Gabriel Cousens, M.D., is renowned
as a physician who promotes the therapeutic benefits of live food. He
is the founder and director of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center
in Arizona, which he describes as “the manifestation of my life’s
work.” Nestled in the wilderness on 166 acres, the Tree of Life
is a sanctuary for both physical and spiritual growth, offering individualized
programs incorporating modalities like yoga, meditation, acupuncture
and naturopathy in addition to celebrated live food cuisine.
A tireless researcher and practitioner, Dr. Cousens
specializes in the healing of chronic degenerative diseases, from depression
to arthritis. His books include Conscious Eating (2000), Spiritual
Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet (1987), and Depression-Free
for Life (2001).
Dr. Cousens discusses with Angela Starks
the benefits of and misconceptions surrounding live foods, and offers
some practical advice for succeeding on the path of “Conscious
At the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center, raw foods are an important
part of the program. What are the main benefits of eating raw foods
and what sort of healing effects have you witnessed?
In my 20 years’ experience with raw foods, I have observed a definite
increase in vitality, strength and endurance. This year at 60 years
of age I did 601 push-ups, which is a lot more than I could do when
I was a meat-eating football player at age 21. It also seems to create
youthfulness. I just had some clients in their 80s go onto live foods
and within two years they said they hadn’t felt this young since
Eating food raw preserves its enzymes, which are extremely important
for things like vitality, immunity, and [healthy blood]. With age, we
tend to have fibrosis in all our organs, meaning they develop scar tissue.
Certain enzymes that we are able to absorb from live foods actually
break up the scar tissue that accumulates in the system.
On live foods you get twice as much nutrition for the amount you are
eating, which means that you can eat half as much, so people naturally
gravitate to their ideal weight. Some thin people may regain some healthy
weight because they absorb nutrients better and their physiology works
People with chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, and arthritis have done well
on live food. It also helps with psychological issues. A lot of people
suffer from what I call a biologically altered brain as a result of
genetics and lifestyle. This is why we have 40 million depressed people.
Using vegan and live food diets I am able to significantly help people
get off medications and bring joy back into their lives because this
restores the brain chemistry to normal, whereas medication further affects
the brain chemistry.
One’s diet creates an acid situation which activates a fermentation
process in the body which then creates bacteria, fungus and mold that
actually grow out of our own tissues. That’s why we have such
an epidemic of candida today. Sixty years of research shows that live
foods is the only known diet that will reverse this, it basically turns
off what I call the ‘self-composting button.’ For conditions
like candida or blood sugar imbalances, we have the low-glycemic raw
food diet (‘low-glycemic’ meaning foods that do not cause
a sharp rise in blood sugar), which is mostly vegetables.
As well as the physical health benefits, you also emphasize that raw
foods can, as you say, “enhance communion with the Divine.”
We cannot ignore the role of food in our consciousness. As it says in
the Upanishads, “When food is pure, the mind is pure.” We
call the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center an “oasis for awakening”
because live food provides an awakening that affects every level of
our health. After 15 years of leading detoxification retreats, I have
observed a definite increase in spiritual energy with live foods.
Food has an energy we call prana. When you eat live food you bring a
tremendous amount of prana into the system, which expands consciousness
and therefore brings you deeper into spirit. Obviously, the mind and
body are interrelated. Prana actually organizes the mind resulting in
less altered thoughts. Yoga, for example, is focused on the purification
of the physical body as an aid to purifying the mind, and the energy
that’s required for this inner transformation is provided by prana.
How do raw foods calm the mind?
My theory—from observation—is that when you take in cooked
food or meat, you take in impure energies, like the astral bodies of
the animal. It creates lust and passion and things like that. On live
foods, on a pure diet, the activities of the mind calm down, and that’s
what yogis call a Sattvic or calm, pure mind. The cleanest diet is the
diet that’s directly from the planet. When we bite into live food,
we are literally inviting in the raw life-force energy of the Earth,
which is as pure as you can get because it’s not altered. As soon
as we start manipulating food—cooking it, taking it from animals—it’s
a distortion, and it is not the way God organized it.
What happens to the nutrients when food is cooked?
According to the Max Plank Institute in Germany, you lose 50 percent
of the protein, up to 70 or 80 percent of your vitamins, pretty much
100 percent of your phyto-nutrients, and up to 96 percent of your B12.
Vitamin B12 is not a problem for live food people. When I tested my
own blood for B12, I was equal to a meat-eater because I eat a lot of
raw sea vegetables and green drinks.
What are some of the other detrimental effects that cooking
has on food?
When you cook food you create toxins that interfere with all the bodily
processes including the neurological and brain systems. Cooking actually
creates carcinogens—acrylamide, for example, which has been in
the news lately, particularly in carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta
and bread. Research has shown that in a cooked potato there are well
over 100 toxins, including about 50 carcinogens.
