Raw food diets are becoming increasingly popular across America according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
“Raw food diets are not weight loss diets,” said Duitsman. “Instead, they focus on consuming plant foods in their most natural state for improved health.”
Raw food advocates generally do not use traditional cooking methods, but may use food dehydrators, not heating above 115 to 118 degrees. Proponents of raw food diets believe that cooking destroys enzymes vital to our health, and greatly decreases the nutrient content of food.
“In reality, enzymes in food play little role in human nutrition. The reason is because they are quickly deactivated by our own bodies’ digestive enzymes, and destroyed as soon as they come in contact with stomach acid,” said Duitsman.
She notes that the use of a variety of cooking methods is actually important to ensure optimal nutrition. Some vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are actually less bioavailable when foods are eaten raw.
Lycopene, a carotenoid, is a good example. Lycopene has health promoting and disease preventive properties. It helps protect against several types of cancer, and is also protective against types of cardio-vascular disease and macular degeneration. However, Lycopene is not well absorbed from uncooked foods.
“While it is true that some nutrients (B and C vitamins) can be destroyed by heating, the study of health protective components in food have taught us that a variety of whole foods and a variety of cooking methods, are helpful in obtaining an optimal diet,” said Duitsman.
The ingestion of a higher level of natural toxins found in edible roots, seeds, stems and leaves can also result from the practice of eating only raw foods.
“These naturally occurring toxins help to protect the plants, but can be potentially harmful to humans. Most of these compounds are broken down and destroyed by cooking,” said Duitsman.
According to Duitsman, one very positive outcome of the popularity of “raw food dieting” is that it does help bring more attention to the importance of building on a foundation of whole foods.
“Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed, and include fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. The best advice is to start with whole foods, and then use a variety of preparation and cooking methods, to obtain a nutrient-rich diet,” said Duitsman.
For more information on nutrition, go online to http://extension.missouri.edu or contact one of the nutrition and health specialists working in the Ozarks: Christeena Haynes, in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545.