After losing everything, including his marriage, in the dot-com crash of 2001, Brad Gruno moved to Pennsylvania to start a new life. Once there, he discovered the raw food movement, in which devotees consume raw or minimally cooked/processed foods in an effort to get the most nutrition out of the ingredients. Much to his surprise, the raw chips he created became wildly popular, ultimately leading to his own line, Brad’s Raw Foods. In his new book Brad’s Raw Made Easy he offers an approach to raw food that’s one-third educational pep talk and two-thirds instruction and recipes. After making his case for consuming unprocessed, uncooked foods in order to avoid hidden sugars, chemicals, and fats, and sharing case studies of fellow converts, Gruno advises readers to increase their vegetable intake while cutting back on caffeine and drinking lots of smoothies, in addition to “normal” meals. For the committed, Gruno offers a number of recipes to fight palate fatigue (some of which may require more time and planning than anticipated), including: Coconut Yogurt, Cauliflower Popcorn, Burritos, and BBQ Veggie Burgers.
I had the great fortune of being able to chat with Brad to talk about his diet, his kale chips and his new book. Without further ado, here’s Brad…
When did you start following a raw diet? What prompted to make the switch?
I adopted a raw food diet years ago, after my career in the telecommunications industry came to a sudden halt with the dot com crash. When I moved back to my home area of Bucks County, PA, I was at least 40 pounds heavier, depressed because of my recent business failure, and prescribed the drug Lipitor to normalize high cholesterol levels. I then realized that even though I had lost everything I had worked so hard for, I could take back control of my health; how I treated my body was the one thing I actually did have control over. After watching the documentary film Eating, I was inspired to adopt a 100% raw diet for a year, and I literally jumped in head first – which is something that I actually would not recommend! My book will help readers ease into a 100% raw food cleanse and then transition them to a diet that consists of 80% raw food and 20% cooked, healthy options (the lifestyle that I’m currently living right now).
I started to notice a positive change in my body and mood after only a few weeks, but after a few months, I was like a completely different person. I had lost over 40 pounds, lowered my cholesterol levels, and had the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I hadn’t experienced since my mid-20s. I remember my aunt saying to me one day, “Brad, your skin is glowing!” Once I knew my body was capable of feeling that good, there was no way I was going back to my old eating habits and lifestyle.
When people learn that you are a raw foodist, what is the #1 question they ask and what is your response?
I think some people have this idea that eating raw food is incredibly restrictive, limiting and complicated and I love proving that theory wrong! I don’t think this diet is restrictive or complicated at all, and there are so many amazing recipes you can make from raw food. Also, having the goal of living an 80/20 lifestyle gives you the perfect amount of flexibility and balance to really succeed.
Brad’s Raw Made Easy is a complete guide to living an 80/20 lifestyle. It takes the reader through a complete 60-day cleanse – 30 of those days being 100% raw. After completing the 60 days, the reader is completely ready and prepared to live a healthy lifestyle consisting of 80% raw foods and 20% cooked, healthy options.
It was really the outpouring of questions and interest from other people that inspired me to write a book. From traveling around the world and connecting with people to spread the word and mission about Brad’s Raw Foods, I had so many people approach/write/email/etc. asking how I was able to turn around my health and what my secret was. I was just a regular guy – not someone who had been overly exposed to the health and fitness industry my whole life – and that really seemed to resonate with people. I think it’s encouraging and motivating for people to know that you really can change your life and lifestyle at any age. I wrote this book for all of the regular people like me who think that it’s too hard to make drastic changes to his or her eating habits. I truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can do it, and “Brad’s Raw Made Easy” will show him or her the way.
I also understand that sometimes books about changing your lifestyle can be difficult and intimidating. I wanted to make this book for mainstream America. I made the recipes so simple anyone with a home blender can make them. From reading my book, I hope that readers will realize that 1) it’s never too late to turn around your health or your life, and 2) eating a clean and healthy diet is much easier than most people think 3) once you start, the benefits are amazing!
What motivated you to start your company Brad’s Raw Foods?
After adopting a 100% raw diet, I was completely happy and invested in my new way of eating, but did miss the familiar crunch of traditional American snack food. I started experimenting with raw chips made from fresh vegetables, sprouted flax seeds, fruit nuts, buckwheat groats and array of spices. I dehydrated the chips below 115 degrees so that I wouldn’t break my commitment to a raw diet. My snacks were met with a lot of enthusiasm from my family and friends, and because of my entrepreneurial spirit and tendencies, I quickly realized the commercial appeal they could have. I ran demos at local farmers markets, and further enthusiasm validated the notion that my product had real potential. After a lot of work and persistence, local health food stores and regional Whole Foods Markets began carrying Brad’s Raw Chips. Since then, my company has been in a constant state of upward growth and expansion, and my varying product lines are sold in specialty retailers and established grocers all throughout the country.
Kale chips seem to be more popular than ever. Do you think it’s a fad or are they here to stay?
I don’t think it’s a fad, and I definitely think kale chips are here to stay. We live in an incredibly overweight and unhealthy society where so many people are overfed yet undernourished. I think in recent years there has definitely been a strong movement of people – young and old – who want to redefine the way our country thinks and relates to food. There’s been a strong push towards eating real, whole foods and somehow kale has become the trendy face of this movement. In order to eat a clean diet, a lot of people are going back to the basics and thinking about food in its natural and purest form, so it makes sense that adopting a high raw diet and products like kale chips have become so popular
What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in a raw diet but thinks it might be too difficult to follow or too restrictive?
I would say that I’m living proof that it’s not too extreme or too difficult to navigate. I was a meat and potatoes guy who didn’t know the first thing about a raw food lifestyle or just healthier eating in general, and I was able to do it and learn along the way. I honestly believe that if I can do it, then anyone can do it. Try adopting the mentality to incorporate MORE into your diet, as opposed to thinking of it as LESS. Eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. on a daily basis and the more good stuff you add, the less you’ll even want the bad stuff. I think when you start thinking about it more in terms of addition and not subtraction you’re already setting yourself up for success. There’s none of the guilt or beating yourself up when you do indulge or eat something that you maybe shouldn’t have – just focus on continuing to eat more “good” things.
I love starting my day with a green smoothie. It is seriously the easiest thing you can make. Throw some leafy greens (kale is a favorite of course), fruit, nuts, and maybe some other veggies into a blender with water, and you’re good to go. I usually make a full pitcher in the morning and that will last me all morning until lunchtime. Another thing I do is keep fruits and veggies washed and stored in ready-to-eat containers so that they’re easy to grab on the go. I’m a big fan of big salads loaded with veggies for lunch and/or dinner with my signature cashew dressing, called “Brad’s House Dressing” in the book. I also always like to keep some small bags of raw nuts and seeds with me – the fatty proteins are great for holding me over until my next meal. Of course I always have a stock of Brad’s Raw Crunchy Kale and Brad’s Raw Chips on me for some healthy snacking too.
What is your favorite healthy indulgence?
Some of my favorite healthy “sweet” treats that are featured in the book include Mayan Truffles, Lime Coconut Cheesecake, and a Chocolate Mousse Pie – all made with nothing but good stuff. I swear these recipes taste like they should be bad for you, but they’re actually incredibly good for you and will make you feel better, not worse. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Author photo by Shekinah Rae