Is There Truth to Claims About Raw Food Benefits?

Ricky Alvarez by Ricky Alvarez
Comments:DISQUS_COMMENTS Health Articles

Though the raw food diet is sometimes considered a new-age fad diet, it's in fact a prehistoric practice that predates modern civilization.

According to enthusiasts who tout raw food benefits, humans ate everything in uncooked form until relatively recently - fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even meat. Advocates argue that raw food benefits the natural adaptations of our bodies - we have evolved to get the most nutritional content from food that is in a pure unprocessed state. Not only is cooking unnatural, they argue; it can in fact be harmful.

 One of the central raw food benefits is that food in its uncooked form often has higher nutritional value. Water-soluble vitamins such as folic acid and vitamins B and C are particularly heat-sensitive, and prolonged cooking has been proven to destroy the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables that contain these nutrients. If you still prefer to enjoy your veggies in cooked form, you can minimize the damage by steaming your food rather than boiling it. If cooking in water, keep and consume the liquid - it's full of many of the dissolved nutrients.

 Yet this major claim about raw food benefits is not always true. Though cooking may destroy some nutrients, it can in fact enhance the availability of others. Rui Hai Lui, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, found that carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers supply more antioxidants if they're cooked. For example, cooking increased the amount of the antioxidant lycopene in a tomato by 35 percent.

 Another major argument about raw food benefits concerns the toxicity of cooked foods. Several studies show that heating food causes the formation of heterocylic amines (HCAs), nitrosamines, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and acrylamide. All of these toxins are known to be carcinogenic, and AGEs have been proven to contribute to many chronic inflammatory diseases. On the other hand, cooking likely evolved at least in part to reduce the incidence of equally (if not more) toxic foodborne illnesses.

 Perhaps the most controversial claim about raw food benefits involves the question of enzymes. Food in its uncooked state contains enzymes that raw foodists believe aid in digestion. They argue that eating a diet of exclusively cooked foods - an "enzymeless" diet - puts unnecessary stress on the pancreas by forcing the body to secrete more of its own enzymes. This results in illness, a shorter life span, and a weaker immune system.

 Critics argue that this claim about raw food benefits is without scientific merit. The enzymes present in food are not the same as those produced by the body and do little to aid in digestion - and anyway, they're so quickly destroyed by our stomach acids that even if they were beneficial, the enzymes would have little time to assist in the digestive process.

 Though a strict raw food diet definitely isn't for everyone and many will contest the purported claims about raw food benefits, the fact remains that the vast majority of people do not incorporate enough fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets. Whether you believe raw food contains health-promoting digestive enzymes or not, everyone could benefit from a daily salad of raw leafy greens and an afternoon snack of fresh fruit.

Ricky Alvarez has his own private practice as a health coach. He specializes in the raw foods diet but always considers the individualized needs of each client to help them find the foods and lifestyle that make them feel their best.

Last modified onMonday, 12 March 2012 07:08
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