Indeed, some raw-foodists consider cooked food to be literally
I don’t want to create the feeling that cooked food is poison
because that takes us to an extreme position. What I can say is that
by contrast, live food really gives you more life-force, more energy,
a better immune system and so on. We have to see it in perspective.
Being a vegan is a very good thing, but raw food can improve the vegan
diet, even if you go only 50 percent.
What about the theory that we need to cook food to make it
safer, such as destroying bacteria?
With our hygiene today that’s less of an issue. Although if you
live in India, for example, you are going to kill a lot more parasites
if you cook the food. If you are travelling and have to buy food from
a market you can wash it with a hydrogen peroxide solution.
Are cooked foods easier to digest?
Live food actually takes a little more digestive power. When people
have really weak digestion, warm food helps, but that’s not the
same thing as cooked—I’m talking about room or body temperature.
We can blend it with a blender, and we have digestive enzyme supplements
and herbs from all over the world that stimulate what we call the digestive
I used to suffer from weak digestion myself. When I started
on raw foods it became worse at first, but I stuck with it and haven’t
had a problem since. Does it strengthen digestion in the long run?
In the short run, yes, you go through a little toxicity; it may be a
little harder and you have to build up your digestive fire, but in the
long run you get more endurance and increased digestive power. Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) says raw food can cause what they call “spleen
yang deficiency,” which is associated with anemia, less endurance,
decreased digestive power, excess mucus, internal coldness, and poor
immunity. However, they are only looking at the short-term picture.
In the bigger picture, on a live food diet you are detoxing, you’re
going through transition.
Talking of ancient dietary practices, does Ayurveda have anything
to say about raw foods?
In Ayurveda there are three doshas which correspond to different types
of physiology that can go out of balance. We have kapha, which is a
water imbalance. These people tend towards things like congestion, weight
gain and lots of mucus, and a live food diet is superior and should
include spices. Then there are pittas who tend to be overheated, get
angry easily, and may have heart and liver problems. They do really
well on a bland live food diet because it can be very cooling—fruits
especially. Thirdly, there are vattas who tend to get dehydrated, have
trouble with the nervous system, and digestive problems. People say
that a vatta is made worse on live foods but I have found they can thrive
on it; they just need sweeter foods (though not sugar) and creamier,
blended foods and oils; soaked and hydrated nuts and seeds are good.
So, we need to understand what things like Ayurveda and TCM are really
saying and not get caught up in cultural biases. I can say categorically
that anyone who wants to be a vegan or a live foodist will be successful
using my principles.
Another diet I want to mention is the Blood Type diet. Type Os are theoretically
supposed to eat lots of meat. Well, I am type O and I’ve been
100 percent raw since 1983. Yes, it’s possible that type O needs
more protein but you can do that quite adequately on live foods. They
may eat meat and get away with it but they will not have the longevity
of a type O who’s a live fooder. Blood type A must definitely
be vegetarian. But the fact is everyone can be totally successful on
a live food diet regardless of blood type.
So the message is: no matter what your constitution is, you
can thrive on raw foods?
“No matter what your constitution” is the key concept. You
must be conscious and individualize your diet, which is why it’s
called conscious eating. For example, fast oxidizers (who have faster
metabolism) need to eat more frequently and need a higher protein diet;
slow oxidizers need more complex carbohydrates and less protein and
fat. At the Tree of Life we take a few days to first of all figure out
what diet people need—for example, by testing the pH of their
blood to see how they respond to certain foods.
What is a typical day’s diet for you?
I eat a pretty light diet. In the morning I have mainly low-glycemic
fruit and a few nuts. I also have some power foods, maybe a green drink.
For lunch I’ll have a salad with some kind of variation each day.
At the Tree of Life we have a 28-day menu of low-glycemic international
cuisine, so I’ll eat that lunch. For dinner I’ll usually
have some kind of juice, and sometimes a green drink, and that’s
As there would be with any dietary system, there are a number of pitfalls
for new converts to raw foodism. Do you have any tips for anyone interested
in making the transition to raw foods?
The most important thing is to go slowly and peacefully. This is about
peace. One aspect of a vegan diet in general as well as live food is
ahimsa [or nonviolence]. Ahimsa applies to oneself as well, so transition
at a rate that you can handle. And really try to understand your individual
psycho-physiological constitution. I address this in Conscious Eating.
I provide a chart so that people can figure out for themselves if they
are kapha, pitta or vatta, and if they are a fast or slow oxidizer.
If you follow those principles and figure out how to individualize your
diet, you are going to have a high rate of success.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I really think that we are entering a new paradigm of healing the planet
and healing ourselves, and live food is the diet that’s best for
preserving life on Earth—both animal and human life—and
uses the least amount of resources for the survival of all beings. I
believe it’s a diet whose time has come. It’s no accident
that there is a surgence of interest in live foods, because it is time
for people to wake up spiritually, physically and for the healing of
To learn more about Gabriel Cousens and the Tree of Life Rejuvenation
Center in Patagonia Arizona, visit www.TreeofLife.nu
or call (520) 394-2520.