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Should You Be Eating a Raw Food Diet?

slicing a cucumberYou might have heard by now that cooking will destroy your food’s nutrients. There is an intense debate on both sides that show valid arguments for and against cooking your food. So what’s the real answer? Whether you boil, fry, steam, bake, or microwave your food, some nutrients are going to be destroyed. However, does the amount of nutrients that are destroyed outweigh the benefits that cooking our food provides?

Cooked Food is Toxic

This is the claim made by raw-foodists. They believe that eating a raw food diet improves mental and physical health. By cooking food, they say that enzymes are destroyed, and the molecular structure of the food is altered. Is this true? Let’s look at a study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology:

To clarify the cooking losses of minerals (sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper), various food materials were analyzed before and after cooking, and the following results were obtained. (1) The mineral contents of cooked foods in mass cooking were on an average about 60-70 percent of those in raw or uncooked foods. (2) Cooking losses were particularly high in minerals of vegetables. (3) Among various cooking methods, loss of mineral was largest in squeezing after boil and in soaking in water after thin slice, followed by parching, frying and stewing. (4) Cooking losses of minerals in meals cooked in home brought about the similar results as those by the mass cooking procedures. (5) The measures to prevent cooking loss are (a) eating the boiled food with the soup, (b) addition of small amount of salt (about 1% NaCl) in boiling, (c) avoidance of too much boiling, (d) selection of a cooking method causing less mineral loss (stewing, frying or parching).

This study clearly shows that cooking your food will destroy about 1/3 of the minerals that were tested, and that the amount of nutrients that are destroyed is dependent on the cooking method.

Cooking Food Improves Its Digestibility

Some studies show that cooking actually enhances the nutritional value of food. Take this study for example that was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry:

The raw tomato had 2.01 ± 0.04 mg of trans-lycopene/g of tomato. After 2, 15, and 30 min of heating at 88 °C, the trans-lycopene content had increased to 3.11± 0.04, 5.45 ± 0.02, and 5.32 ± 0.05 mg of trans-lycopene/g of tomato (p < 0.01). The antioxidant activity of raw tomatoes was 4.13 ± 0.36 μmol of vitamin C equiv/g of tomato. With heat treatment at 88 °C for 2, 15, and 30 min, the total antioxidant activity significantly increased to 5.29 ± 0.26, 5.53 ± 0.24, and 6.70 ± 0.25 μmol of vitamin C equiv/g of tomato, respectively (p < 0.01). There were no significant changes in either total phenolics or total flavonoids. These findings indicate thermal processing enhanced the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the bioaccessible lycopene content and total antioxidant activity and are against the notion that processed fruits and vegetables have lower nutritional value than fresh produce.

This study shows that the antioxidant bioavailability in raw tomatoes was increased by cooking. Specifically, they looked at lycopene – a red pigmented antioxidant that has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Is Cooking Food Unhealthy

There are obviously valid points for and against cooking your food. There are also extremes on both sides. There are some raw-foodists that are purists – meaning they will not eat anything that is cooked. There are some that try to get the majority of their food intake from raw sources, and then there are those that don’t worry about it, and just cook what needs to be cooked for that particular meal. I personally fall in the latter category, and here’s why.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of your diet. While nutrients are going to be lost through cooking, eating a nutrient dense diet of whole foods will still provide you will more than enough vitamins and minerals for optimal body function. I will certainly avoid certain cooking methods, like frying – which has been shown time and time again to not only destroy nutrients, but also create carcinogens.

However, I’m not going to stress about the temperatures that I cook my food at or whether it should be cooked at all. Everyone can agree that whether or not you eat a vegetable raw or cooked, it’s still better than eating no vegetables at all. Whether cooked or not, it has been proven time and time again that fruits and vegetables are healthy and help reduce the risk of disease.

Avoid processed foods, exercise frequently, work on good mental health, and don’t worry so much about the minute details. They can be an interesting read, but can sidetrack you from the big picture.

Following these 20 healthy weight loss tips from people who lost over 50 pounds should be your prime focus.

Tips For Keeping Your Food Nutritious

As you dive deeper into the research of cooking your food and whether or not it’s healthy for you, you begin to notice a few patterns taking effect that fit the profiles of both arguments. Here are a few tips you can follow that will help prevent the nutrient loss of your food.

  • Do not overcook your food. Excessive heating is directly correlated with nutrient loss.
  • Cooking time and temperature are the two biggest factors for nutrient loss. Keep them on the low side.
  • Eat your meat rare or medium-rare. The National Cancer Institute has shown a 1/3 less risk of stomach cancer than those who ate beef medium-well or well-done [1].
  • Avoid frying your food at all costs.
  • Use as little water as possible when cooking. Water leaches minerals and vitamins – especially water soluble ones.
  • Cook vegetables soon after cutting. Prolonged air exposure destroys many vitamins.
  • Water, heat, air, and light are the 4 biggest natural elements that affect nutrient content. All should be minimized.

Follow these tips once you have the bigger picture in place. Once you’ve changed your lifestyle to include whole foods, and have incorporated exercise into your daily life, then you can start delving into the intricacies of your diet. Until then, focus on cutting out processed foods, drinking water, and getting active.

What do you think? Do you cook the majority of your food? Will these studies influence how you handle your food preparation?

  • Tom Parker

    Good post Tony – I don’t think I could ever follow a full raw food diet. I enjoy cooked meats too much. For me I think overcooking is the biggie. You are probably going to lose some nutrients through cooking but I think if you keep the heat low and follow the correct cooking time the impact is minimal.

