all current popular diets, from the Blood Type, South
Beach, Macrobiotic, Atkins and Raw Food, none seem to
be more rife with idealism and extreme dogmatism as
the Raw Foodists. Well, maybe some hard-core macrobiotics
might tend to get carried away, but in every ideology
you're bound to find idealism. This article will attempt
to add practical reality to many raw food claims, not
for the purpose of devaluing it, but to offer a balanced
view of its merits, as well as its fallacies.
Practical logic dictates that we should eat what seems
more agreeable and in a form that lends itself to comfortable
digestion. Since the advent of fire, when someone perhaps
threw a carcass into a fire and discovered that the
meat tasted better and provided additional warmth, we've
applied heat to our foods as an extension of digestion.
Obviously, some foods, such as raw beans, raw rhubarb,
squash or raw rice are better when cooked.
To someone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), raw
food might be n invitation to pain, since foods that
have not had their roughage softened by the element
of heat can create digestive discomfort in some with
compromised conditions. For someone anemic, liberating
the nutrition from deep within the vegetable cellulose
fibers requires heat. Without this measurement, raw
food, over a period of time, could be one of the causes
of vitamin deficiency. Older individuals often find
raw food equally irritating, so the one-size fits-all
paradigm of salad recommendations doesn't apply across
On the other hand, foods that are heavily fried, broiled
or intensely salted, are best avoided. Dietary styles
of cooking should be varied for textural appetite as
well as more effective nutritional absorption. Vegetables
can be added to soups, or stews; they can be broiled,
steamed, quick boiled (blanched), water-fried (an Asians
culinary technique), pressed, sautee'd , or finely chopped
raw, for maximized digestion.
Bugs Bunny Never Knew
Researchers1 at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville
heated carrots with and without the skin and then stored
them at 40 degrees centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit)
for 4 weeks, measuring antioxidant levels and comparing
them with the levels found in raw carrots. They found
that the antioxidant levels in carrots that were cooked
and pureed was more than three-times higher than levels
measured in the raw varieties.
Antioxidant levels had increased by more than 34% immediately
after cooking. They theorized that heating softened
the carrot external tissue, allowing phenolics attached
o the cell wall to be released. They also found that
keeping the outer skin on the carrots also boosted antioxidant
The study's lead author, Luke Howard, told Reuters
Health that, "Many consumers think that fresh vegetables
are always superior in nutritional quality than processed
vegetables, but this does not appear to be true, particularly
Myth of Lost Nutrients
Recently, a team of five researchers from two universities,
Anapoli and Parma, studied what happened2 to the nutritional
content of carrots, broccoli and zucchini (known as
courgettes in Britian) when the foods were steamed,
boiled or fried. It was found that cooking these vegetables
with water, steaming or boiling them, retains their
antioxidants better than frying as a cooking style.
Steaming broccoli increases its glucosinalates, which
may help fight cancer, compared with consuming raw broccoli.
All three ways of cooking were responsible for increased
antioxidant levels. The researchers theorized that this
due to the "softening of the vegetable cell matrix
where valuable nutritional compounds are bound."
Unfortunately, sloppy science prevails in the raw-food
movement. The more extreme advocates for a raw diet
mistakenly conclude, and in black and white tones, that
all cooked foods are bad. This is simply, not true.
It is true that food cooked at extremely high temperatures,
especially when it's fried or barbecued, form toxic
compounds while many nutrients diminish.
Overcooking can also reduce some of the important water-soluble
vitamins (vitamin c and b-complex groups) that we require
on a daily basis.
And, it's equally true that some enzymes which function
as phytochemical nutrients in our body can be easily
destroyed by overcooking. However, cooking in many cases
of food preparation, is required for better absorption
and to meet human nutritional needs.
Minimal amounts of nutrients are reduced by common
forms of cooking such as in the making of soup. In fact,
some nutrients are made more absorbable. These nutrients
would have been absent if the vegetables had been eaten
raw. Cooking can actually destroy some of the harmful
anti-nutrients that bind intestinal minerals and block
the utilization of nutrients.
The very destruction of these anti-nutrients actually
increases digestive absorption. Some forms of cooking
such as steaming breaks down the cellulose off the plant
fibers, altering the plants cell structures so less
of your own gut enzymes are required to digest the food,
instead of more. Conversely, roasting nuts and baking
cereals reduces the availability and absorbability of
The traditional act of cooking also significantly improves
the digestibility/bioavailability of starchy foods such
as tubers (potatoes, yams, etc.), squashes, grains,
and legumes through the process of gelatinization.
Acrylamides. The word alone even sounds toxic. If you
love fried, deep-fried, baked, grilled or barbequed
foods, especially French fries, potato chips, cookies,
breakfast cereals, breads and other high processed foods,
such as coffee, roasted almonds and grain-based coffee
substitutes, then listen up: It is toxic!
