Hoping to woo a woman, John Stubbs put his love for a warm cooked meal aside and starting eating a raw diet.
More than five years later, he not only got the girl now his wife, Megan he still maintains a raw lifestyle.
"When I found out she was raw, I thought it meant I was going to be eating a lot of rabbit food, a lot of boring salads or carrot sticks," said Stubbs, a financial-services consultant. "But she made me a gourmet meal with all these fabulous foods, and I felt amazing afterward."
The Riverton couple are among a growing number of people who have chosen to eat a raw-food diet.
Most people eat some raw foods salads, salsa and carrot sticks are the most obvious examples. But those who have gone "raw" take it several steps beyond that, consuming only fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts. The foods are eaten raw, sprouted, dehydrated or warmed to no more than 115 degrees. Raw foodies also avoid animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products that are typically cooked before being eaten.
Loyalists say heat destroys the beneficial enzymes, nutrients and vitamins in food. Eating ingredients in their natural state provides more nutrition and makes digestion easier.
The 6-foot-tall Stubbs is a good example of how a raw-food diet can benefit some people. When he met his wife, he weighed more than 260 pounds and suffered from bleeding ulcers, poor eyesight and lethargy.
"Now my eyesight is perfect, I've regrown most of my hair, I've lost 60 pounds, I feel energetic all day and every day and my ulcers are completely gone," he said. "I used to be so acidic that I'd take two or three rolls of Tums or Rolaids every single day. Now I don't have any acid reflux or heartburn at all."
Going raw • Adopting a raw-food diet might seem extreme, After all, who wants to give up a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter's night?
Stubbs and others say the rewards outweigh the inconveniences.
Nicole Cavallaro cites clearer skin, more energy and creativity among the benefits she has seen since adopting a predominantly raw diet. She has learned to listen to her body's needs, instead of eating what she thinks she wants.
"The more raw foods we eat, the easier it is to decide on celery sticks with almond butter instead of a Snickers bar," she said. "Our body starts to help us decide, which makes us feel better, and the more opportunities to base this decision, the louder our body speaks."
Heath concerns • Going raw often means adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet based on vegetables, nuts and some sprouted grains. As such, getting enough protein and vitamins often found in animal products can be a concern, said Lauren Antonucci, a sports nutritionist and registered dietitian who owns Nutrition Energy in New York.
She said raw foodists tend to be deficient in vitamin B12, which is found exclusively in animal foods, as well as heart-healthy essential fatty acids, zinc, calcium and vitamin D.
"The diet is also very difficult to follow unless all foods are prepared at home, often leading to further gaps in nutritional intake and vitamin/mineral deficiency concerns," she said.
To avoid this problem, the Stubbses track what they eat each day to make sure they get the required 50 to 60 grams of protein they need. And during Megan's recent pregnancy, she was tested to ensure she had the proper levels of proteins, irons and other nutrients.
"We've done extensive research to know what nutrients are needed and what symptoms to look for and what foods need to be added," her husband said.
Go slow • Because a raw diet is so complex, it's best to transition over a period of time, said raw-food chef Janae Devika, who eats about 50 percent raw foods in the winter and up to 100 percent raw in the summer, when fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden make it easier.
She recommends a "utilitarian" raw-food diet for many.
"The utilitarian raw-food diet is based on salads, smoothies and juices, which are quick and easy to make, but not so fancy," she said.
"A salad or smoothie takes less than 10 minutes to prepare and only requires a blender or a good knife."
Ultimately, it's up to the individual to decide how raw to go. The main idea is to incorporate raw foods into your diet and let your body decide how much it needs.
Occasionally, Stubbs said he enjoys some cooked foods at social gatherings and during the holidays.
"I'm like the social drinker," he joked, "except I'm a social cooked-food eater."