I love to cook my food. Watch it sizzle and bake and boil. But I know that raw foodies are pretty serious about keeping their edibles away from the heat. Here's the claim: Living foods, as they call them, contain enzymes necessary for digestion and absorption of nutrients that are destroyed by cooking. They begin to degrade around 102° F. (39° C.) and are completely destroyed at 126° (52°).
Of course, these are just allegations. Some studies show that more nutrients are available when some kinds of veggies are cooked, e.g. carrots and tomatoes.
Most raw foodies are vegetarian or vegan; they're not ripping into raw chicken flesh or anything like that. But if they were to eat meat, I've been informed it would be raw. And they tend to shy away from eggs (raw eggs - ick), dairy, soy (it's processed) and beans (they need to be cooked before you can eat 'em). So really they're left with raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and sprouts. Grains are used to make bread on a dehydrator.
The claims of such a diet are many, from brighter eyes and a bushier tail to disease prevention and a cure for cancer. As for that last claim, research is lacking, though we do know that cooking meats at high temperatures creates carcinogenic chemicals.
We also know that pretty much everyone in this country could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables and less of, well, everything else. But should we sell our stoves?
What the experts say
"According to Chinese medicine, we need a balanced diet of all the flavours: sweet, sour, acrid, bitter and bland. What we need the most of is bland, foods that have no taste, such as oatmeal or rice. These bland foods are easiest to digest. A diet rich in raw food is very hard on the digestive tract and can lead to poor absorption issues. This is what we call a weak, cold spleen in Chinese medicine. As weakness ensues, there will be congestion , tiredness and loose stool. It's not just what you eat, but how you can achieve a variety of foods so that your body is not overworked in one direction through imbalance."
ROBERT McDONALD , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Markham
"It's been said that half the fuel used in the world goes to the cooking of food. We use more fuel for cooking than we do for driving our cars. Every creature has foods for which it is biologically designed. In our case, fruits and tender young vegetables are ergonomically designed. A lion's mouth waters when it sees an antelope. When we see cherries or peaches on a tree we sense food. Cooking is not a requirement for healthy eating. I found such amazing health results as an outcome of [raw food] that there was no turning back. Protein is found in the nucleus of all living cells. We know of no such condition as protein deficiency. Almost all conditions in the Western hemisphere are conditions of excess, not of deficiency."
DOUGLAS GRAHAM , chiropractor, founder Healthful Living International, 100 per cent raw for 25 years, Key Largo, Florida
"Over half of our energy is used in the home for heating space, another large chunk is for heating hot water, another large chunk is electricity for refrigerators and fans in the furnace system. Cooking maybe comes in third or fourth in electricity use, and that's just in the home. Overall, cooking is going to be a few per cent at the most of total energy use. Granted, by having a raw diet you will reduce that energy, but also if you just eat less meat. Cooking meat takes a lot more energy than cooking vegetables. The claims about energy savings [by avoiding cooking] are greatly exaggerated."
LESLIE DARRYL HARVEY , energy expert, professor, department of geography, U of T
"A child is still growing and needs a certain amount of calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates for nourishment. Fruits and vegetables are not known for high fat content, so right off the bat there's a problem. You'd have to eat a whole lot of nuts to get the amount of protein a child needs. When you bulk up a little child's tummy with high-fibre foods, it displaces other nutrients. Protein deficiency can cause malnutrition and kwashiorkor, a protein and calorie deficiency. This is present in Africa. We don't suffer from protein deficiency in North America, but if you're going to say [raw food] is a balanced diet, we have a problem with that."
SYLVIA KERR , registered dietitian, Toronto
"The raw food people were doing [a ratio of] 80:20 raw to cooked, but they are upping it, I think, and many are doing 100 per cent raw now. I believe in 60:40 in summer, and the reverse in winter. It's for times when there's heat. [Raw foods are] not suitable for people with weak constitutions. The body needs to rev up its temperature for the enzymes to work properly. Of course, the enzymes really help people with digestion. Raw food is fantastic for all the recognized benefits, but it might not be for everyone. Also, if you don't prepare it properly you won't derive the full benefit. You need to do all the dehydrating and fermentation. And you need to cook herbs like basil and cardamom to release the oils and get their full benefit. You need to approach this sensibly."
VIVIAN LEE , Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, Toronto
"People with high blood sugar or diabetes form advanced glycation end products (AGE) in excess. These compounds are thought to be responsible for many complications of diabetes. They may also form in meat cooked at high temperatures. A small percentage is absorbed when eaten and may cause disease, even diabetes itself. Independent studies have also shown that higher blood levels of AGE correlate very well with markers of inflammations. One [such marker] that is very well known is C-reactive protein (CRP); the higher your level of CRP, the more likely it is that you will develop cardiovascular disease. In general, heating of food has been associated with the generation of carcinogens and of these compounds that, once absorbed, may over time generate disease. Of course, I am mostly talking about meat. Vegetables create very little of these."
JAIME URIBARRI , associate professor, medicine/nephrology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York