    • Lisa Kirkby

      I do follow an almost raw food diet. I never touch meat or dairy and I don’t eat any processed foods, refined sugars, white breads or pastas or have any caffeine. I am 41 years old, run 10K at least a day and feel better than I did at 20. This must have something to do with the nutrients I do get in the foods I eat. I don’t eat empty calories. What I do eat is nutrient rich and I really am happy with my choice. Of course, I know not everyone has the will power or the want to eat this way but wow, I never complain of feeling grossly full, bloating, having stomach issues and I don’t count calories. I sleep well, live well and feel so much better. I have lived on the SAD diet many years ago, lived as a vegetarian for almost 20 years, vegan as well but the best I feel is living raw. I have helped a lot of people go raw for breakfast and lunch and then cooked for dinner. They feel better too. Thanks for posting. Just thought I would add an opinion from someone who actually follows a raw food diet.

      • crystal

        This is great to know Lisa, as my husband and I are trying to convert, Any great recipes? We just bought a commerical dyhydrator.

  • Coach Calorie

    Prolonged heat and time will always be the 2 biggest factors. Nothing wrong with cooking your food. Balance in everything. Thanks for the comment.

  • Ruth

    I cook most of my food. I do like my veggies somewhat crunchy so at least I am doing something right.

    I think this is the best part of the article, “Once you’ve changed your lifestyle to include whole foods, and have incorporated exercise into your daily life, then you can start delving into the intricacies of your diet. Until then, focus on cutting out processed foods, drinking water, and getting active.”

    I am focusing on these things now and cannot worry about what nutrients are being “cooked” out of my fresh food. There are too many other bad habit to kick to the curb first!

    • Coach Calorie

      Most people have much more to to worry about than things like whether or not the lycopene content of their tomatoes are destroyed after 15 minutes of heat at 200 degrees. You’re doing the right thing by sticking to the big picture.

  • Judith R.

    I’m a raw-foodist, but not because I believe that eating a raw food diet improves mental and physical health. I became a raw-foodist when I developed a sudden aversion to cooked food and I remained a raw-foodist – despite knowing that cooking actually enhances the nutritional value of food – when I noticed my weight dropping back to 47 kilos (as recommended by my dietician).

    For ten years, I ate a cooked-food heart-healthy diet and gained 10 kilos. Now that I’m on a raw-food diet, I’m back to 47 kilos.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hey Judith, congrats on the weight loss. Did you eat the same foods and quantities for the raw food diet as you did the cooked food diet?

      • Octavian

        Gotta compare apples to apples.
        I also wonder what “heart-healthy diet” means. If it’s chock-full of (complex) carbs like bread, pasta, cereals, oatmeal, etc, and low in starches, fat and protein, no wonder you gained weight.

        • Coach Calorie

          Yeah, don’t get me started on the food pyramid

  • Michael

    Lets be really honest, some foods need to be cooked or you will be poisoned. However a raw food diet with some moderation is excellent
    Michael J

  • TracyAnn0312

    Well sometimes it does destroy the nutrients of the foods especially when you over cook the foods you were cooking. Vegetables are one of the great example that can easily destroy nutrients because they were fragile while cooking. Thanks for sharing another idea that can help many people about cooking food in exact ways.

  • Kate Ray

    Cooking will reduce or destroy a lot of nutrients, a lot (I understand) because they are leached out into the boiling water. But heat will degrade them.

    Thus microwaving or steaming are much better if you are cooking foods; Obviously, grilling is better than frying for things like tomatoes.

    But remember that there are some vegetables that are virtually inedible unless cooked – potatoes, and others, like carrots, where their nutrient is made much more available by cooking and weakening their cell walls.

    So you cook with a minimal touch, learning to enjoy your vegetables being a bit more crisp, or raw.

  • Doug Felding

    G’day from Australia :)I just turned 41,
    When i was 10 my Mothers took her own life & i grew up in a broken family with alcohol & violence so from age 14 i self medicated with alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes & a BAD DIET, i got married & had 3 awesome kids but could not break these BAD habbits till my HEALTH deteriated eg; Depression, Obesity, Cronic broncitis, Pre-emphasemia (i was breaking ribs from excess coughing from flem) & a failing marriage :(

    I tryied to quit these habbits to save myself & my marriage at age of 36 i ate healthy & excercised i was determined to get well & my lungs healed in just over a year, but relapsed several times later after the all clear, STUPID HEY, but managed to quit alcohol till this day,but only managed to cut down on smoking dope & cigarettes ( i quit from one to the other) SILLY ME!!!!

    I recently underwent a full shoulder reconstruction & was advised to quit both in order to heal properly, i didn’t quit till week 3 after the Opperation & i wasn’t healing. so i QUIT IT ALL & went on a full health kick. YES i wanted then to cleans 25 years of crap out of my body & hopefully kill any CANCERS that may be lurking inside of me. I needed to know more so i googled HEAL YOURSELF NATURALLY to start researching. i purchased a BOOK by Markus Rothkranz – HEAL YOURSELF 101, he’s a RAW FOOD advicate with alot of good tips, but ive healed well since week 3 just by eating REAL WHOLE FOODS, exersize, but i think its beeting the bad habbits & positive thinking that got me through+ lots of garden weeds.
    I’ve come to believe that adding lots of RAW VEGGIES (full of CHLORAPHIL) to a complete healthy diet is why i’ve healed so well, My specialist is now asking me for advice LOL…
    .” i dont cook all my meals, i DONT FRY & i steam my hard veggies” SORRY for the rant but i’m passionate about my progress as I have never felt so good EVER !!! :D

    to a healthy eating plan

    • Heather

      Good for you for taking your life back!