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Green smoothies. Raw energy bars. Spinach salads.

These all sound like foods health conscious people would eat. So why do I squirm a little when I hear about these and other raw foods being a staple in someone’s diet?

Because some foods are healthier when you cook them.

Gasp!

A few years ago, I almost bought into the raw food myth. It makes sense, right, that we need enzymes to digest food, and when we cook food we destroy those little buggers and therefore can’t digest our food?

Well, sort of. But that myth is overlooking a few details. Here are some reasons I don’t buy into the raw food lifestyle.

Where the Raw Foodies are Missing the Point

1. Anti-Nutrients and Toxic Substances

Raw food may contain enzymes, but it also contains substances that are not beneficial. Here are some examples:

  • Raw cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens that suppress your thyroid.
  • Some raw greens contain oxalates that inhibit the absorption of iron and calcium, and can contribute to fibromyalgia, kidney stones, and muscle pain.
  • Raw, unsoaked beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain phytic acid, which binds to minerals, and enzyme inhibitors, which mean that the very enzymes you are trying to preserve by not cooking your foods cannot be used by the body!
  • Plant foods also contain cellulose, an insoluble fiber that humans have trouble digesting too much of. It is softened by cooking and fermentation.

2. Cooking Enhances Some Nutrients

All foods lose some nutrients when cooked. But in some foods, it’s worth the sacrifice because certain nutrients are much more accessible after cooking. Tomatoes are a great example: they lose some vitamin C during cooking, but the amount of cancer-preventing lycopene available more than doubles.

3. Eat Raw Kale, but Not Raw Milk?

Raw animal products from safe, local sources are nutritional powerhouses that should not be overlooked. When I hear people talking about eating raw food, animal products are rarely a part of the equation.

I turn to Weston Price here, as I often do, to find that many of the traditional cultures he studied went to great lengths to incorporate raw animal foods into their diets. Now, I’m not one to reach for a raw steak or sushi, but raw milk? You betcha! I also throw raw egg yolks into my smoothies.

Vegetables that are Best Consumed Cooked

Wondering which veggies to cook? Here they are, in alphabetical order!

Arugula, beet greens, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collard greens, kale, mushrooms, mustard greens, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, sweet potatoes, and turnips.

Honorable mention: tomatoes and carrots are not harmful to eat raw, but get more nutritious when cooked.

A Word on Nuts

Nuts are very nutritious, but they do need a little treatment first. The best way to make nutrients accessible in nuts is to soak them in salt water, drain them, and the dehydrate them. They are still technically “raw” but much easier to digest! Here’s how to do it!

Eat Some Raw and Fermented Foods for Better Digestion

So I’m not telling you to never eat raw food. Eat all your food cooked and you risk taxing your body’s digestive enzymes and perhaps accelerating the aging process. On the other hand, eat all your food raw and you risk consuming toxic compounds and too much insoluble fiber. It’s all about balance.

I think a wise goal is to incorporate some raw or fermented food into every meal and snack that you eat. Here are some examples of high enzyme foods:

Avocados, bananas, dates, extra virgin olive oil, figs, grapes, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, raw honey, and raw milk.

If you are eager to incorporate fermented foods into your diet, the easiest ones to start with are kefir, kombucha, and yogurt.

A Word on Green Smoothies

I have no doubt that many people have improved their health by drinking smoothies. The smoothie is a great vehicle for superfoods like coconut oil, probiotic-rich raw milk or kefir, raw egg yolks, soaked nuts and seeds, and, yes, raw fruits and vegetables. The blending process softens the cellulose and makes plant foods easier to digest, and often people find that it is easier to drink more fruits and veggies than they could ever possibly eat.

If you want to throw some kale into your smoothie once and awhile, I say go for it, but especially if you have thyroid issues, you probably don’t want to make a habit of it. You can certainly add other vegetables, like lettuce, cucumber, carrots, or celery with no harmful effects!

Confused yet?

Just in case I’ve thoroughly confused you, here are three things to remember.

