May 2014 Update: These days, I might amend this post to remove the comparison between cooked food and GMO food. Although cooking can alter the molecular structure of food, it isn’t engineered deception. Perhaps the better comparison is to simply state that cooked food has been changed from what it was intended to be and if we don’t have the tolerance to eat the food raw (like a fox can eat raw chicken…) perhaps we should reconsider eating it. All this being said, however, aiming for a higher amount of raw food in our daily lives is a reasonable goal. Not eating anything cooked is an unrealistic goal for many of us….
I’ve had a couple comments from friends recently that have surprised me: that going to a raw diet is ‘extreme’ and also ‘I couldn’t give up meat’ and ‘what’s the deal with eating only raw food (said with an exaggerated eye roll for good measure)‘. These comments surprised me because, geez, I thought EVERYONE knew what this was all about. Guess not! 🙂
So I’d like to explain. Going to a raw diet is not a ‘diet’ (as in, the goal is not weight loss), it is a life-style. And like I said to my friend “Like all lifestyles, it may not be for everyone”. But I think it is the opposite of ‘extreme’.
Stuffing a duck with stuffing, putting that duck in a turkey, and weaving the entire turkey in bacon, and cooking the living crap out of ALL for several hours = extreme.
Chopping some veggies and making a homemade salad dressing /= extreme. Es claro? Si…
The purpose of a ‘raw’ diet is not to eat raw food, it is to eat ‘living’ food, or food that still has the capability to give you all the goodness that it can give. And the goodness it has to give is outstanding; our bodies understand it, our bodies highly desire it, need it, love it. This is one of the reasons we soak most nuts and seeds: they have a natural enzyme inhibitor on the outside – soaking removes the enzyme inhibitor and brings the nut/seed back to life and also neutralizes ‘phytic acid’ which keeps our bodies from absorbing important stuff, like zinc, calcium, iron and other minerals. But I don’t think you’re arguing with me that fresh fruits and veggies are good for us, right? If you are arguing with me about that, go away. Shoo.
Then there’s the flip side: why not cook your food (which is what I think all the fuss is about, right?)? Carol Alt‘s book has an excellent chapter on the science of the changes our food undergoes when it is cooked. I’m going to summarize her statements here, but if you have more questions, please pick up her book!
1. Cooking your food causes it to undergo molecular changes. A number of examples are provided, such as the by-products of fuels used for cooking (i.e.: grilling/smoking) entering the food, changing the chemical composition and also being chemicals we consume, some of which are carcinogenic, but two examples stand out to me the most because they occur ‘naturally’ when cooking, and not as a result of an external factor, like fuel:
“Much of the food we eat contains acrylamide, a chemical created by cooking food. The chemical can cause gene mutations and was found to cause a range of cancers in rats. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in many plant based…foods after they are heated. It appears that the chemical, which is used in the treatment of sewage and to create…certain plastics and dyes, is also a byproduct of cooking food at high temperatures.” Well, then why hasn’t there been some alert about it or something, you ask? There has been, in 2002. Click this sentence for more information about the chemical.
“Cooking foods bond objects together and they become more solid and stronger. If your body is set up to read the molecular structure of food, and you change the molecular structure, the body has to change or work harder to get what nutrition it can out of that food. What does this do to the body, especially since it can take about 1M years to fully adapt to a new diet?” It is a question answered by the common sense response: the body has to use energy (up to 70% of our energy, actually!) to both tolerate and extract nutrients from cooked food. We’re supposed to be eating to FUEL our bodies, not deplete them of energy.
Bottom line on ‘changing the molecular structure’ is that it turns food into something that our bodies don’t naturally recognize. Our bodies tolerate it, but don’t thrive on it. A good comparison is this: If you don’t want to eat GMO food, why would you think it’s OK to eat food that has had its molecules modified through over-heating (cooking)?
