The Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet

The Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet

Many of us eat raw foods without thinking about it. We snack on crudités at parties, add lettuce and tomato to our sandwiches, grab an apple as a snack and eat chopped salads as appetizers. Recently the concept of “eating raw” has received a lot of attention in regards to improving health and wellness, losing weight, and preventing disease. If you’re able to forgo a warm bowl of vegetable chili in the middle of a snowstorm, this may be a viable option for you! Admittedly, there are certainly benefits to eating foods in their uncooked state, but does this make all raw foods inherently more healthy? Or is there a time and place for cooked foods at our table?

Raw Food Defined

Most definitions today define raw food as an edible food that has not been heated above a maximum of 116 degrees. This is the temperature at which the natural enzymes in most foods are broken down. The claim is that the enzymes provide crucial nourishment to the body, but this isn’t the full story. Cooking does indeed degrade some of the enzymatic strength in foods, but some cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli, contain enzymes that perform as catalysts to the antioxidant powers of these vegetables when cooked.

Enzymes: The Full Story

Cooking certain vegetables, like tomatoes and carrots for example, can increase the absorption rate of nutrients, such as the lycopene in tomatoes and beta carotene in carrots. Other foods contain enzymes that inhibit nutrient absorption, so cooking them – and thereby, destroying those enzymes – is a benefit to our ability to digest them. It’s important, however, to note that as humans, we do not need plant enzymes to metabolize nutrients. We are capable of making our own enzymes for digestion. Our bodies do not use plant enzymes for biochemical reactions; the acids in our gastro-intestinal tract break them down.

Benefits of Eating Raw Food

Overall, you will absorb a higher amount of B and C vitamins by eating raw foods. You can even consume more gut-healthy bacteria (in foods like sauerkraut) that would be degraded with the addition of heat. There can also be harmful inflammatory compounds that are produced when cooking certain foods, like when you brown or grill meats. Eating raw eliminates the intake of such compounds.

Eating raw enables you to eat a food in its most natural form without the harmful effects of processing. For example, let’s compare apples to applesauce. Apples contain more fiber and more overall natural nutrients than applesauce, which is an apple that has been peeled, cooked, mashed and doused with preservatives, sugar and packaged. The winner here is clear!

Benefits of Eating Cooked Food

It’s hard to ignore the fact that cooking some foods has benefits, as well. Like mentioned before, heating foods can activate certain antioxidants and make them easier to absorb. For example, tomato sauce has a considerably higher antioxidant rating than fresh tomatoes and cooked carrots are richer in beta-carotene than raw carrots. Cooking also breaks down plants’ cell walls, reducing fiber, but also making them easier to digest and leading to a more favorable effect on blood sugar levels. Finally, there’s the fact that cooking destroys many harmful bacteria, like the ones found in uncooked seafood or meat. Here, cooking keeps us safe from infection and disease.

So, What’s Better?

Ah, in the end, variety is the spice of life! A combination of whole foods, both in their raw, uncooked states, as well as in their healthfully cooked states offers benefits we should incorporate into our daily diets. Consuming a wide variety of foods in a wide variety of ways offers more benefits than consuming the same foods served the same way. Isn’t that how the soup and salad option was born? And you don’t have to look far to see the benefits for yourself! Just think about how great you feel when you pair a delicious, raw NutriBlast with a freshly cooked breakfast!

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Triathlon Coach

Hi Jennifer, Love your article. I do have a question. I have always seen that 118 degrees is the top temp for raw. ( been looking at a lot of raw information lately) Where is your resource for this so I can update my information. Also, is cooked food any temp over 116 degrees? Is there a temp that is too high for certain foods? For example, If I cook a tomato at 120 degrees... is that going to unlock more nutrition than 350 degrees? etc. Thanks!
Comment by Pacifica815
October 28, 2015
This is a great article and I, too, agree that there are great benefits to go back and forth between healthy, fresh, organic cooked food and raw food as this provides the best benefits from both ways.
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