In North America, the emerging raw food movement is establishing itself as a potentially healthier alternative to a diet that increasingly consists of processed and cooked foods. Citing the sole reliance on raw foods of our distant evolutionary ancestors, the raw food diet comes with claims of a host of health benefits attributed to this more "natural" way of eating. While this might be true of some raw foods, there are potentially negative side effects of eating uncooked grains.
The Bacillus cereus bacterium is found in a variety of foods, with different strains associated with a host of potential health benefits and negative side effects. Some strains of this bacterium compete with other bacteria in the digestive system, serving as a probiotic and reducing the amount of potentially harmful bacteria such as salmonella. Other strains, however, are potentially harmful to humans. Of these harmful strains, the emetic, or vomit- and nausea-inducing, strain is primarily associated with rice products. When rice is uncooked or undercooked, this strain of Bacillus cereus produces a toxin called cereulide, which can lead to vomiting and nausea within 24 hours of ingestion.
Lectin is a protein that serves as a natural insecticide with a strong affinity for carbohydrates. Found on uncooked rice and beans, this protein is one of the top 10 causes of food poisoning and can lead to nausea, diarrhea and vomiting when eaten in abundance. This arises from lectin's prevention of the repair of gastrointestinal cells that are damaged when eating. This natural process of damage and repair is associated with gastrointestinal health and regularity, and when inhibited can lead to the symptoms of food poisoning. Over the long term, the lectins found on uncooked rice are associated with the development of celiac disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer.
The outer cellulose coating on rice, similar to that found on the leaves of most green plants, helps to protect the grains from damage. This protective property also is associated with poor digestion, with the human digestive system unable to process most cellulose-rich foods. While cellulose-rich foods serve as dietary fiber and promote digestive health, the inability to digest the cellulose coating of rice diminishes its nutritional content. When cooked at temperatures at or above that of boiling water, however, this cellulose coating is damaged. This leads to an increased digestion of rice, as well as increased absorption of its proteins and other nutrients.
Pica is a disorder defined by an insatiable desire to eat non-foods, such as hair, paint and sand, or food ingredients, such as flour, salt and raw rice. Though more common in children, pica affects people of all ages and might be particularly pronounced during pregnancy. This disorder is mainly attributed to insufficient mineral content in your diet, with iron and zinc deficiencies among the major causes. In some cases, however, pica is non-nutrient related, instead being associated with an abnormal desire for certain textures in the mouth. Due to the potential risks associated with these dietary habits, consult your doctor if you have unusually strong cravings for uncooked rice, other food ingredients and/or non-foods.