Raw food diet – myths and reality

Why are so many vegetarians turning off their stoves and turning to a raw food diet these days, learning the art of “non-cooking”? The reason must be sought in the fact that the idea that a diet consisting of raw plants is the healthiest is becoming increasingly popular. Many even believe that unprocessed plants have medicinal properties that dishes containing foods that are cooked are lacking. People who consume raw plants believe that such food gives them a lot of strength, activates mental activity and cleanses the body of poisons. Supporters of the raw food diet are endowed with a genuine gift of persuasion, so the number of adherents of this trend is steadily increasing. Undoubtedly, raw plants are an important part of a balanced diet. The main benefits of eating raw plants are:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Improvement in mental state.
  • Strengthening the immune system.
  • Normalization of blood pressure.
  • Strengthening the process of mineralization of bone tissue and reducing the risk of osteoporosis in the elderly.
  • Reducing the risk of developing heart disease, as well as increasing the level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
  • Increasing the body’s ability to resist diabetes and control body weight.

One of the main stated reasons why we should eat raw plants is that they contain “live” enzymes that are thought to help the body perform its digestive function. Proponents of the raw food diet argue that when heated, beneficial enzymes in foods are destroyed and their nutritional value decreases. But, in reality, enzymes denature (change their natural properties) under the influence of the acidity of the environment of the stomach, so even raw food rich in enzymes suffers the same fate.

The raw food diet is not a new phenomenon. Popular ancient theories of nutrition and health are often revived in later eras and presented as something new. So, the Presbyterian priest Sylvester Graham promoted a raw food diet as early as 1839. He rejected any heat treatment of food and argued that diseases can only be defeated by raw foods. However, Ellen White, a well-known Adventist preacher who paid a lot of attention to nutrition, recommended both raw and cooked foods. She emphasized that some products should be subjected to thorough heat treatment. Judging by her books, in her house they baked or boiled potatoes and beans, boiled porridge and made bread. It is extremely important to boil or bake beans, grains and other carbohydrate foods because they are better digested in this form (raw proteins and starches are difficult to digest). Culinary food processing is also necessary to preserve food during times when fresh food is in short supply. When heat treatment is done properly, there is minimal loss of vitamins and minerals. Adherents of the raw food diet believe that the heat treatment of products converts the organic form of minerals into an inorganic one, in which they are poorly absorbed by the body. The reality is that heat does not destroy minerals in any way. However, minerals can be washed out of vegetables if they are boiled in a large volume of water, which is then poured out. Many of the claims of raw food advocates seem to be insufficiently substantiated, from a scientific point of view, even erroneous.

What happens to products as a result of heat treatment? Questionable Claim 1: Boiled, baked and processed foods have little nutritional value. Actually: Cooking foods can result in the loss of several temperature-sensitive vitamins, such as vitamin C. Milled or refined grains lose a significant amount of minerals and vitamins. Questionable Claim 2: Heat treatment of products destroys all the enzymes contained in the plant, after which the body spends energy on creating new enzymes. Actually: The acidic environment of the stomach (acidity level 2-3) deactivates the enzymes before they enter the small intestine. Consequently, the enzymes in raw foods never pass through the stomach. Questionable Claim 3: Soaking grains and nuts causes the harmful enzyme inhibitors to dissolve, making the grains and nuts safe and edible. Actually: Soaking grains and nuts does not effectively remove enzyme inhibitors. The normal home cooking process destroys most of these ingredients. Questionable Claim 4: Heating the oil causes its fats to be converted into toxic trans fatty acids. Actually: This process is possible only when using an industrial catalyst. Heating oil in an open pan can cause oil to oxidize and break down, but trans fatty acids cannot be produced during standard cooking. It should be noted that processed foods have their own benefits. Research evidence suggests that cooking releases large amounts of lycopene and other carotenoids (pigments found in yellow, red, and orange fruits and green leafy vegetables) that the body can absorb. In many cases, the difference in bioavailability is several orders of magnitude higher in favor of processed foods. Carotenoids are known to boost the immune system and also reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. Baking bread with yeast activates the enzyme phytase, which breaks down phytic acid and increases the absorption of zinc and calcium. The availability of these minerals in flat breads or raw grains is quite low. The process of boiling and frying causes the proteins to denature and the starch to thicken, which increases the digestibility of the product. Boiling beans destroys growth inhibitors and helps with flatulence problems. The flatulence-causing oligosaccharides in legumes are partially eliminated through normal cooking procedures. Cooking serves as a preventive measure against lethal and dangerous bacteria. For the most part, food poisoning is caused by raw or undercooked foods that contain salmonella and E. coli. A sufficiently high temperature is required to destroy these dangerous organisms. From the foregoing, it follows that a raw food diet has its drawbacks. While raw foods can be healthy, a radical raw food diet is not the best idea.

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