Most of my present acquaintances are unaware that I used to be a huge proponent of raw foodism. “Huge” meaning I spent hundreds (thousands, actually) of $$ traveling to get certified as a chef and an educator (centers in Chicago, Atlanta, and northern California), taught “cooking” classes at the local co-op, was a private chef for months, etc.
In fact, check out some of the raw vegan dishes I used to make!
Is this amazing or what? I’m still quite proud of my raw culinary past. The recipes used soaked nuts, dried fruits, sprouted items (like buckwheat) and of course lots of vegetables and fruits. While fun & unique, it was also very time-consuming, rather expensive, and not necessarily healthier. It did fit well with people who have allergies (since raw recipes don’t use soy, wheat, peanuts or many other problematic foods).
I almost spend all day writing down why exactly I have concluded raw veganism is unnecessary and based on false beliefs… But that would be a true waste of time (and rather dull to me) so I’d rather redirect you to already well-written articles!
False belief 1: We are meant to be plant-based because our physiology shows we’re herbivores!
- NO. (my previous blog post). And it’s a good reminder not to attempt to compare our diet to that of other animals and insects (insects! people make the point that insects and animals don’t cook food! insects & animals also can’t perform surgery or produce toilet paper)
- Another thing worth mentioning is the incorrect assumption that vegetarian/vegan folks are healthier than others because they avoid meat. Majority of big studies I went through in my nutritional epidemiology class compared meat-avoiders with people on a standard american diet…and didn’t do a good job controlling for the fact that they compared health-conscious vegetarians with generally regular unhealthy folks. Luckily i don’t have to write more, because THIS ARTICLE did it for me AND gave citations (woohoo!). Pay attention that health benefits of meat-eaters is more correctly attributed to other healthy behaviors (avoiding refined sugar and grains, oils and trans fats, avoiding smoking and so on).
False belief 2: Cooking is unnatural.
- First of all, let me point out that some types of cooking of some foods produce potentially carcinogenic compounds. HERE is my post on acrylamides. Like with other valuable claims from raw foodists- this is not supposed to mean you should never eat baked potatoes. It means having antioxidants in your diet from other plants is very important. The new genetically modified potato, by the way is designed to decrease acrylamide content. Unfortunately, generalized anti-GMO sentiments might win over that benefit.
- How Cooking Made Us Human Read this wonderful New York times article on the Catching Fire book and how cooking was instrumental in our evolution! I remember I was aghast when i heard of this book- you mean turning food into murderous evil toxic stuff that kills cute kittens made us human?? I’m clearly joking here, but not actually over-exaggerating too much. Many of us in the raw community would absolutely avoid the healthiest of soups, since cooked was equivalent to “toxic” and “addictive” in our heads.
- Humans are adapted to controlling fire & using it to cook. See part of the “Human adaptation to the control of fire” paper here (click on pics to enlarge). For full paper, here is the citation but it might not be free unless you have university affiliation- Wrangham, R., & Carmody, R. (2010). Human adaptation to the control of fire.Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 19(5), 187-199. TRY HERE.
3. False belief 3: We need to eat an all-alkaline diet (or high raw plant diet)
First of all, just to clarify: your body can’t actually get “acidic” (see photo & citation*) though dietary acidosis is a thing. Acidosis is a proces s or trend toward acidaemia ( blood pH of less than 7.35) but without necessarily reaching a pH of less than 7·35″. ** Increasing fruit and vegetable intake, reducing processed junk and not making your diet heavy on meat is a great recommendation to avoid the trend towards acidaemia, though it’s unclear it actually benefits bone and kidney health:
“Both dietary interventions (lowering protein and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption) and nutritional supplementation (with K and Mg salts) have been shown to normalise acidosis, but with discordant results on whether this is then associated with clinical improvement in bone, muscle or other physiological or pathophysiological conditions. A positive NEAP [net acid load] diet results in increased urine Ca, N and bone marker excretion, and predisposes to kidney stones. Whether or not, over the longer term, this translates to lower bone density, increased bone and muscle loss with ageing is unclear and requires further investigation.”**
This does not necessitate eating a raw vegan diet though– it necessitates being reasonable and, like recommended by parents, governments, and nutritionists, make sure to eat your fruits & vegetables and minimize high-caloric processed foods. This also doesn’t mean eliminating animal foods at all. Here is a great article*** that estimates the “acid load” of diets of hunter-gatherers (HG) and modern diets. They find the HG diets were neutral (e.g. not “too acidic”, if you prefer) and contribute elevated diet acidity of modern diets to processed cereal grains. Great idea to minimize on processed products anyway!
*Deng, G., & Cassileth, B. (2013). Complementary or alternative medicine in cancer care [mdash] myths and realities. Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology,10(11), 656-664.
** Pizzorno, J., Frassetto, L. A., & Katzinger, J. (2010). Diet-induced acidosis: is it real and clinically relevant?. British journal of nutrition, 103(08), 1185-1194.
*** Sebastian, A., Frassetto, L. A., Sellmeyer, D. E., Merriam, R. L., & Morris, R. C. (2002). Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 76(6), 1308-1316.
4. False belief 4: Raw Food is superior because it has all the enzymes intact
- There’s no scientific support for this, and that’s about it. **** In fact, this was my turning point in adhering to this lifestyle: I realized this very foundational claim has no basis.
The evidence raw proponents cite is a 1985 book called Enzyme Nutrition. That’s 30 years ago… good science is self-replicating so I would expect there to be more studies on such a potentially fascinating subject if there is something to it.. I don’t see any.
**** Hobbs, S. H. (2005). Attitudes, practices, and beliefs of individuals consuming a raw foods diet. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 1(4), 272-277.
None of this is supposed to go against the fact that eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables is very important and very healthy! HERE is a nice Scientific American article giving examples when some vegetables are better and worse when cooked.
But this is supposed to discourage you from forming a belief system that humans aren’t “supposed” to eat cooked and animal-based food***** or that there is a need to stick to eating raw plants only. It is also supposed to prevent damaging thinking- e.g. a hot chicken soup is toxic; cooked food is addictive; non-organic food is dangerous. Humans have a tendency towards monotonic thinking- it’s hard for us to be OK with the fact that something we consider “bad” is only bad at high doses and is actually essential and beneficial at lower doses (e.g. fat, salt in the diet for some people). Considering this lifestyle takes a lot of time and effort, does not necessarily results in weight-loss (and when it does- it’s just because you eat less calories, not because raw food is magical.. if you go heavy on the nuts & oils you will gain wait), and there is absolutely no reason to consider this eating natural or superior I believe this dietary approach is unnecessary and attempting to stick to a highly raw food diet results in a lot of stress for no reason.
Note:I am intrigued by the possibility that this approach might have therapeutic benefits. It’s not based on any present science, folks, but I would be excited to see studies of this eating plan as a medicinal diet for improvement of certain conditions!!
You are welcome to comment on the blog and ask questions or challenge some of the statements! I’m not anti-raw as much as I am pro-science and evidence. I’d love to research very specific topics so please comment with a specific concern 🙂
***** As a good friend of mine noted- it’s important to remember that vegetarianism/veganism is not only a choice to be healthy..but it’s also a choice due to environmental and ethical concerns. I’m unqualified to cover those in detail, but it is obviously an important reason some people avoid animal products and I’m not arguing against it!
p.s. Links to all sorts of websites debunking some raw food ideas or talking about its shortcomings, etc. Just stuff that came up after 2 minutes of Googling 😉