Updated: Aug 20
Growing up, I stumbled upon a book in my parents' library called "Fit for Life" by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. It espoused a "natural hygiene" philosophy that advocated for a raw food diet, which I found intriguing. Fast forward to today, and the raw food movement has gained a significant following among health enthusiasts. However, the question remains: is a raw food diet truly healthy, or is it just a fad for the privileged?
Proponents of the raw food movement claim that consuming raw foods can lead to various health benefits, such as clearer skin, improved bowel movements, better sleep, and increased energy levels. They argue that raw foods contain enzymes and vitamins that are destroyed during the cooking process, which are essential for good health. They also believe that cooking can create harmful compounds in food, such as acrylamide, which has been linked to cancer.
While some nutrients are indeed heat-sensitive and can be destroyed during cooking, cooking can also increase the availability of certain nutrients in food.
For example, cooking can break down the cell walls of vegetables, making it easier for the body to absorb important nutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene. Cooking can also destroy harmful bacteria and parasites that may be present in raw foods, making them safer to consume.
Furthermore, cooking food can make it safer to eat, concentrate its taste and flavor, reduce spoilage, soften tough foods, increase the amount of energy our bodies can obtain from food, and denature protein molecules, making them easier to digest and absorb.
The domestication of many natural foods also made them more palatable and nutrient-dense, with early versions of fruits and vegetables being smaller and offering fewer nutrients than their domesticated counterparts.
The Pottenger's Cats experiment (the 1930s) is often cited in the raw food movement as evidence of the benefits of a raw food diet. However, the study has been largely debunked and should be viewed with skepticism. The sample size was small, the study was not well-controlled, and the composition of the diet was not constant during the ten-year period. In addition, the diets used in the study were not representative of a typical human diet, and the findings of the study cannot be extrapolated to humans.
It's worth noting that while a raw food diet may be beneficial for some people, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. It can be expensive and metabolically taxing to eat and digest, requiring a lot of chewing and additional work for the body to break down what we consume. Some experts suggest that pre-agricultural humans confined to raw food would have starved.
Ultimately, the raw food diet is not the only path to good health, and it's essential to make informed decisions about what we eat based on our own personal needs and goals. While cooking can indeed destroy some nutrients in food, it can also increase the availability of other nutrients and make food safer to eat. So, it's essential to find the right balance between consuming raw and cooked foods based on individual preferences and needs.