2. Cooking food alters the pH of our food. The body needs to stay alkaline for our health. “Cooking destroys a lot of the nutrients, disrupts the natural balance of biochemical elements, and makes food more acidic”. Additionally, we make acid in our bodies lots of other ways: stress, digestion, etc. but our bodies make nothing alkaline. We receive all of the “Yin” through our diet, which we can receive through many foods, but mostly through raw fruits and vegetables. What do you think it means when our bodies are too acidic? Nothing good, especially over time. Inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and ulcers just to name a couple off the top of my head. Another example provided “Throw acid on a car, and it will eat the paint away and through the metal; likewise, acid in the blood, running through your systems will go through your organs and wear your body down.”
3. Cooking food destroys the enzymes: “What are enzymes, exactly? Enzymes are the protein molecules that facilitate most of the body’s metabolic processes, such as digestion.” Or, if we wanted to go back to Grade 10 Science class, enzymes are the building blocks of life! LIFE!! Enzymes are required for every single function of the human body and heat is the enemy of enzymes. Anything that has been heated over 115F is either dead or dying, so in cooked food, the digestive enzymes food contains doesn’t stand a chance. If the enzymes aren’t present in your food, the body has to use its own enzymes to help you digest, taking them away from other vital functions of your body.
4. Cooking food changes the bonds between vitamins and minerals. “The bonds between vitamins and minerals are super-fragile, and heat affects them immediately. While not all the nutrients in food are destroyed by cooking, your body faces the Herculean task of trying to absorb nutrients when they are not in the natural state that it recognizes….the best plan of action is to eat foods that are clean and that the body can recognize easily and utilize.” And, as we all know because we are smart, vitamins and minerals seem to have ‘partners’ or some sort of symbiotic relationship with another vitamin or mineral. When cooking destroys one, you could actually be losing out on the benefits of two or more because they cannot be as easily absorbed without their partner. Lots of research has been done on this topic. 20 – 50% of the vitamins and minerals in food is destroyed through cooking. That’s quite a bit! (and for those of us who hate to waste time: you are now wasting time to cook and are only getting half the benefit from it. ooooo, that ticks me off!)
So there it is. The science of “why raw” summarized in 4 points….but that isn’t “it”…there are many other reasons, including how some of the molecular changes we can inflict on our food makes them not only ‘not healthy’ but even dangerous to our long-term health.
GENETICS ASIDE…yes, my Grandmother drank and smoked a pack a day and died in her 90’s too. But she also had many years of cleaner country living on me, and quite a bit more fresh air and physical labour at home and at work too. I don’t think we should rely on genetics to save us from the onslaught of chemicals, convenience, sedentary habits, etc. that we have either purposefully adopted or had thrust upon us in the past 30 years. There are SOME changes we probably shouldn’t have accepted so readily, like packaged, processed, microwaved diets.
I made this guacamole. It was the best guacamole I have ever tasted!
I also made these cookies, but I don’t think my cashew ‘dough’ was as dense as it was supposed to be: my cookies are gooey…but I’m still eating them because they taste super yummy 🙂 I will certainly be trying these again.
I had wondered if a person could convert to a raw diet on their own, and I can provide this update: If they have a computer, ABSOLUTELY! If they’re willing to buy books, YES! Can you find the products you need? I live in a city and I have to say I’m about 70% successful. Can’t wait until summer! Also: will be setting up my little greenhouse after Christmas and starting to grow in doors: food, herbs, and will try wheat-grass once I can afford a decent wheat-grass juicer.
No luck yet on getting maca powder. It’s constantly on order and seems to sell quickly once it arrives. I’m starting to doubt its existence and think it is some sort of inside joke with ‘in the club’ raw foodists.
I’m starting to add more sites under “Resources” – fabulous sites with great recipes. I’m on a mission to find the best raw food ‘bread‘ – one that isn’t onion paste….I need SOMETHING other than flax crackers to put all those amazing spreads on. I’ll keep you posted.