As someone who has helped people overcome 20 different chronic disease conditions over the past four years, I find it interesting to watch people get into food fights as to what is the healthiest way to eat. People break out their results (often short term), their cherry picked science, and their emotions to convey what they believe is the best way to eat for long term health and longevity.
Most of these debates originate around some core and popular diets these days, namely keto, paleo, vegetarian, and vegan. Regardless of your choice, a common trend that I think most everyone can get on board with is the movement towards clean, whole foods at the expense of highly refined and conventionally produced foods. Although there are a myriad of details on what to consume in a whole foods diet to be your healthiest, simply starting to eat more whole foods will undoubtedly improve ones health.
So when people report amazing short term results in many of todays trending whole food (fad) diets, it’s of little surprise to insightful health gurus because most everyone will note improved health coming from a SAD (Standard American Diet) to one that incorporates more clean, whole foods. What is more telling is how does that person feel on their new diet 3-6 months into it? This will provide better insight into the sustainability and effectiveness of the diet, and how they will feel on it long term.
Whatever diet you do choose will largely dictate how much raw food you eat vs how much cooked food you eat. While some will die on the “raw cross” and say it’s the only way to be healthy, others will say that cooked food is essential and silly to avoid.
So who’s right?
The benefits of raw food
If you are consuming healthy raw food, it will not be processed or cooked, and is as close to the original format as nature created it than any other consumption methods. It could be argued that this leaves the food as pure and potent as possible, and in many aspects this argument would be correct. When you eat raw foods, you are:
Getting as many enzymes and probiotics as possible.
Consuming more vitamins and minerals in a completely unadulterated format.
Taking in more beneficial amounts of fibre, which helps regulate appetite.
Getting the full benefits of most antioxidants.
Increasing your hydration (due to the water density of raw foods).
Getting a “cooling” effect, which is a good choice in warm weather.
Avoiding acrylamide (a harmful substance that can be created with high temperature cooking).
Given that enzymes, probiotics, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants are some of the most important nutrients you can consume to fuel your body properly and keep it disease free, it makes sense to eat the foods that contain the highest concentrations of them, and that is indeed raw foods.
But it isn’t all roses with raw food.
The drawbacks of raw food
Even though raw foods have many important benefits, going all raw with all foods can and will create some concerns for many people, especially early on in a significant diet change. Some of the general drawbacks of raw food, include:
Although raw foods do generally have higher levels of all nutrients, some of them are very hard to assimilate if they are not broken down, especially for those with low digestive fire.
Higher levels of anti-nutrients and oxalates, which make it much harder on digestion (especially weaker digestive systems) and can dramatically reduce assimilation.
Raw meat (sushi, beef, etc) and certain produce can contain harmful bacteria and micro-organisms that could cause illness if they are not cooked (in most cases, someone on a raw food diet is likely avoiding animal protein altogether).
Food such as beans, legumes, and potatoes would have to be removed from a diet due to inability to eat them raw without digestive distress (unless they were able to be cultured/fermented, like green beans).
In nutshell, a raw food diet’s biggest drawback is it is harder to digest and assimilate (with the exception of blended or fermented foods), which can result in nutrient deficiencies and significant digestive discomfort.
The benefits of cooked food
If you cook food at proper temperatures and avoid burning it so it doesn’t cause health damaging acrylamide, there are a few benefits to eating cooked food on a regular basis. Some of these benefits include:
Makes nutrients in vegetables generally easier to break down and assimilate, resulting in less digestive issues.
Helps remove potentially harmful microorganisms, in both animal meat and vegetables.
Allows consumption of generally healthy food groups, such as beans and legumes.
Increases antioxidant levels in certain foods, such as asparagus, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and squash.
Creates a warming effect, so ideal in cooler temperatures or climates.
Food that is cooked properly allows you to take in many different types of nutrients in an easier to digest format, which results in better absorption of said nutrients. It also ensures any pathogens are killed off, avoiding any potential infection.
However, there are sacrifices.
The drawbacks of cooked food
So while you may make it easier on your digestive system and you can avoid potential biological contamination, when you cook food there are some sacrifices. Some of the drawbacks of cooked foods are:
Enzymes and probiotics are easily destroyed in the cooking process, resulting in “dead” food.
Leaching out of water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B-vitamins, by as much as 50-60%.
Any over cooked (toasted or burned) foods can create harmful acrylamide.
The longer a food is cooked, the greater the loss of nutrients.
The most danger with cooked foods comes with excessive cooking and burning, which destroys more nutrients and creates harmful chemicals such as acrylamide. However, just as important to note is that it ruins some of the most beneficial nutrients to your overall health, that is, enzymes and probiotics.
What diet should you follow?
Although it can vary from individual to individual, a balance between healthy raw foods and properly cooked ones is the best balance.
Raw foods are undoubtedly your best source of nutrients, and are crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system due to their high enzyme, prebiotic, and probiotic (mostly in ferments) properties. Knowing which foods to get these from without subjecting your gut to excessive wear and tear from anti-nutrients, lectins, and oxalates is vitally important.
Cooked foods are the “safest” choice when it comes to digestive capacity and biological threats, provided you prepare them properly and don’t subject them to excessive heat for extended periods. Knowing which foods are best cooked, and how to do that for maximum nutrition, is the trick.
Also, one should keep in mind their constitution, ancestry, and climate to know which foods may resonate with their particular body type. Although this is typically less of a consideration and can usually be navigated with a proper ratio of cooked to raw foods, it can be helpful for certain people in dire situations.
Overall, most people would benefit from a diet that is close to 50% raw and 50% cooked, provided they understand how to prepare both and which have more benefits in either scenario. The bottom line is ensuring that any food consumed is digested properly, because you are less what you eat, than you are what you DIGEST. This makes the difference between winning and losing with your health.
Learn how to eat raw and cooked food to HEAL, inside the THRIVE Academy.