This form of extreme cooking can be harmful, depending
on your volume. Acrylamides are a chemical that forms
in certain foods, particularly plant-based ones that
are rich in carbohydrates and low in protein, during
processing or cooking at high temperatures. They are
known to cause cancer in animals and were discovered
in high starch foods by the Swedish National Food Authority
Food that is steamed or made as soup, requires a fixed
temperature fixed of 100 degrees Celsius (or 212 Fahrenheit),
as a minimum to boil water. Such moisture-based cooking
keeps food from browning and forming toxic compounds
that are now known as, Acrylamides.
Acrylamides have been known to cause genetic mutations,
leading to a wide range of cancers in lab animals, including
breast cancer and uterine cancer. Most acrylamide in
food is formed when a natural amino acid called asparagine
reacts with certain naturally occurring sugars such
as glucose. However, this only occurs when the cooking
temperature is sufficiently high, a temperature which
varies depending on the properties of the product and
the method of cooking.
These rock stars of heat-inspired toxins, are not simply
formed with steaming or quick boiling. They are specifically
formed with dry cooking, such as baking, grilling or
barbequing, as well as high heat deep-ftying.
Loss Just Ain't So
A dubious contention from hard-core raw food propaganda
centers on the need for Enzymes and the claim that cooking
heat destroys valuable enzymes. The fallacy that's promoted
here is that the fragile heat-sensitive enzymes held
within the plants we consume catalyze chemical reactions
that occur in humans and aid in the food digestion.
However, this is simply not true.
It is well known that plant foods do not supply enzymes
that aid in their digestion when consumed by animals.
Cooking sometimes alters the plant cell structure so
that the nutrients become more accessible to our own
body's digestive enzymes (such as by gelatinizing starch),
or destroys anti-amylases or anti-proteases. As a result,
in many cases, cooked food actually requires less enzymes
for digestion than raw food.
The raw food notion that our body has a limited enzyme
potential and therefore requires a large part of our
diets to be uncooked, is, according to much research,
idealistic fiction. Digestive enzymes in food are exactly
how they're described: a supportive step for digestion.
Naturally, enzymes can help, whether they're inside
or outside the body.
Examples of enzymes activity occurring outside the body
are the ripening of fruits, sprouting of grains, seeds,
pickling, or the aging of meat. These are forms of external
food processing that numerous cultures have practiced
for thousands of years to naturally improve digestion.
Cooking can be considered the final act of digestion
in this regard.
Hallmark of True Health
As the axiom goes, all extremes are toxic, which is
why the hallmark of health has always been moderation--especially
when it comes to cooking.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of
view, cooking is an extension of digestion, allowing
us to take large amounts of food and through a variety
of mild cooking styles, condensing this matter into
concentrated nutrition. Cooking also provides us with
travel adaptability, provides warmth in colder climates
and by raw preparations, offers an internal coolness
for balancing warmer climates. In fact, this is a natural
progression of food preparation climatically throughout
Often, people who have eaten large volumes of animal
protein in the past and who have had a reliance on excessive
cooked and fast foods, do quite well including a large
part of their vegetable diet as raw, as they reduce
meats, fats and sugars. This, in its own extreme scenario,
is a form of balance-at least temporarily.
Conversely, I've seen a number of raw food clients
who were either anemic, listless, suffered from poor
sleep and loss of libido, suddenly do very well by including
a bit of animal protein and/or more cooked foods.
Which prompts the assumption that the hallmark of health
is indeed, moderation. Some raw, well chewed vegetable
dishes can enhance the diet palate of almost any healthy
individual, while those that might feel weak from a
more raw approach should do well to include increasing
amounts of a variety of cooked food.
When 'My Way Or The Highway' Keeps You Stranded
Just as there is no one degenerative condition that
we all suffer, there seems to be no one exact way of
eating that is universally recommended for everyone.
Even the notion of such an idea smack of idealism. Granted,
in the last 10,000 years, we've include whole grains
into our diets, along with concentrates of oil, sugar
and animal protein.
If you're a conscientious adult whole foods chances
are you ate cartoon character cold box cereals for breakfast
that were loaded with sugar, had milk and cookies before
bed, and chased the ice cream truck down heat sizzling
streets in the summer. Think about what you ate that
passed for food, then. So, our human design is not only
very forgiving, it's adaptable. But, sometimes, this
Some people have a tolerance for ample portions of
whole grain, others cannot assimilate large volumes
of whole grain. Some research that is going in this
direction points a finger to numerous acids held within
the covering of brown rice. Some of these acids can
be reduced with soaking, including salt in the cooking
and thorough chewing, however, not all. So, sometimes
initial recommendations for whole grain need to be individualized
and offered in a gradient amount.
Same for vegetable styles of cooking. Ultimately cooking
styles help us balance our food groups, adding textural,
taste and color variety. However, the final arbitrator
is your experience, and not your theory-no matter how
good it sounds.
Go ahead, eat that raw burdock root
During the past thirty-five years,
Verne Varona's lectures, workshops and media appearances
have motivated thousands of people to take better and
more conscious care of their health. His book, "Nature's
Cancer-Fighting-Foods," published in June 2001,
(Penguin Books), is currently in its tenth printing
and is used as a text-book in a number of academic health
and wellness institutions
You may also be intrested to read:
Or, How I Learned to Lighten Up by Squeezing A Few Vegetables