From the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
Dear Earth Talk: Are raw foods healthier to eat than cooked foods?
-- Kris Amitzboll, Coledale, Australia
Proponents of raw foods, which are sometimes called "living foods," believe that raw foods are much healthier for the body than cooked or processed foods. Followers of diets based wholly or largely on raw foods claim numerous health benefits, including increased energy levels, clearer skin, better digestion, weight loss, and a reduced risk of heart disease.
A purely raw food diet, as its name implies, is based on the consumption only of unprocessed, usually organic, whole plant-based foods, such as fresh (or dried) fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, grains and legumes, other organic or natural foods which have not been processed, and freshly made fruit and vegetable juices.
According to the Living and Raw Foods Web site, raw, uncooked foods are believed to contain essential food enzymes that aid the digestion process without reliance on the body to produce the enzymes that are lost through cooking. It is also thought that cooking (heating foods to more than 116°F) destroys vitamins and minerals and that cooked foods take longer to digest and tend to cause partially digested fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to clog up our digestive systems and arteries. In Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Food (available from best-cooking-books.com), raw food chef-to-the-stars Renée Loux Underkoffler argues, "Raw foods make optimal assimilation of nutrition easy, provide pure, clean energy for the body, and do not require a lot of energy for digestion."
Traditional-nutrition experts refute this idea, although the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and others are conducting studies on the possible benefits of a raw-food diet. Claudia Gonzalez, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the ADA, says that eating all raw, all the time is an "extreme" diet but acknowledges, "If you eat more raw foods in your diet [without adding calories], that's always a good thing. Replacing refined, processed foods with raw foods is a healthy move. Eating a few raw meals a week can be great, but it's important not to go to the extreme."
Gonzalez, who has studied raw-food diets, says it's hard to eat more than 1,200 calories a day in raw foods. Although this might be great for weight-loss, she says, once the weight comes off, such a diet might not be enough to sustain a person's energy, especially if he or she is doing physically demanding work.
A raw diet has benefits for the environment as well. The lower you eat on the food chain, the less impact you will have on the Earth's resources. According to certified nutritionist and raw-foods advocate Monica Dewart, "One hundred percent of the 'waste' materials [seeds, peels, etc.] of a raw diet are biodegradable and great for composting. This is the ultimate environmentally friendly diet!"
For more information: Living and Raw Foods, www.living-foods.com; Living Cuisine, available at best-cooking-books.com/ Vegetable_Cookery_Raw.html;American Dietetic Association, 800-877-1600, www.eatright.org; Monica Dewart, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thegardendiet.com/network/monica.
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