Farm at St. Francis offers chemical-free produce.
Meijer in Findlay also is a good source, but Smith said the Tiffin Kroger has a better selection of organic products than many larger cities.
"Of course, we don't have the luxury of a Whole Foods or a Bassett's. ... but evidently people in Tiffin are buying organic because they are growing, and they're getting a lot more," Smith said. "I love to shop local, and I also think you should try to use your local produce as much as you absolutely can."
About two years ago, Lauren traveled to Michigan to study with raw foods educator Andrea McNinch. There, she met and became friends with Susan Gonzalez-Milliron of Toledo. The pair have become teaching partners.
Both received certification from McNinch (how2eatraw.com), who founded Regeneration Raw and Heal Yourself Institute to educate others. She has appeared on many television programs, has written numerous articles on nutrition and has spoken at several conferences.
Smith has become a vegan, which means she eats no animal protein of any kind. Over the years, she has tried to consume 85-100 percent raw food. She said sticking to at least 51 percent raw or more is a good target.
"What I believe is, the more raw you are, the better you are," Smith said.
Switching to raw foods can be done gradually by adding more uncooked items to one's current diet. Other techniques include eating one raw meal a day or devoting one day a week to eating nothing but raw food.
"It just depends where you want to take it. Do a lot of research. Try things out," Smith said.
Her own family starts the day with a smoothie that is a blend of frozen fruit, water, nuts and spinach. Smith freezes chunks of fruits to use in the smoothies and tries to take advantage of whatever is in season locally as much as possible.
Berries are plentiful now, but most are heavily sprayed with pesticides. For this reason, Smith said organic berries are the best choice. The website has a list of the fruits that contain the highest amounts of chemicals.
Fruits that are peeled before eating, such as bananas, citrus, pineapple and mango, need not be organic.
Smith sometimes buys fruit in the regular produce section and removes the peel. Fruits digest more rapidly than vegetables, she said. With its high water content, melon is the fastest.
Greens make up a large portion of the Smiths' diet.
Smith said greens are "neutral" foods that can be mixed with fruit or vegetables and can be eaten any time, including at breakfast.
Although some people are hesitant to give up their animal-based protein, Smith said a mostly vegetarian diet can be healthy if one prepares the food properly and eats a good balance of nutrients.
Some nutritionists suggest substituting soy protein for dairy and meat products, but Smith cautioned on the dangers of soy. Statistics show about 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified, she said. They contain high levels of plant-based estrogen, a hormone linked to cancer, infertility and other ailments, especially in women.
In recent years, oil and protein powder from soy have been added to many processed foods, such as margarine, soy burgers, ice cream and cheese. Because soy is rather bland, manufacturers add artificial coloring to these imitation products and flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate. MSG has been associated with migraine headaches and cancer.
"Read the label. If you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it," Smith advises.
A plant-based diet is more natural, she added.
People do not need high amounts of protein for good health. Human DNA is similar to that of chimpanzees, whose diets are vegetarian. They are able to thrive with only the protein in plants.
In addition, chimps chew their food thoroughly.
"The other thing is our digestive tracts. Animals that are herbivores ... have long digestive tracts," Smith said.
Humans also have long, winding digestive tracts, which suggests they were designed to handle a lot of plant material. Those who look to the Bible for guidance can consult the Book of Genesis (1:29) to learn the practice of eating meat for food originated on the ark when plants were not accessible.
Another justification for a raw diet is leukocytosis.
Studies done in the 1930s discovered consuming cooked food and most processed foods raises the number of white blood cells in humans. Smith said the body regards cooked food a foreign substance and attacks that substance as it would a disease organism or harmful chemical.
Cooking can destroy some of the enzymes and other nutrients in food that enhance digestion. The body must work harder to metabolize foods that are not raw. The more raw food eaten, the less energy is needed for digestion, she said.
That energy can be used for other bodily functions. She said rats who were injured or diseased and placed on a raw diet actually experienced a reversal of their symptoms.
Getting back to breakfast, oatmeal made with steel-cut oats (soaked overnight), coarsely chopped nuts and seeds is another breakfast option. Raisins, dates or dried cranberries can add low-calorie sweetness.
Smith said she uses a coffee grinder and a Vita Mix food processor to prepare ingredients for this and other recipes. She said flaxseed is a good source of protein and antioxidants.
Instead of cow's milk, the Smiths make almond milk for their cereal by soaking raw almonds and blending them with filtered water, raw honey, coconut oil and vanilla powder. The mixture is squeezed through a milk bag or cheesecloth to remove the pulp.
Smith said her husband uses the almond paste to make cookies. Almonds contain no cholesterol and they have been found to keep blood sugar at safe levels. The almond milk lasts about three days in the refrigerator.
Cow's milk, Smith noted, was intended to nourish baby cows that grow up to 2,000-plus pounds. This, she said, leads her to believe milk promotes childhood obesity.
Even though it is a good source of calcium, milk is not the only way to get that nutrient. Nuts, greens and vegetables also can provide calcium.
Some raw foods have benefits beyond their nutritional value, Smith said. Coconut oil adds "good fat" to the diet and can serve as a natural sunscreen. People who love sweets can replace sugar with natural maple syrup or raw honey.
Honey also can aid digestion and offer relief from allergies with its antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Dried fruits also add sweetness and fiber.
The higher cost of organic food can be offset by fewer sick days, less pain and the reduced need for prescription drugs, and weight reduction plans, Smith said.