Everywhere we look in regards to health talks about including more fruits and veggies. Many promote eating these foods raw, and claim that raw foods are better for us than cooked because they contain more nutrients, are higher in fiber, and will aid in weight loss. Those that lean towards the raw food diet eat all of their food raw, blended, juiced, or slightly warmed.
There’s no doubt that some raw produce is fantastic for us. From eating fresh fruit to chopping up a salad there are so many healthy foods that taste great raw. What happens when we lean towards a primarily raw diet though?
Nutrient Absorption// Many nutrients in raw foods are undigested and excreted by the body because of their tough fibrous nature. Our bodies cannot digest fiber, so the nutrients bind to the cellulose and fibrous starches and pass through the body. While raw foods are higher in nutrients, it does not matter if the body does not absorb them. Cooking breaks down the fibers and cellulose to help release minerals and nutrients. Certain foods, tomatoes and broccoli for example, have been shown to be more nutritious in their cooked state compared to raw.
Digestion// Our stomachs have a hard time breaking down the high fibrous states of many veggies. Vegetarian animals, like cows and goats, have multiple stomachs to help break down the tough plant matter. While fiber is an extremely nutrient for the body overdoing it can cause problems. When we constantly eat or consume too much foods that our stomach has a hard time breaking down, we experience gas, bloating, indigestion, and other discomforts. When on a primarily raw foods diet, someone will consume a higher volume of very dense foods in order to feel satisfied. Overeating on raw foods like nuts will make you feel like you swallowed a brick. Since cooking breaks down some of the tough fibers, it leads to better digestion, which leads to better elimination, which means less gunk in the body.
Deficiency// Raw food is very high in volume because the water has not been cooked down and the fiber has not been softened. Whether eating food in as a whole or blending it into a smoothie if the body is full of water and fiber (which will absorb water) it can be difficult to consume enough vitamins and minerals. Certain vitamins like B12 and D, minerals like selenium, zinc, iron, and omega 3 fatty acids are difficult to obtain from raw, plant based foods.
Thyroid// Cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and mustard greens, are goitrogenic. Goitrogens are naturally occurring compounds in certain foods that can block thyroid function. Over the long term this can lead to hypothyroidism and goiter. If someone already suffers from thyroid issues, overdoing it on goitrogens could be problematic. What to do since these foods are some of the most nutritious foods? Heat deactivates goitrogens, so cooking is great for these foods.
Seasonal Changes// Most of us naturally eat differently with the seasons. In the colder months, eating warm cooked foods internally warm us and stimulate circulation. Eating primarily raw in the dead of winter will make us constantly feel cold. So much energy is going to digest and break down the fibrous food that our blood does not circulate as needed to help warm the body temperature.
Juicing// Juicing is very popular these days. Juicing removes all of the fibers from raw foods while leaving the nutrients. The removal of fiber makes these nutrients easily absorbed by the body. Healthy green juices can be a great compliment to a healthy whole food diet or those with digestive issues. However, to much juice can be problematic. Our bodies need fiber and more nutrients that can be found from chugging gallons of juice for days.
I personally believe that there should be a balance of raw and cooked foods in the diet. I think when we go too far one way or the other that’s when we start to find problems. Most of us prefer certain foods raw and certain foods cooked anyways. The balance of raw foods that a person can consume is very individual.