Raw Food Diet – Pros and Cons
March 31, 2013 Nutrition
The raw food diet is trendy ever since a number of celebrities like Demi Moore, Madonna, or Gwyneth Paltrow have embraced it. Raw vegan diet promoters are very excited about its benefits, which are indeed quite appealing. On the other side, there are voices who claim that it is based on several misconceptions.
The raw food diet is a plant based diet in which the food is not cooked over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in order to preserve the enzymes. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, vegetable milk, sprouted grains are either eaten fresh, dehydrated or fermented. That is why they sometimes talk about the live food versus dead food. Raw foodists consider that during cooking the enzymes and a great deal of essential vitamins and minerals are lost. Moreover, they believe that cooked foods slow the digestion process and cause other health problems.
The most frequently cited benefits of a raw food diet are:
- Increased energy and improved overall health. There are even testimonials of people suffering from fatal diseases who cured after having gone raw.
- A better digestion
- A better appearance of the skin
- Losing weight and looking younger
- Reducing or eliminating the genetic propensity to developing cancer, diabetes type 2 or cardiovascular diseases. However, this is one of the benefits of a vegan diet or a low animal protein diet and not necessarily of the raw vegan diet.
The truth is that more evidence is necessary in order to say for sure that raw food is the key to health, beauty and energy but there is hope. At the same time, debatable information still needs to be clarified. For example, a 2005 study showed that raw vegans’ bones are lighter in weight, which is normally a sign of osteoporosis. However, the head of the research team, Luigi Fontana, MD, Ph,D, says that no other marks like lack of vitamin D or inflammation were detected. Under these circumstances, Fontana advances the hypothesis that the low bone mass could be an effect of the lower number of calories in this diet.
Other studies conducted by Fontana and his colleagues show good signs for raw food eaters. In 2007 he compared three groups: non-raw endurance runners, a sedentary group who ate raw food and another sedentary group of people with a normal diet. The good news for the raw foodists is that, although sedentary, their performance was comparable with the runners and had even lower blood pressure than the runners. The researchers considered the low blood pressure a result of the lower salt consumption. Finally, another study carried out by Fontana and team analysed the risk factors for cancer. The results showed that the endurance runners and those with a low protein and low calorie diet had lower risks of developing cancer than those with a normal diet. But then again the last study could very well apply to vegetarians and not necessarily to raw vegans.
First of all, there are practical cons of a raw food diet: preparing the food requires a lot of time and organization. You have to think today about what you are going to cook tomorrow in order to have enough time to hydrate the seeds overnight, for example.
Then, you have to make sure you have some good kitchen appliances: blender, dehydrator, food processor and special kitchen utensils.
Going raw can be expensive, as it will require organic ingredients in order to get the best of this diet.
There are nutritionists who warn about foods that should not be consumed on a daily basis because they contain some toxic ingredients when raw. Among them: buckwheat greens, parsnips, apricot kernels or kidney beans.
The raw foodists’ claim that cooking vegetables destroy their beneficial properties is often responded with at least three examples which prove the contrary. The antioxidant in tomatoes, lycopene increases after cooking tomatoes, the beta-carotene in carrots and the iron in spinach are better absorbed by the body when cooked.
Christopher Wanjek analyses raw veganism, identifying 5 of its misconceptions. Among them is the fact that cooking destroys enzymes. He agrees with this, but says that humans create new enzymes in the digestive process. Physician Edward Howell, who was the author of the enzyme theory in the 1940s, stated that humans have a finite number of enzymes.
Beyond the arguments of both sides and the things that still need clarification I think that the evidence available so far is enough to conclude that a diet rich in animal protein is not healthy. On the contrary, a low protein and low calorie diet with a variety of healthy raw foods – but not necessarily entirely raw – seems to bring us closer to healthy eating. And, in the end, it’s a matter of personal option. If someone who adopted raw food is feeling well and the medical investigations confirm the good health, why would they change their diet?