Maintenance – RAW FOOD DIET: Myth or Must?

Eating a “RAW FOOD DIET” has been around for decades, but it seems to have gained more popularity over the recent years. In fact, It seems that eating healthy in general is slowly becoming more and more popular.  I first read about “raw” food in a book called  “Fit for Life; Not fat for Life” by Harvey Diamond.  Food is considered “raw” if it hasn’t been altered through cooking or processing and remains pretty much as it was created by nature.  Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts make up a raw food diet.  While these are all high in nutrients and relatively low in calories, the main idea of eating a raw food diet is for the living enzymes.  Enzymes are living cells that aid in the digestion and absorption of food.  Our bodies are made up of living cells, and those cells are constantly being replenished and duplicated.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “You are what you Eat”.  This takes on a new meaning when you think of living enzymes. Raw foodists believe that you are alive and should only be built with living materials.

These living enzymes found in fruits, vegetables and nuts begin to “die” when food is heated above 106 degrees.  Many people on a raw food diet use a food dehydrator to prepare some of their food.  This allows them to control the temperature, and “cook” their food without killing the living enzymes.  For a while I was really big into getting as much raw food into my diet as possible.  And I still am.  Raw foods are a fantastic way to give your body all of the vitamins and nutrients is needs.  However, after doing a little of my own research, it seems that a completely raw food diet is not the BEST way to accomplish this. 

I came across a article by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live)  ( titled “RAW vs. COOOKED?  Here’s a little of what he had to say:

“The idea that stirs the most enthusiasm for this diet is the contention that cooking both destroys about fifty percent of the nutrients in food, and destroys all or most of the life promoting enzymes. It is true that when food is baked at high temperatures—and especially when it is fried or barbecued—toxic compounds are formed and most important nutrients are lost. Many vitamins are water-soluble, and a significant percent can be lost with cooking, especially overcooking. Similarly, many plant enzymes function as phytochemical nutrients in our body and are useful to maximize health. They, too, can be destroyed by overcooking. However, we cannot paint with this brush of negativity over every form of cooking.

Only small amounts of nutrients are lost with conservative cooking like making a soup, but many more nutrients are made more absorbable. These nutrients would have been lost if those vegetables had been consumed raw. When we heat, soften and moisturize the vegetables and beans we dramatically increase the potential digestibility and absorption of many beneficial and nutritious compounds. We also increase the plant proteins in the diet, especially important for those eating a plant-based diet with limited or no animal products.

In many cases, cooking actually destroys some of the harmful anti-nutrients that bind minerals in the gut and interfere with the utilization of nutrients. Destruction of these anti-nutrients increases absorption. Steaming vegetables and making vegetable soups breaks down cellulose and alters the plants’ cell structures so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. On the other hand, the roasting of nuts and the baking of cereals does reduce availability and absorbability of protein.

When food is steamed or made into a soup, the temperature is fixed at 100 degrees Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit—the temperature of boiling water. This moisture-based cooking prevents food from browning and forming toxic compounds. Acrylamides, the most generally recognized of the heat-created toxins, are not formed with boiling or steaming. They are formed only with dry cooking. Most essential nutrients in vegetables are made more absorbable after being cooked in a soup and water-soluble nutrients are not lost because we eat the liquid portion of the soup too.

Recent studies confirm that the body absorbs much more of the beneficial anti-cancer compounds (carotenoids and phytochemicals—especially lutein and lycopene) from cooked vegetables compared with raw. Scientists speculate that the increase in absorption of antioxidants after cooking may be attributed to the destruction of the cell matrix (connective bands) to which the valuable compounds are bound.

Another fallacy promoted in the raw food movement and on the web is that the fragile heat-sensitive enzymes contained in the plants we eat catalyze chemical reactions that occur in humans and aid in digestion of the food. This is not true. Plant foods do not supply enzymes that aid in their digestion when consumed by animals. Our body supplies exactly the precise amount of enzymes needed for digestion; we are not ill equipped to digest normal food. The plant enzymes are broken down into simpler molecules by our own powerful digestive juices and even those that are absorbed as peptide size pieces (or with some biologic function) do not function to catalyze human functions. So it is not true that eating raw food demands less enzyme production by your body. A healthy body produces the precise amount of enzymes needed to digest the ingested food appropriately and the enzymes our body uses for other processes are unique to our human needs and are not present in plants. We make what we need from the proper materials.

In conclusion, eating lots of raw foods is a feature of a healthy diet. I always encourage people to eat more raw food. One of my common statements is—the salad is the main dish. Raw food is necessary for digestive efficiency, proper peristalsis and normal bowel function. Certain foods, especially fruit, avocado and nuts undergo significant change with cooking and are best eaten raw. Baking, frying, barbecuing and other high heat cooking methods that brown and damage food form acrylamides, which are carcinogenic. Browning and other high heat cooking methods should be avoided. Cooking techniques like steaming vegetables, stewing foods in a pressure cooker and soup making, do not have these drawbacks. They do not brown foods or form acrylamides.

Eating raw food is necessary for good health and is an important feature of a healthy diet. But that does not mean that one’s entire diet has to be raw to be in excellent health. It also does not mean eating an all raw diet is the healthiest way to eat. It is healthier to expand your nutrient density, your absorption of plant protein and your nutrient diversity with the inclusion of some conservatively cooked food in your diet.”

After reading much of his literature, Dr. Fuhrman has won my respect implicitly.  He his a great source of researched knowledge.  There is a lot of confusion going on right now in the food world.  His is a voice of reason, and one that I truly feel I can depend on.  So…while I won’t be steaming any of my green drinks, I will definitely make sure to get some cooked veggies in my system as well!

Source: WFM Blog 16

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