Raw Food Diet

by Missy
(California, USA)

Missy's question...

I have a friend that is on a raw food diet? Do you think this is a healthy way to eat? My friend says that it is better for you than eating cooked foods. I am not sure what to think about it.

Suzy's answer...

Hi, Missy,
You are not the only one who is wondering about the trendy raw food diet. There are websites and e-zines and books popping up all over that are discussing, even promoting this way of eating.

Standard American Diet is sad

While I understand that the popularity of the raw food diet movement is most likely in response to the proliferation of fast food, junk food, processed food and other generally unhealthy aspects of the standard American diet, I’m afraid that going totally raw may be taking a good thing too far. We have definitely moved away from eating foods in their natural state and towards a diet consisting of engineered pseudo-foods that are conceived in food chemistry labs rather than in our gardens, but there are still some very good reasons to include at least some cooked foods in your diet.

Raw is not always better

Although there is no question that eating fresh, whole foods as opposed to processed foods is a good thing, cooking food can sometimes enhance its nutritional value and digestibility. For instance, you shouldn't eat raw potatoes because the raw starch is mostly indigestible--same with raw sweet potatoes or yams and winter squash. However, when cooked, these vegetables form part of a healthy diet, providing vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients in a tasty form that your body can use.

In addition, cooking some vegetables, such as tomatoes, actually makes them more nutritious. You may have heard of a substance called lycopene which is a phytonutrient that may help prevent against prostate, stomach and esophageal cancers as well as vision loss. Cooking tomatoes makes the lycopene available to your body in a way that raw tomatoes do not provide. Cooking vegetables lightly makes them easier to digest and allows your body to extract the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Of course, it is a good idea to eat fruits raw and vegetables either raw or lightly cooked, when possible. You can also sprout grains and legumes as one way to include them in your diet, but handle the sprouts carefully, because they can spoil easily and make you sick.

Rationale for eating strictly raw food

One of the reasons that raw food diet enthusiasts believe in this approach to healthy eating, is that they are convinced that raw foods have beneficial enzymes that are destroyed by cooking. My research suggests that these enzymes are actually destroyed by the HCL in your stomach during digestion, so this rationale may be of limited usefulness.

As long as it’s not white bread!

Whole grain bread has been the basic food of the human diet since ancient times. If made properly, with whole grains, even sprouted grains, it can be a nutritious addition to your healthy eating plan. Other cooked grains, including brown rice, quinoa, oats and barley can also enhance your meals with flavor and nutrition.

No raw meat, please

I am assuming that if you are considering a raw diet, that it would not include raw meat or eggs. It is never recommended that you eat meat or eggs raw, since cooking these foods will kill many of the microorganisms that could make you sick, plus cooking makes the protein more digestible.

What about protein?

Even though a vegetarian or even vegan diet can provide enough protein, if done carefully, you may find that taking it one step further with a strictly raw food diet will make it more difficult to find the protein you need. Legumes and grains are important sources of protein for those pursuing a meatless lifestyle.

Cooking can be gentler on your digestive system.

One more thing to consider when considering the raw food diet is that it just may not agree with you. Many people have digestive systems that cannot handle too much raw food. Fiber is a good thing, but you can get too much of a good thing. If you eat too much fiber, your digestive tract can become irritated and the increased gastrointestinal motility may not allow your body time to absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat.

Eating is one of the great pleasures in life.

Finally, the social implications of pursuing a strictly raw food diet are something else you should consider. Eating out, whether at a restaurant or a in a private home, will be more of a challenge. Most meals include at least some cooked food, even in the healthiest venues.
While I am a firm believer in eating healthy, mealtimes should be a pleasure that can be shared with friends and family, not something that isolates you from others or forces you to always be the odd man out! There are few things in life more enjoyable than a well-prepared meal shared with those you love.

I hope this helps, and that you will consider carefully before making drastic changes to your diet. If you want to eat healthier, try eating fewer processed foods and include foods from all of the food groups—some raw, some cooked—in your daily menu plans.

Thanks for visiting our healthy eating website!

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

Suzy Staywell

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