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Raw Foods - What Some People Don't Know
by Don Bennett, DAS

A diet containing lots of uncooked (raw/living) food (fruits, vegetables, and some nuts and seeds) goes a long way towards optimum health. But some people have misconceptions about eating this kind of diet, and therefore there's a bunch of misleading information floating around. I have been eating this way for over a decade, and have amassed tons of knowledge on the subject, so I'll attempt to put things in perspective. With one exception, the quotes below are from the article, "Simply Raw" which appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution 5/21/02.

"Some raw food theories run counter to common medical wisdom." - Deborah Geering, reporter

If "common medical wisdom" were correct, the incidence of heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disease would be lower today than it was 50 years ago. But it's not; it's higher; much higher. "Common medical wisdom" comes from a curriculum taught to those who wish to pursue a medical career. This curriculum is fraught with both misinformation and missing information. Eating a healthy diet comes under the heading of prevention, and medical doctors get no training in prevention. Why? Maybe because prevention runs counter to the medical/pharmaceutical economy? From most people's perspective, it would be better to not get a disease, than to get it and attempt to get rid of it, so you'd think the health care industry would be big on prevention. But today's common wisdom says take an antacid before you eat pepperoni pizza... that'll prevent heartburn. That just prevents symptoms, and does nothing for the underlying detrimental effects.

"There can be downsides to an all-raw vegan diet. One of those is lycopene. The phytochemical which helps prevent prostate cancer and is found in such foods as tomatoes and watermelon, is better absorbed by the body when it is cooked, as are some other nutrients." - Brie Turner-McGrievy, registered dietitian.

You can look at anything in isolation and make a case for it. In the above example, Ms. McGrievy touts an advantage of cooking, but fails to mention the many disadvantages. She makes reference to one substance that is made more bioavailable, while not mentioning the hundreds of substances that are made less bioavailable. As with all things, it would be prudent to deal with food processing on balance. But, alas, most people don't. (And she also fails to mention that the amount of lycopene available in a plant-based, uncooked diet is more than sufficient; and indeed the lycopene from fresh watermelon is more abundant than the lycopene from cooked tomatoes.)

On the subject of downsides: "People who eat a lot of fruit and nuts can end up eating too much sugar and fat, Turner-McGrievy warns."

Lumping fruit and nuts into the same category is irresponsible. It is the excessive eating of nuts that can sabotage an otherwise healthy diet. Humans need far more fruits than nuts. As far as quantity goes, they are at the two opposite ends of the spectrum. It would be more helpful to mention that people sometimes eat fruit to the exclusion of vegetables (leafy greens), or eat sweet fruit to the exclusion of non-sweet fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers).

"It's not the enzymes in them [raw foods] that matter; we produce our own enzymes to break things down." - Brie Turner-McGrievy

Yes we can, but we wouldn't have to produce some enzymes if they were left intact in our food. In-other-words, destroying the enzymes in food causes our enzyme producing organs to become overworked. That's why cooked food eaters can have larger pancreases than non-cooked food eaters. (When an organ is overworked, it can become enlarged.) And when our body must supply digestive enzymes, the production of metabolic enzymes can be affected to our detriment.

"Followers [of a raw food diet] say the diet has cured their cancer, curbed their diabetes, helped them lose weight, turned their gray hair back to its original color, given them more energy. But little clinical research has been done on any of it, and some members of the healthcare community question the theories behind the diet." - Deborah Geering

The members of the healthcare community that question eating a diet of raw foods simply don't have the information necessary to make an informed determination... but that doesn't seem to stop them from passing judgement. They can only form their opinions based on the information they've been taught... some of it incorrect, for example the need to consume dairy products for strong bones. And as far as research on raw foods, visit health101.org and read "Healthy Diet Studies" in the Articles section. And if a diet were to be helpful in resolving serious disease, you're more likely to learn about it through empirical evidence (evidence from observation or experiment) than from headline news or well-funded research.

"All say the sacrifices in their diet have led to improvements in their health." - Deborah Geering

Many people who shift from a cooked, animal-based diet to an uncooked, plant-based diet don't see the change as a sacrifice, especially not in the long run. They feel and look so much better, and they no longer like or want what they used to eat, that the word "sacrifice" is hardly appropriate. Ms. Geering might see the change as a sacrifice, as do people who do it begrudgingly or who won't consider doing it under any circumstances (even serious illness).