1. Soak or sprout grains, beans, nuts and seeds whenever possible. Grains and beans should always be cooked. Nuts and seeds can be dehydrated after soaking.
2. Avoid excessive consumption of the vegetables on the list above in their raw state.
3. Incorporate raw and fermented plant and animal foods into your diet.

And if you eat a spinach salad at a restaurant or eat a Lara Bar in a pinch, don’t freak out. Just do your best!

What’s your take on Raw Food? Do you have any tips for safely incorporating raw food into the diet?

Sources:

Feeding the Family When It’s Too Hot To Cook

Foods Rich with Enzymes

How Green Smoothies Can Devastate Your Health

Think Raw Veggies are Best? Think Again.

**This post has been entered into Real Foods Wednesday, Fresh Foods Link Up #14, Allergy Free Wednesdays, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #48.

 

 

 

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14 Comments

  1. Is lacto-fermented sauerkraut OK for raw cabbage?

    Reply

    • Sue – since sauerkraut is a traditional food and fermentation adds beneficial bacteria, it’s definitely a good food to eat! Fermentation doesn’t break down the oxalates/goitrogens, as far as I know, but since it’s usually eaten as a condiment and not huge platefuls, I think it’s fine!

      Reply

  2. Thank you for this interesting article. I went 100% raw for 6 months and totally healed myself of most of my health problems. I now eat a high raw vegan diet. I just feel much better when I eat more raw food. I am totally convinced that a raw food diet is our natural diet after reading the 80/10/10 book. Dr Douglas Graham says that yes some nutrients increase when cooked but most nutrients are lost. I’d take most nutrients any day.
    However I don’t believe a 100% raw food diet is right for all people all the time. I think it depends what climate you live in. If you live somewhere hot where you have access to tropical fruits then I think it’s the best diet for you. But if you live somewhere cold and dark like me, then it’s torture trying to stick to a cold raw food diet with unripe fruit imported half way across the world. So I think some cooked vegetables will do us the world of good.
    It’s an interesting debate, but I think another issue is more about whole foods. It’s easy to eat an unhealthy raw food diet also by adding too much oil and processed foods to your diet. If you eat only whole foods with nothing processed you’ll see your health turn around.
    As for green smoothies, I couldn’t start my day without one. They totally transform my energy levels and keep me going despite not getting enough sleep with my baby.
    Thank you for this great post.
    Katherine

    Reply

    • Thanks for your comment Katherine! I love it when people can disagree and still be civil! So refreshing! I’m so glad that you’ve found good health through your diet and I hope that continues for you. I agree that the most important thing is cutting out processed food. And that is a very good point about climate! I know that animal products and cooked foods – with some raw/fermented included, ideally with every meal – is what is best for me as a nursing mother at this time in my life.

      Reply

    • Thank you so much for your input, Katherine! I have been trying to transition into a Raw food diet for next year and you have brought up some very good points. Thank you for giving me a little more to think about, for helping me to gain a little more knowledge and be that much more intelligent.

      Reply

  3. This is an excellent perspective. I agree – it is about balance!

    Reply

  4. Great post! I’m sharing this on my fb page.

    Reply

  5. [...] hope everyone has been enjoying the myth-busting posts that we have shared so far in October: The Raw Food Myth, Veganism: The Bottom Line, and Pasteurization Reconsidered. This month is full of myth-busting [...]

    Reply

  6. So if I have suppressed my thyroid by having too many green smoothies, is there a food that will elevate it as well?

    Reply

  7. Thank you for this well written article. I have been researching a Raw food diet for the past couple of months now as I would like to focus on my health as much as possible next year (it’s my 2013 New Year’s Resolution). Anyways I always have to get both sides and I just began my research on what the other half has to say. I appreciate your passion and concern for other people’s health (as well as your own) being so great that you felt the need to compose this article. I feel like I have a very good stating/reference point for furthering my research :)

    Reply

  8. [...] The Raw Food Myth: Retrieved from: http://www.modernalternativekitchen.com/2012/… [...]

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