It is no surprise that Raw Foodism has taken the health field by storm over the past few years. With an increased focus on society’s over-processed, animal fat, and chemical laden diet, the Raw Food Movement seems like a suitable alternative for many.
Raw Foodism is defined as “a lifestyle promoting the consumption of un-cooked, un-processed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet. If 75-100% of a person’s total food consumption is raw food, he/she is considered a raw foodist or living foodist” (Source). Generally, raw foodists do not heat their food above 118F (although this temperature is widely debated). The motivation for eating a raw food diet often comes from the belief that cooking food destroys beneficial vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
It may seem like Raw Foodism is a new thing, and yes while it does seem trendy, it has actually been around for a long time. Back in the 1900’s, Ann Wigmore and Herbert Shelton claimed that a raw diet composed of fruits and vegetables was the best diet that humans could eat (Source). In 1984, Leslie Kenton’s book called Raw Energy-Eat Your Way to Radiant Health advocated a diet based on 75% raw foods, like sprouts, seeds, and fresh vegetable juice.
In recent years, celebrities like Uma Thurman, Mel Gibson, and Demi Moore have promoted raw foodism and helped to make it a common household name.
We have all heard about the research on various vegetables that are cooked superstars. For example, lycopene found in tomatoes has been shown to increase by 171% when heated at 190F for 15 minutes (source), blowing its’ raw counterpart out of the water.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic and regular feature on Canada AM, recently outlined the latest research on nutrients found in cooked and uncooked food.
She concluded that raw food is not always better.
Here are some of the interesting highlights of the article:
- Recent research shows that cooking food can actually increase the nutrients in foods
- Not all cooking types are created equal!
- Microwave cooking without water and only until tender maintained the highest antioxidant levels (Journal of Food Science, March 2009).
- Baking and grilling also preserved antioxidants
- Boiling and pressure cooking led to the greatest losses in nutrients
- All cooking methods increased antioxidants in carrots, celery and green beans (Journal of Food Science, March 2009)
- Cooking spinach and carrots produced higher levels of beta-carotene which is thought to prevent heart disease and lung cancer
- Lutein which guards against macular degeneration is also significantly higher when leafy greens are cooked
What about Minerals?
- Spinach, beat greens, and chard are all high in calcium. The problem? In their raw state, these green contain calcium binding oxalic acid which binds to calcium, preventing absorption. When these greens are cooked, the acid is broken down and more calcium is absorbed. This is why I often quickly steam my spinach before making a GM.
- 1 cup of uncooked spinach has 90 mg of calcium, whereas 1 cup of cooked spinach has about 260 mg!
What are the best cooking methods?
- Water is the enemy (leaches out vitamin C, folate and thiamin into the water. Beck suggests using the water to make a sauce!)
- Steaming, baking, and grilling are all suitable methods of cooking
- Boiling is the worst!
Leslie concludes that the following vegetables are best eaten raw because they contain high concentrations of glucosinolates, compounds that are converted to anti-cancer chemicals called isothiocyanates:
- Bok Choy
Here are some of Leslie’s tips:
- Use gentle cooking methods such as grilling or steaming until vegetables are just crisp or tender! The less cooking the better
- Buy frozen veggies and fruits– they lock in more nutrients as compared to ‘out of season’ produce that has been transported across the country, losing many nutrients along the way.
- Prep vegetables just before consuming. When cut vegetables are exposed to light and air, they lose nutrients.
If you are now as confused as I am about the whole process, you aren’t alone! :D
It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?
For myself, I think eating a mixture of cooked and noncooked foods works best for me. However, I know there are tons of people out there who swear by eating raw and that their energy and overall health has increased ten-fold. I think it is always best to do what works for YOU and how you will be happiest.
I also think there needs to be more research done on nutrients and cooking. I feel like there is so much to explore with this topic and so much that we still don’t know.
On the other hand, I think it is important to realize that we are never going to be able to eat the perfect diet!
Yes, many meals that I cook probably have vitamins and minerals leached out, but you know what?
That is ok!
Not everything I eat will provide me with the maximum amount of benefit. I think it is very easy to get caught up in this obsession with health, but sometimes it is important to step back and look at the big picture.
I will continue to enjoy researching about these topics because I love them, but I am not going to drive myself crazy trying to concoct the PERFECT diet. It just doesn’t exist.
Now tell me, what’s your take on this hot topic? :)