The raw food movement asserts that raw foods provide vital enzymes and nutrients that would otherwise be destroyed during the cooking process. Some proponents of raw foods claim that cooked foods cause inflammation and disease. However, eliminating cooked foods from the diet eliminates whole food groups such as meat, dairy, fish and most grains, though a fraction of raw foodists continue to consume raw meat, dairy and fish. Furthermore, the nutrient content of some foods actually increases with cooking and becomes more bioavailable to the body.
Raw food proponents claim that cooking food above 92 to 118 degrees F (variations of the raw food diet set different temperature limits) dramatically reduces its nutrient content. Although certain cooking methods do strip food of some of its nutrients--as evidenced by water used to cook vegetables developing a colored hue--some foods’ nutrient content actually increases with cooking. Tomatoes, for example, provide three times as much lycopene when cooked, according to a study published in the May 4, 2010 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Cooking in olive oil further increases the bioavailability of the lycopene. Peanuts also get better with roasting, according to a “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” study published Oct. 31, 2007. Other vegetables may lose some nutrient content through cooking, but improve the remaining nutrients’ bioavailability due to the breakdown of cellular structures which allows better absorption in the body.
Another tenet of the raw food movement states that cooking food destroys valuable enzymes in foods. However, these enzymes may be destroyed anyway by stomach acid during digestion. You can get valuable enzymes without going entirely raw by adding raw fruits, vegetables and nuts to your diet through salads, smoothies and raw trail mixes.
Raw food websites provide ample reasoning and anecdotal evidence suggesting that cooked foods produce disease-invoking inflammation in the body and that a “high raw” diet--80 percent or more of food being raw--prevents and even reverses disease. However, no support for these theories exists in studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Nevertheless, there's strong evidence that a vegan diet may mitigate disease in the research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., in “The China Study.” However, this study did not consider how the foods were prepared and therefore does not necessarily assert the superiority of a raw diet.
Missing Food Groups
Restricting yourself to a raw diet eliminates many foods which need cooking to make them edible and prevent food-borne illness. A raw diet typically eliminates grains, dairy, fish, meat and eggs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these food groups represent a significant portion of a healthy diet. Replacing the nutrients contained in these eliminated foods could pose a significant challenge that, if not accomplished, could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
An additional consideration about the raw food diet is the potential for food poisoning from bacteria, parasites and mold. This presents a particular danger for raw foodists who consume raw fish, unpasteurized cow's milk and raw meats. These toxins are also present in raw nuts and seeds, which are an essential element in a raw food diet. Furthermore, the FDA issued a warning in 2009 against consuming raw alfalfa sprouts due to the potential for Salmonella.
- “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”: Lycopene is More Bioavailable From Tomato Paste Than From Fresh Tomatoes
- “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry”: Changes in the Phytochemical Composition and Profile of Raw, Boiled, and Roasted Peanuts
- USDA: Inside the Pyramid
- “The China Study”; Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.; 2005
- Raw Food Life: The Science of Raw Food