By Carol Crenna
Are you considering kicking the cooked food habit, like a growing number of North Americans?
RAW! RAW! RAW!
Rejecting your grandparent’s cooking traditions is not meant to be fanaticism, but a turn away from the denatured, overly cooked fare that threatens our culture. It’s about providing the body with the nutrients it needs from whole, fresh vegetables picked from the garden, rather than trying to get them from processed pasta with limp grey veggies covered in sauce.
Raw foodists promote that it alleviates chronic health problems, improves digestion, reduces allergies, increases energy, lessens PMS and menopausal symptoms, and may heal the very ill.
IS RAW BETTER THAN COOKED?
Yes. And no. Some experts say it’s debatable. Cooking destroys 10 to 25 per cent of vitamins; lighter cooking results in fewer losses. For example, 100 grams of broccoli has 93 milligrams of vitamin C when raw, and 75 milligrams boiled, 71 micrograms of folic acid raw, and 50 micrograms boiled.
There are exceptions such as tomatoes which increase nutrients after cooking; and nutrients in potatoes, legumes and grains are easier absorbed after slight cooking. Research shows that cooked beans, for example, are two to 12 times more readily digested, depending on preparation, than when soaked or sprouted. Proper preparation is the key.
Sprouting, another possibility, changes nutrient amounts – sprouting dehydrated grains increases protein and vitamin content, but sprouting fresh grains decreases them. Other raw food techniques such as fermentation and pickling improve digestibility.
Only tiny amounts of minerals are lost in cooking, but are leached into water if boiled, so steaming or low-temperature stirfrying is better. (The claim that minerals are converted to an inorganic form by cooking which can’t be absorbed isn’t true. The human body has both organic minerals, like iron, and inorganic ones, like salt; and the body can use inorganic minerals, like iron from cooking pots.)
Eating some cooked foods increases mineral intake by helping you get the high volume of food you require for adequate minerals. Green vegetables are an excellent source of minerals, for example, but few are able to chew and swallow one pound of raw broccoli every day for adequate amounts. (Mountain gorillas spend 40 per cent of the day chewing.)
ENZYMES FOR ENERGY
Raw foodists also promote that enzymes in raw food carry the “life force,” which can be transferred to the body, enhancing vitality and longevity. You only need to examine food before and after cooking to believe this.
Enzymes in raw foods, which are destroyed by cooking, are important to digestion, and raw foodists believe that lacking them forces the body to produce more of its own enzymes. There’s no question that food enzymes aid digestion — anyone taking nutritional enzyme supplements will attest to that.
Research is mixed on whether cooking demands more enzyme production by the body. Since 90 per cent of nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, digestion there relies on bile and pancreatic enzymes because most food enzymes are destroyed in the stomach prior to reaching the intestines.
But you may not get all available nutrients from foods before they’re eliminated (through your colon, I mean) without those initial food enzymes breaking food down.
TOSS THIS AROUND.
A study confirms that people who eat salads and raw vegetables have more nutrients in their bloodstream, and increased chances of meeting recommended daily nutrient amounts.
Researchers at University of California analyzed raw vegetable intake of 9,400 women and 8,200 men. People who ate more salads and raw vegetables had higher blood levels of folic acid, vitamins C and E, lycopene, alpha and beta carotene.
COOKING CAN CAUSE ANTINUTRIENTS
Raw food not only gives more of what we should be eating, it avoids what we shouldn’t.
While cooking destroys antinutrients so that certain foods previously toxic become edible, research shows that it can also do the opposite. There’s a direct link between acrylamide – produced in roasted, fried or baked food (especially potatoes and bread) and uterine and ovarian cancer.
The University of Maastricht found that women who consumed 40 micrograms of acrylamide a day (the same as in a small bag of chips) had double the risk of cancer than women who didn’t. Cooking also often leaves toxins undestroyed, and the result of cooking is that you eat more of that food than if it were raw. For example, there are several antinutrients in grains including phytates which deplete the body of minerals.
