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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.
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.
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!
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?