At first a raw food diet sounds like the simplest and easiest one to follow. Just wash, cut, and eat! No time spent hunting for recipes and no time spent cooking. Proponents of this diet claim that cooking kills valuable nutrients and enzymes in the food. But is it so easy on the body also?
Raw Food And Effect On Digestion
While it is correct that fruits and vegetables contain natural enzymes that aid in digestion, eating only raw food can also cause a strain on the digestive system. Traditional Chinese medicine contends that human stomachs are not built to break down the high level of fibers present in raw foods.1 Unlike a cow, which actually has an extra stomach to break down the tough plants it eats, we are putting undue pressure on our digestive system when the food is uncooked, they say. The body is unable to digest so much raw food, leading to bloating and poor absorption of the nutrients. Cold raw food is seen as weakening the digestive system rather than helping create a healthier body.
Pros And Cons
A raw food diet is primarily a vegetarian diet. It certainly does have its benefits. The higher glycoside levels in raw food boost the immune system and even lower blood pressure and sugar. Studies show that following a very strict raw food diet reduces total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.2 A high fiber diet can work wonders on the skin and aid in weight loss too given that all the fatty, oily, and sugary foods are out!
Yet raw food diets are not the panacea for all evils. They come with some riders. One study found increased incidence of dental cavities in people who followed a raw food diet.3 Significant consumption of citrus fruits and vegetables takes its toll. The same study that found a decrease in cholesterol with raw foods conceded that such a diet has one effect common to most pure vegetarian diets – a vitamin B-12 deficiency.4 In addition, not cooking foods allows food-borne pathogens to stay intact and can result in serious illness. Raw eggs, for instance, can carry salmonella bacteria. A study of minimally processed vegetables, typically ones we use to toss a salad, was found to have poor microbiological quality and could be carriers of salmonella and listeria.5 Thorough washing and cleaning of raw fruits and vegetables is essential before you eat them.
What’s The Ideal Mix?
Raw food diet followers would recommend an ideal mix of food that is 75% raw and 25% cooked. Meat, fish, and eggs can be cooked to help in digestion while vegetables can be steamed lightly to soften them and draw out the flavor. Raw fruits and nuts are always a great source of fiber and vitamins. A healthy salad meal could be filled with lots of non-starch vegetables, low-fat dressing like vinegar or lemon, lean proteins (grilled, steamed or baked) and a sprinkle of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and similar high-calorie toppings. This can help ensure a balanced diet that works for the whole body.
|↑1||Flaws, Bob. Keeping Your Children Healthy with Chinese Medicine: A Parent’s Guide to the Care and Prevention of Common Childhood Diseases. Blue Poppy Enterprises, Inc., 1996.|
|↑2, ↑4||Koebnick, Corinna, Ada L. Garcia, Pieter C. Dagnelie, Carola Strassner, Jan Lindemans, Norbert Katz, Claus Leitzmann, and Ingrid Hoffmann. “Long-term consumption of a raw food diet is associated with favorable serum LDL cholesterol and triglycerides but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol in humans.” The Journal of nutrition 135, no. 10 (2005): 2372-2378.|
|↑3||Ganss, C., M. Schlechtriemen, and J. Klimek. “Dental erosions in subjects living on a raw food diet.” Caries research 33, no. 1 (1999): 74-80.|
|↑5||Fröder, Hans, Cecilia Geraldes Martins, Katia Leani Oliveira de Souza, Mariza Landgraf, Bernadette DGM Franco, and Maria Teresa Destro. “Minimally processed vegetable salads: microbial quality evaluation.” Journal of Food Protection® 70, no. 5 (2007): 1277-1280.|