I recently spied a certain raven-haired actress looking emaciated on the cover of a magazine. Turns out she’s been following a raw foods diet.
I wonder if she is spending the hours necessary to transform raw beans, seeds, nuts and grains so that she can obtain all of the vital nutrients that are necessary for good health? Committed “rawists” know a strict raw foods lifestyle requires serious planning and preparation. Otherwise, the follower can find themselves seriously deficient in protein, vitamin B-12 and other vital nutrients.
Simply eating lots of raw fruits and veggies won’t cut the mustard, my friends.
The premise here is that by not cooking food your body gains access to enzymes that are killed when foods are heated to 118 degrees or more. The truth: once food travels to your stomach, it is greeted by a powerful enzyme-deactivating stomach bath known as hydrochloric acid.
Do note that cooking with excessive heat does destroy certain nutrients, especially water-soluble B-vitamins and vitamin C. It can also reduce a food’s antioxidants and healthy fats, too. Charring meats can actually increase your risk for carcinogenic heterocyclic amines or HCAs.
But is that a good enough reason to turn a cold shoulder to cooked foods?
Yes, eating lots of fiber-filled vegetables and fruits is a no-brainer for weight management. Eliminating processed and refined foods is a smart strategy for good health. However, some foods are naturally more enjoyable, safer and even more nutritious when cooked
Topping that list are meats, fish and eggs. But some grains and veggies are also better when cooked.
We’ve lengthened our lifespan partly because we’ve learned how to make foods safer with heat. Bacteria in foods that range from milk to meat are banished when cooked to a proper temperature. And some foods are just inedible when raw.
Why not get hooked on the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in yummy grilled fish? Can you imagine giving up baked potatoes for starchy raw spuds? Smart dieters always avoid deep-frying foods. The bubbling oil bath quickly turns a nutrient-rich spud into a fatty dud!
There is a certain amount of attractiveness attached to the word “raw” – as in unadulterated, pure, natural or unprocessed. And raw can be the basis for any healthy diet.
But cooking foods can boost nutrition, too. An article in Scientific American maintains that carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage and peppers pack more antioxidants when steamed.
Then there’s lycopene, which is basically the red pigment in tomatoes and other rosy fruits, including guava, papaya and watermelon. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that’s linked to a lower risk for cancer and heart attacks.
Somewhat ironically, lycopene’s potency is boosted significantly when tomatoes are cooked to at least 190 degrees!
So, the question begs: Are we making ourselves miserable while trying to get and stay healthier? You don’t have to miss the pleasure of eating a bowl of hot tomato soup, or whole-grain bread fresh from the oven.
Our easy to swallow advice: Enjoy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, both cooked and raw, to create a balance that is sustainable for life.
Susan Burke March is Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, who as eDiet's Chief Nutritionist promotes the dietary health and well being of consumers worldwide.