Venus Williams, Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow are among a host of celebrities to have extolled the virtues of eating raw food. But the diet is nothing new and has been around for centuries. What is relatively new is the growing debate as to whether the health benefits of this practise outweigh cooking your food. Nutmad thought we would take a look at the Raw Food Diet so that you can decide for yourself.
What is the Raw Food Diet?
Put simply it is eating unprocessed foods that have not been heated above a certain temperature, refined, canned, pasteurised or treated with pesticides. For foods to be considered raw they cannot be heated over 104–118°F (40–48°C).
Why is that important?
Eating some foods over that temperature range is believed to denature the enzymes that can support a healthy diet. Tomatoes, for example, lose about 10% of their vitamin C content when cooked for just two minutes.
A raw food diet is typically high in fresh fruits and vegetables and as a result is packed with nutrients and fibre, making it a great way to achieve your five-a-day.
The reason the diet aids weight loss is because calorie consumption is much lower than when eating processed, sugar-packed foods. Dieters also report enhanced energy levels, while others identify a reduction in acne and strengthened nails and hair.
What can I eat on the Raw Food Diet?
If it is plant-based and raw, you can eat every fruit, vegetable, seeds and nuts (sometimes activated nuts). Activation refers to the process of soaking nuts in salty water and dehydrating them at a low temperature to remove the naturally-found phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Many people also incorporate raw eggs, unpasteurised dairy, raw meat and sushi as well.
So what is the problem?
While the Raw Food Diet offers a range of health benefits, it is not backed by science. Research shows that eating both raw and cooked foods offer health benefits that can be lost by just focussing on raw foods. In certain circumstances, cooking can boost the digestibility of foods and make it easier for the body to access the calories and nutrients it needs. Cooking is also a sure-fire way of protecting the body from harmful pathogens before they enter the body.
While studies have found that levels of vitamin C decrease when tomatoes are cooked for two minutes, cooking tomatoes and carrots makes it easier to access antioxidants, including beta-carotene and lycopene.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that although the Raw Food Diet helped to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it also lowered healthy cholesterol levels that led to vitamin B12 deficiency for some people. The challenge for anyone on a raw food diet is getting enough protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron, as these nutrients are typically found in foods most of us prefer to cook – meat, fish, eggs and grains. This means that people in the vulnerable category (pregnant women, the elderly and the very young, and anyone with a chronic illness) would have to consult their GP before opting for a solely Raw Food Diet.