The current trend in the natural foods world is the raw diet. It’s hard to argue with raw vegetables. What could be better for you? Jack LaLanne, world famous fitness guru was the biggest advocate of a large crunchy salad every day. He also stood behind the juicers he sold. It’s hard to dispute a man who passed away at 96 and was still teaching us how to exercise and eat well.
But what does the evidence show? Should we embrace a 100% raw food diet as advocated by the hardcore raw foodist movement? Should we eat our foods cooked as advocated by almost everyone else? There have been many scientific studies conducted on this very thing.
Studies show some foods offer nutritional value in different ways depending upon how they are prepared. Some specific examples include carrots and broccoli. The beta carotene in carrots, which our body converts to vitamin A, increases with cooking. Surprisingly, boiling was found to be the optimal method! This however destroys other antioxidants.
Broccoli has been studied quite extensively. Findings show it has beneficial properties raw or cooked. This cruciferous vegetable is full of cancer fighting properties or compounds. Two of these compounds are sulforaphane and indole. When eaten raw, broccoli contains the compound sulforaphane, which is destroyed during the cooking process. When broccoli is cooked, the compound indole is created.
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in fresh tomatoes and processed tomatoes, is actually substantially (35%) increased when tomatoes are cooked. Raw tomatoes contain vitamin C and B vitamins which are greatly reduced, if not destroyed, by cooking.
Cooking can be beneficial in that in aids in digestion by softening the cell walls of the plants and breaking down the cellulose fiber. The cooking methods involved are either boiling or steaming. Food should never be fried. Frying food creates free radicals which promote the growth of cancer cells and accelerates aging.
Are you seeing a pattern here? In regards to nutrients it doesn’t have to be, nor should it be all or nothing! It would seem the best case scenario would be to mix it up; some raw, some cooked. Many nutrients seem unaffected either way.
One nutrient which must be addressed and can not be obtained through a plant-based diet is B12. Have you heard of subacute combined degeneration, also known as SCD? This very serious degeneration of the spinal cord is often attributed to a B12 deficiency. The only way to ensure you are getting B12 is to take a supplement. Sometimes raw foodists teach a pure diet will take care of all your nutrient needs. This is dangerous and untrue.
It’s not possible to engage in this discussion without bringing up enzymes. Enzymes facilitate the digestion of our food. Where do they stand in all this? If you can’t digest the food you eat it doesn’t really matter what you eat.
There is much debate and controversy over enzymes. Some say it is not a concern. Our body will produce the enzymes we need, while others say we have a finite amount which must be facilitated by raw foods and/or digestive enzymes. I will leave you with these opposing points of view with the hope of encouraging more self-study.