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Why a raw food diet? Think again...

n Part I of this article about the raw food diet, I shared about how drinking carrot juice and eating raw food cured my severe sinusitis - and how I subsequently developed other problems like skin rashes and asthma.

Yet I continued with a raw food diet for quite a while... because I was tiotally convinced by the arguments put forward by raw food advocates:

To those who do not know better, these arguments are totally convincing. It took me many years to figure out that there are some serious flaws to these arguments.

Apart from the problems I encountered, others who follow a raw food diet for an extended period of time may experience:

Given these and other problems, we need to seriously re-consider the idea that eating raw foods is healthy.

Raw food 'nutrition'

Advocates of a raw food diet say that cooking destroys nutrients and so raw foods are more nutritious. This is simply NOT TRUE. Except for a few vitamins, most nutrients remain intact when food is cooked.

Vitamin C is the best-known nutrient that gets destroyed by heat. But we need to look at this in perspective:

Vitamin B1, B5 and B9 are among the few other heat-sensitive vitamins. In fact, vitamin B1 is the most heat-sensitive of all vitamins, more so that vitamin C. Even then, cooking might destroy up to 50 percent of vitamin B1. BUT... that's not the end of the story!

Nutrition from cooking

Whole grains, beans and legumes are among the important sources of B vitamins, including vitamins B1, B5 and B9 that are sensitive to heat. Yet these are the very foods that cannot be eaten raw! Raw food diet advocates will argue that we should not be eating such foods anyway. Instead, they recommend that we eat raw sprouted grains and raw sprouted beans.

The net effect of cooking grains and beans, however, is an overall increase in nutrition - not a decrease. Although cooking destroys some of the B vitamins, cooking improves digestion and makes other nutrients - protein, carbohydrates and minerals - more readily available to the body.

So the net effect is that we get more nutrition from eating cooked grains and beans, not less. This applies even when we eat pressure cooked grains and beans, which is recommended in a macrobiotic diet. Pressure cooking involves cooking at a higher temperature compared to, say, boiling. And some people worry that more nutrients would be lost through pressure cooking. In reality, more nutrition is gained!

Nutrition is not just about vitamins. And this is where proponents of a raw food diet have got their focus wrong. They focus on vitamins and enzymes - and in the process lose tract of the "Big Picture".

Beyond vitamins

Vitamins are not even the most important nutrients.

Most important are the macro nutrients - protein, carbohydrates, oil and water - that we need daily as food. Without enough of these nutrients, we will look like famine victims; we may die. These macro nutrients are either not destroyed by cooking, or made more readily available as a result of cooking.

Vitamins play a more supportive role in ensuring that our bodies function smoothly and remain free from illness. And only a few vitamins get partially destroyed by cooking. Most vitamins remain intact. Minerals play an equally - or possibly more - important role than vitamins. And minerals, too, are not destroyed by cooking.

Another major class of nutrients are the phytonutrients or "plant nutrients" which have powerful antioxidant properties that keep us healthy and prevent degenerative diseases. There are tens of thousands of different phytonutrients and scientists have only started to understand them in the past 20 to 30 years.

The latest scientific research on phytonutrients lend further support to the importance of cooking - and the mistake of eating a raw food diet. Researchers have found that cooked carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini and several other vegetables have higher antioxidant levels compared to raw vegetables.

These are antioxidants that protect against cancer, heart disease and other serious ailments. In many cases, cooked vegetables were found to have between 30 and several hundred percent higher antioxidant activity compared to raw vegetables.

Meanwhile, there is something else destroyed by cooking, which raw food diet proponents ignore - the "anti-nutrients". These are substances that block or reduce the body's absorption of certain nutrients. By destroying these anti-nutrients, cooking provides more nutrition from the food we eat!

What about enzymes? Yes enzymes are important for health and enzymes are destroyed by heat. But it is again NOT TRUE that the enzymes found in raw vegetables and fruits are necessary and beneficial to human health. We take a closer look at the issue of enzymes in Part II of this article on the raw food diet.

For now, we look at another outrageous claim of those who advocate a raw food diet - that...

'Cooking is harmful' - really?

According to raw food diet advocates, cooking is harmful to health. They say cooking makes food "dead" and that "dead food" cannot support life. They blame cooked food for all the many health problems that people face today.

Well, some forms of cooking and food processing are certainly harmful to health. These include:

It is a different matter, however, to claim that ALL forms of cooking are harmful to health. Humans have been eating cooked food for more than 10,000 years, possibly as long as 20,000 years. If, indeed, cooking is harmful, the human race could not have survived on "harmful foods" for such a long time.

Rather than being harmful, eating cooked foods has led to the rise of modern civlization. This is a mystery that we may not fully understand, but it is believed that switching from a raw food diet to a cooked food diet led to jaw and facial structure of humans, eventually leading to the development of a bigger brain and greater intelligence.

The current epidemic of degenerative diseases started less than 100 years ago. It is a relatively new phenomena. Cooking is not the problem. And a raw food diet is not the solution.

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