Oh the world of diet fads. Every week there seems to be a new one! Our Facebook newsfeeds are always being bombarded with “before and after” photos of girls who have become miraculously slimmer (and more tanned, toned and generally happy) by adopting the newest crazy diet.
With all of these stories out there, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to healthy eating. Luckily that’s where I can help, and today I’ll be delving into the mysteries and myths of the raw food diet, a fad which has gained a fair amount of popularity recently.
Why go raw?
Raw food enthusiasts insist that it is better to eat food in its natural state – uncooked. They say that cooking food destroys all of the good nutrients and enzymes, essentially making it a dead shell of what it once was.
This is a bit of an exaggerated version of the truth. Heating food does take away some nutrients from food, it’s true. Levels of vitamins that dissolve in water like vitamins B6 and C are reduced in cooked foods compared to fresh ones, but that isn’t the whole story.
The benefits of cooking
Raw food might have higher levels of vitamin B and C, but it has lower levels of some other important nutrients. In a recent post on the health benefits of pizza I told you about a cool chemical called lycopene that is found in tomatoes. Lycopene is super good for your skin and can help reduce your risk of getting prostate cancer, wohoo. But do you want to know the craziest thing about lycopene? The amount of it drastically increases when you cook your tomatoes!
And tomatoes aren’t the only food that improves with cooking. The levels of antioxidants in carrots and corn have also been found to increase with heating, so when it comes to cooking, you really do win some and lose some.
Cooking your food also breaks down fibre which makes it easier for your body to process. Fibre is what makes your carrots crunchy and your asparagus stringy, and it can also give you bloating and gas. By cooking your veggies you break some of this fibre down and make it easier for your body to deal with, avoiding that puffy, gas-filled tummy feeling.
You might miss out on more than you gain
The biggest danger of the raw food diet is (ironically) that you are at risk of becoming deficient in a few vital nutrients.
While the raw food diet does mean you can eat raw fish (sashimi) and raw beef (tartare), many people choose to skip meat altogether. This poses some risks when it comes to getting enough of the good stuff. Vegan raw foodies could be at risk of not having enough Vitamin B12, calcium, iron, Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, and that’s a lot to be missing out on! These nutrients can be found in other, non-meat foods, but that means you have to face the prospect of eating raw legumes or chickpeas… Not a hugely inviting thought!
All in all the raw food diet isn’t terrible. It is based on some fact, although you do gain just as much from cooking your food as you do from eating it raw. But the diet would mean you would eat a bundle of unprocessed food which is primarily fruit and vegetables, and that is going to have its benefits.
As far as religiously sticking to a raw diet though, it won’t do you as much good as the fanatics claim. Maybe just be raw in moderation and accept that cooking is okay too.