Sixteen years ago, the Boutenkos were a family in crisis. Mother Victoria was overweight and depressed. Her husband, Sergei, had arthritis. Their teenage son was battling diabetes, while their daughter suffered from asthma.
Fast-forward to 2010, and the Boutenko family is virtually unrecognizable: All four have been cured of their ailments and their family portrait dazzles with glowing skin, slimline physiques, sparkling eyes and energetic smiles that would not look out of place in an American toothpaste commercial.
The secret of their transformation? Forget medication, counseling or conventional dieting. Instead, the family claims to have turned itself around entirely by swapping traditional food habits for eating only raw food.
Sushi aside, the word “raw” is not widely regarded as the most mouth-watering and appetizing in the English vernacular. But for a growing number of health aficionados, a raw food diet is the lifestyle of the future.
Consisting of an abundance of fresh and unprocessed vegetables, fruits and grains, no ingredients in raw food dishes are heated over 49 degrees Celsius, which it is believed diminishes nutritional value.
The end result? Its devotees claim increased energy and glowing skin, better digestion, easy weight loss and the improvement of a raft of ailments that are traditionally treated with Western medicine.
Today, Victoria, 55, is renowned as a world-famous pioneer of the raw food lifestyle, having sold more than 250,000 copies of five best-selling raw food books, with the first Japanese translation of her work to be published in May.
Next month, she arrives in Japan for the first time, with her daughter, Valya, to take part in a series of lectures, workshops and retreats. Here, she tells the Japan Times about her passion for all things raw.
Quick and easy green smoothies
Two smoothie recipes from Victoria Boutenko’s raw food bible “Green for Life,” which will be published in Japanese for the first time by Takagi Shobou in May.
1 cup strawberries
half a bunch romaine
2 cups water
Yields: 1 quart of smoothie
4 very ripe kiwis (green or golden)
1 ripe banana
3 stalks of celery
2 cups water
Yields: 1 quart of smoothie
How would you define a “raw food diet” to someone who has no idea what it is?
A typical raw food diet consists of green leaves, fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts, none of which are heated over 49 degrees Celsius. There are some variations in the main elements of raw menus among different raw food eaters in the world. For example, some people in Europe consume raw fish or eggs, dairy, or meat.
What kind of diet did you have as a child growing up in Russia?
I was born on a Sakhalin island, not far from Japan, and my diet consisted of a typical Russian diet, but we also ate a lot of fish, seafood and red caviar. The Russian diet includes soup, potato, sauerkraut, meat and dairy. Most of the food was cooked daily at our home by my mother or by anyone in my family.
How did you diet change when you moved to the United States and how did this impact your health?
In the U.S. there’s almost zero freshly cooked food available. Even when we were buying ingredients, they already included preservatives, taste and color enhancers, or simply were precooked and prepackaged. We discovered that many Americans are unable to perform simple kitchen tasks such as peeling a potato or cooking porridge. If they say that they are baking a cake, that most likely means they bought a pre-made cake mix containing more than 20 ingredients. When my mother prepared her cakes, there were only four to five simple, natural ingredients.
What was your first encounter with the raw food concept?
I heard about raw foodists in Russia. I thought that they were extremists and I didn’t believe it was healthy to eat this way, probably because of misleading education at school, which taught us that we need to eat meat and dairy every day to be healthy. What prompted you to turn to raw food? My main motive was to heal my son from diabetes and to help my family to become healthy. We have been on a raw food diet since January 1994. We drink green smoothies, at least one liter (quart) each day. We eat salads with avocado, several pieces of ripe and organic fruit every day. We also consume a very small amount of soaked seeds — our favorites are hemp, flax, pumpkin, sunflower and chia seeds.
Victoria’s top tips
1. Don’t just believe me: Instead try to eat raw food with an emphasis on green smoothies for two weeks and then see how you feel. Then you will know for sure.
2. Start by adding a delicious green smoothie to your diet.
3. Find your own way to be happy in your life.
4. Don’t try to be too perfect.
Does the raw food concept stretch beyond what people eat and involve lifestyles as well?
We consider raw food to be a lifestyle. It takes some extra effort and a number of necessary adjustments from “normal” life, such as visiting farmers’ markets, growing sprouts in the kitchen, soaking nuts, picking and dehydrating or freezing fruits in the summer. Also to combat the extra energy, one needs to exercise daily. Often, with less time needed to sleep and being less tired, people can then look for more fun things to do.
How do you believe eating a raw diet can change people’s lives?
The most significant change we notice is that when people discover that not everything they have been told is exactly true, they stop trusting authorities in any field and begin to think for themselves.
What kind of reactions do you receive from people when they learn that you eat only raw food?
Sixteen years ago, almost nobody knew what raw food was, and they were shocked and often critical or skeptical about the benefits of a raw diet. Now it seems that everyone have at least heard of a raw diet and they always have lots of questions for us.
On what basis do you compare the diets of chimpanzees to humans in your writings and why do you think we should be more similarly aligned?
Humans and chimpanzees share 99.4 percent of the same sequences of genes. I think it is logical that our diets should be 99 percent similar, when in fact they are almost 100 percent different.
Upcoming events with Victoria Boutenka:
May 8-9 Weekend Green Smoothie Seminar with lectures, demonstrations and raw food refreshments, at Radisson Hotel Narita, Chiba.
May 12 Half-day Green smoothie demonstration workshop, Shalimar de la TefuTefu kitchen in Sakurashinmachi, Setagaya.
May 14-16 Three-day Green Smoothie Retreat with lectures, demos and yoga sessions, at Seamei no Mori resort, Chiba.
May 18 Green smoothie, raw food lecture by Victoria, at SPAZIO2, Ebisu.
May 18 Green smoothie, raw food lecture by Victoria, at Umea Sky Building Tower West, Osaka.