Raw Food Facts:
How the diet works
Question: We've heard about the benefits, but what's real here? What are the raw food facts-- how does this diet work?
We've already covered a whole series of benefits offered by raw food diets (LINK). But where are these benefits coming from? Is cooking your food really that bad for your health? Is there any way to use this information to get these benefits without eating raw? This article will get into the good and bad explanations for the benefits of raw eating, and offer some suggestions for the future.
Bad explanations for the benefits of raw foods
The positive press around raw foods is motivated by a sincere desire to explain the benefits people are experiencing, but carefully researched explanations aren't easy to come by. In this section, I'd like to dispel some myths about why raw food works.
1. Raw Food Facts: Enzymes. Raw foodists claim that you kill enzymes when you heat your food over 116 (or 168) degrees F. Yes, you probably do. But they get killed pretty quickly when your body heats them to 97 degrees F in the presence of strong acid in your stomach anyway. Regardless, your body has it's own enzymes and doesn't need digestive help from plants.
2. Raw Food Facts: Vitamins. One real benefit of raw foods is an increased intake of vitamins, mainly because you aren't destroying them during the cooking process. It's true that most people get an inadequate amount of vitamins in their diet. The problem with this explanation is that people supplementing vitamin pills don't report the high energy, mental clarity and weight loss associated with a raw food diet. Instead, they report getting sick less often. Vitamins are useful to take because deficiencies result in disease. But there is almost no evidence that getting excess vitamins, either from food or pills, will increase your overall energy levels. And I have yet to see a single paper saying that vitamins cause you to lose weight.
3. Raw Food Facts: Phytonutrients. Plant nutrients and antioxidants like beta-carotene and lycopene are clearly important, but don't quite raise to the level of vitamins in terms of nutritional requirements. Because the cooking process will destroy these nutrients as well, people on raw food diets have been shown to have higher levels of these nutrients (1). Similar to vitamins, these nutrients are likely to have a positive impact on general health and disease prevention. But again, it's unlikely that all of the benefits of raw food diets can be linked to high doses of these micronutrients. And to drive this point in, how many people do you know who take two dozen different plant extract supplements but still don't feel "healthy."
Better explanations for the benefits of raw foods
1. Raw Food Facts: Toxins. On this point, I am in complete agreement with the raw foodists. Cooking food creates toxins. Specifically, advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and heterocyclic amines (HAs). AGEs result when a sugar molecule latches on to a protein during heating. Since this process requires high temperature, AGEs are associated with browned food--- toast or seared meat, for instance. Dietary AGEs result in increased oxidative stress and inflammation through a variety of mechanisms (2). AGE intake has been associated with an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even aging skin (2,3). A different set of toxins called heterocyclic amines are formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures (4). A number of these compounds are associated with mutagenic acitvity and cancer formation (5).
Getting these toxins out of your diet completely can only be good for you. I suspect that a substantial amount of energy is taken up when the liver processes these toxins. This factor alone has the potential to impact on energy, mental clarity, and skin quality.
2. Raw Food Facts: High fiber, low calorie intake. Because of the high intake of fiber, considerably less food gets consumed by raw foodists, and much of the caloric content is not absorbed. A number of studies show that worms, mice, and other animals live longer and healthier on calorie-restricted diets, but these findings are difficult or impossible to translate into humans. While something like this could be happening with raw foodists, it's more practical to consider that high fiber/low calories translates into less waste. First, waste materials have less time to accumulate and sink back into the bloodstream through the large intestine. Colonic transit times vary over the enormous range of 1-7 days, giving ample opportunity to reduce toxin exposure. Second, a shifted fiber and calorie profile favors a different kind of intestinal bacteria (6). Since these microorganisms produce waste products themselves, a change in population has widespread impacts on your system. For instance, changes associated with eating vegan have been correlated with improvement of the inflammation-related disease arthritis (6). High fiber and low calorie intake certainly impacts weight management.
3. Raw Food Facts: Hormone regulation. Eating vegan or raw has been documented to make considerable impact on prostate cancer progression and incidence (7). Prostate cancer and enlargement are tightly related to hormone regulation, and the raw food diet is known to have a strong impact on hormone levels. Weeding out the impact of animal hormones from the diet will likely have a substantial impact on mood, mental clarity, and overall health.
4. Raw Food Facts: Deep Sleep. This point works for vegetarians too--- and it may be a side-product of the above three, but the sleep-related benefits of eating light cannot be overstated. When you eat a huge pile of animal protein for dinner at 7 PM, the digestive processes are still in full swing when you hit the pillow three to four hours later. The energy required to move that mass of heavy food around your system will have a noticeable impact on sleep cycles, particularly the depth of sleep. While a big pile of meat may make you feel sleepy in the short term, the reason you get so tired is the energy required for digestion. The blood flowing to the intestine detracts from vital repair processes going on in rest of your body during sleep.
Raw food sounding great to you? It sounds good to me, too. Here are some important tips you'll need on your journey.
Raw food risks, and how to protect yourself
I know that eating raw is not for everyone. But what if you could actually get many of the benefits of the raw diet without all the challenges associated with the raw food facts, dehydrating food and essentially re-learning how to feed yourself once you've tossed out what you already know. There is a way to get many raw food benefits without the struggle.
Raw food benefits from cooked food!
Ready to jump in? The best raw food manual on the internet
References for Raw Food Facts
1. Garcia, AL, Koebnick, C, Dagnelle, PC, et al. "Long-term strict raw food diet is associated with favourable plasma beta-carotene and low plasma lycopene concentrations in Germans." Br J Nutr. 99 (2008) 1293-1300.
2. Ramasamy, R, Vannucci, SJ, Du Yan, SS, et al. "Advanced glycation end products and RAGE: a common thread in aging, diabetes, neurodegeneration, and inflammation." Glycobiology. 15 (2005) 16R-28R.
3. Yamagishi, S, Matsui, T, Nakamura, K. "Possible link of food-derived advanced glycation end products (AGEs) to the development of diabetes." Med Hypotheses. 71 (2008) 876-8.
4. Bjeldanes, LF, Morris, MM, Timourian, H, Hatch, FT. "Effects of meat composition and cooking conditions on mutagen formation in fried ground beef." J Agric Food Chem. 31 (1983) 18-21.
5. Adamson, RH, Thorgeirsson, UP. "Carcinogens in foods: heterocyclic amines and cancer and heart disease." Adv Exp Med Biol. 369 (1995) 211-20.
6. Peltonen, R, Nenonen, M, Helve, T, et al. "Faecal microbial flora and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis during a vegan diet." Br J Rheumatol. 36 (1997)
7. Berkow, SE, Barnard, ND, Saxe, GA, Ankerberg-Nobis, T. "Diet and survival after prostate cancer diagnosis." Nutr Rev 65 (2007) 391-403.