Raw Food Health
So many ‘experts’ talk about raw food health benefits.
But does eating raw food really make you healthier?
And does healthy cooking have a place in your diet?
Find out on this page.
Let’s start by defining raw food.
Then, I’ll compare raw food health benefits and hazards, then we’ll look at how cooking can actually boost the nutritional value.
That’s right – cooking can boost the
nutritional value of food.
The true definition of raw food is simply ‘uncooked food’. But raw food can also used to describe unprocessed, untreated and organic raw food and also,
Depending on the foods you choose, raw food can be rich in:
• Minerals and
A raw food diet weight loss plan might work if you’re cutting calories slightly and substituting junk food and processed food with raw foods). Examples of how raw food can help with weight loss are:
• Eating fewer calories and eating foods of high nutritional value
• Replacing most of the grains and cereals in your diet with lots of raw leafy greens
• Replacing fatty, salty and sugary snacks with crunchy raw vegetables and bean dip
• Replacing caffeinated drinks and alcohol with water and a little lemon juice
• Replacing breakfast with a green smoothie
• Use vegetable juices as energy-boosting snacks
There are numerous websites explaining how to do all this – these are just examples.
It all sound great, doesn’t it? But are raw foods all they’re cracked up to be?
Before starting a raw food diet plan, consider the following health precautions.
Raw food health precautions
There can be two main problems with raw food:
1. Raw foods and digestive problems/diseases
These days, many people suffer from a range of digestive problems, from minor symptoms to full blown disease. And that means more health problems like:
• Your body can’t extract nutrients from food properly – raw or cooked
• Nutrient deficiencies or chronic absorption problems and eventually, deficiency diseases
• Trouble digesting raw foods (the food molecules are larger) and are tough on your digestive system
• Worsening of symptoms. A serious disease like Crohn’s disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) might be aggravated by eating some raw foods, particularly those prone to fermentation (FODMAPS), which may be included in raw food diet plans
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In the meantime, lightly cook the fibre-rich and starchier foods in your diet to make them more digestible.
Aside from that, there are many other good reasons to
cook some foods.
2. Raw food health and safety precautions
Some foods definitely need heating to:
• Destroy harmful microbes in the food
e.g. Salmonella in meat or raw eggs
• Destroy natural toxins or chemicals in the food that can cause allergenic reactions and food intolerances (1)
e.g. lectin glycoproteins in legumes (disrupts cellular metabolism)
e.g. phytic acid in grains (blocks the absorption of iron and zinc in the grain)
e.g. proteins in raw eggs which can block iron and biotin absorption
• Alter the properties of part a food so you can get more nutritional value (1, 2)
e.g. the nutritional value of eggs is increased by cooking. A protein in raw egg white prevents the absorption of biotin in the yolk, but cooking disables this protein. Biotin is needed for metabolism of sugar and fat and for skin health.
• Make the food easier to digest and therefore easier on your body (2)
• Make the nutrients in food more digestible and even more bioavailable compared to raw foods. Yes, that’s right, the right cooking method can increase antioxidant activity in some foods (1, 2, 3).
From what you’ve seen so far, it’s clear that when it comes to starting a diet based on raw food, health considerations are an important starting point. Specifically, it's important to get a balance of both raw food and cooked food.
Let’s explore those two things a little more.
A list of raw foods in a typical raw food health diet may include any of the following:
• Seeds (including sprouted whole grains)
• Fish (sashimi)
• Some meats
• Raw milk and cheese
However, as stated above, it may be better to lightly cook some of the foods in this raw food list to improve their safety, digestion and nutritional value.
Just to restate the facts, foods that may need to be cooked for one or more of these reasons include fresh and dried legumes, some vegetables (spinach, brassica family – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale), eggs, whole grains and meats.
With digestive deficiencies being so common, it’s important to make heat food just enough to improve digestibility but still maintain the nutritional value of food.
Light cooking methods, where heat is applied for a short period (2 – 5 minutes), are the best for retaining or even boosting the nutritional value of food. Healthy cooking methods include steaming, sautéing and blanching using pans made of stable materials such as stainless steel or cast iron.
Avoid microwave cooking if you can!
Cooking the right way is usually fine. But if you overcook a food (too much heat/pressure) e.g. microwave cooking, you may reduce raw food health benefits by:
• Destroying water-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin C) (3)
• Altering the structure of fats (e.g. create trans fats by reusing and reheating plant oils)
• Creating carcinogens and mutagens that can cause cancer, heart disease and other problems.
It’s plain to see that there’s a lot more to raw food health benefits and cooking foods than meets the eye.
What's the moral of the story? Do your research before you start following a raw food diet plan.
(1) Worlds Healthiest Foods www.whfoods.org
(2) ABC Science www.abc.net.au/science/articles
(3) Wachtel-Galor, S, Wing Wong, K, Benzie, IFF (2007). The effect of cooking on Brassica vegetables. Food Chemistry 110 (3), 706 – 710.