WHAT ARE OUR BODIES BUILT FOR?
Raw originally, but then partly cooked — research about when ancient hunting-gathering humans started cooking varies from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Many aboriginal tribes have cooked for millennia because conditions of living off the land (even in tropics) provided limited amounts of edible raw plants but abundant roots/tubers to get the energy they required.
And we modern hunter-gatherers may be too busy to find and eat the needed amounts of raw to fulfill requirements. What do I mean?
WANT TO AVOID TIME IN THE KITCHEN?
While you might jump at the chance to not have to cook meals, eating raw doesn’t mean less prep work. Ask any raw foodie, and they will tell you that preparing a raw meal takes just as much time as cooking one; I’m not talking about throwing together a salad, but preparing gourmet wonders like raw lasagna or raw pad Thai.
WEIGHT LOSS ON RAW
You’ll pack the most fat-fighting nutrients into the least amount of calories by eating vegetables raw. There are only 20 calories in a tomato, 10 in a cup of spinach, 15 in an 8-inch cucumber, 20 in a 4-ounce serving of green beans, 22 in 4 ounces of carrots, 18 in a cup of mushrooms, 26 in a cup of eggplant, and 15 in a 4-ounce serving of broccoli. That’s a lot of food for 140 calories!
Raw vegetables have lots of fiber and water which help to make you feel satiated (full). And they burn more calories during digestion to help you to lose weight.
GLYCEMIC INDEX AND RAW
You probably know that glycemic index diets promote that foods which keep blood sugar levels steady make it easier to lose weight. They are often based on broad assumptions, black-listing all high glycemic – high sugar content – foods. They also usually make little distinction between healthy ones, like carrots and fruit that are full of life-giving nutrients, and unhealthy ones like processed pasta and sugar.
What does this have to do with raw food?
These diets often don’t discuss the difference between cooked and raw foods; cooked carrots, for example, have different amounts of available fiber and enzymes so are absorbed differently than raw ones. The fiber in raw fruits and veggies makes the available glycemic amounts low because we don’t digest and absorb the sugars easily when fiber is present. It is overly cooked and/or processed foods that have highly available glycemic amounts.
If you don’t have year round access to a variety of fresh raw fruits and vegetables to get all of the nutrients that different plants provide, you may be a little malnourished. In port cities, we revel in year-round imports, but if you are struggling in midwinter to survive on local cabbage and grains, meals can become ho-hum.
WHAT ABOUT MEAT?
No, blue-rare steak isn’t considered “raw food” by most enthusiasts. Meat-eaters say it can be an efficient way to eat: cows eat grass – a leafy green vegetable – and corn – a high protein/starch vegetable – so therefore steak is a mechanism to get raw veggies into your body. But it’s obviously a weak argument.
SHOULD YOU TRY AN ALL-RAW DIET?
You have tried the all-carb diet, the all-meat diet and the all-fruit diet and they all didn’t work (especially if you did them all at the same time). Try the all-raw diet if it feels right.
My advice: Eat raw. Eat cooked.
A combination of 50 per cent raw and 50 per cent slightly cooked (without processing) provides optimum nutrients. But there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For example, traditional Chinese physicians advise that if you have a cold body type (cold hands and feet, and get chills easily), eating hot foods is healthier, particularly in winter. And the elderly sometimes have a difficult time chewing and digesting raw food.
Try tossing shredded carrots and cabbage on top of stews and stirfries before serving; add sliced cucumber, spouts and tomato to a protein (fish, chicken, egg) in a sandwich; start a meal with a spinach salad, or munch on broccoli and carrots with a dip as an appetizer.
WHEN YOU COOK
Cook vegetables only slightly so they’re still brightly coloured and crisp. Don’t cook them until they’re soft. You like things cooked soft? My response: remember that if food goes in soft, it comes out hard. But if it goes in hard, it comes out soft; healthy bowels are a top priority for vitality and disease prevention.