"It's a high-maintenance diet..." - Gene Lowe

It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Some educators who instruct people on how to transition to a raw food diet, complicate matters, and even recommend things that are health-damaging. For many people, eating a healthy diet can be simpler than eating the "Standard American Diet". In the class I teach, I show how a healthy diet can be simple without being boring.

"Although many seek out raw and living foods as treatment for a serious illness, others just consider it the right thing to do for their stressed-out, processed food-fed bodies." - Deborah Geering

Then there are those who consider it the right thing to do because it's healthier. But because of biases and agendas you're not likely to see that statement in print in the mainstream media.

"Most of the problem with disease-fighting is, we're not getting enough antioxidants and phytochemicals." - Brie Turner-McGrievy

While it's true that many people could do with more antioxidants and phytochemicals, the biggest problem with disease fighting in my opinion is that people continue to participate in the very things that caused the disease in the first place... the things that necessitate additional antioxidants. How can you expect to rid yourself of cancer if you're still burdening the body with the very things that helped cause it! And if you are successful in "beating it", how can you expect it not to return if you're still doing the things that originally contributed to its creation. But because the many things that cause cancer are big business, you're not likely to see that list in print in major publications anytime soon. (My upcoming book, "How to Get Cancer Without Really Trying" will explore the causes of cancer - despite big cancer organizations' claims that the cause of cancer isn't known, and it will tell you how to avoid it - despite big cancer organizations' claims that cancer can't be prevented).

"And though 'the American diet is not doing the colon any favors,' Turner-McGrievy says, a slow-moving colon is not the cause of all ills." - Deborah Geering

Maybe it's not the cause of all ills, but it is surely a cause of some, and a contributing factor in many. Why? The normal "transit time" of a colon is based on the diet of ones biological adaptation, i.e. a natural diet, and a human's is far quicker than a meat-eater's transit time. And (regardless of your blood type) humans do better, health-wise, on a plant-based diet. So transit time is a factor in disease.

"Some raw foods are difficult to digest... You're going to increase fiber dramatically. And you may increase gas production dramatically. If you have any digestive compromises, this diet may not be for you." - Jo Ann Hattner, registered dietitian

Unless you're suffering from chronic renal failure, if you have digestive compromises, a natural diet is precisely what you should be eating! You just have to work up to it. Digestive compromises are a sign of ill health. Ill health should be dealt with by adopting healthful practices, including dietary practices. If you transition from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one, you may indeed feel worse before you feel better. The initial "feeling worse" is not a sign that a healthy diet is not for you, as some dietary experts would suggest. Just because you see the wisdom of eating uncooked, plant-based food, don't go 100% overnight. While some people can, many people find more success with a gradual transition.

"There may be some parts or principles in this [raw foods] diet that may be healthful. I don't want to say anything that is so emphatic because maybe we'll find that cooking some foods is going to be detrimental. But I don't think we're going to find it across-the-board." - Jo Ann Hattner, registered dietitian

Maybe cooking some foods is detrimental? This illustrates how little dietitians know about food. Cooking damages and changes almost every component of a food, and, on balance, those changes are for the worse. We already eat food that is less than fresh (it's not fresh-picked), and may be grown in less than ideal soil (which translates into a food that may be low in or missing some essential nutrients). So why would we want to degrade the food even further by cooking it? Is that in our best interest? Many knowledgeable people contend that cooked food is one of the major contributing factors of degenerative disease. Yes, there are other factors: not getting enough water, sunshine, physical activity, restful sleep, stress management, and relaxation, but wouldn't addressing as many of these factors as possible give you the best chance of avoiding degenerative disease, lessened quality of life, and premature death? Sure it would! And diet, if not the biggie, is one of the biggest factors.

"Our diets certainly don't have to be 100 percent raw, but going more toward that direction can be beneficial." - Brie Turner-McGrievy

Why would a dietitian declare that our diets don't have to be 100% raw? That's a very irresponsible statement in my opinion. Is she implying that you'd get the same benefit from a diet that is 60% uncooked as you would from a diet that is 100% uncooked - which would be untrue. Or does she mean that you don't necessarily have to eat the healthiest diet in the world. Or is she trying to pander to that segment of the public that would rather not consider abstaining from cooked food; her statement gives them "permission". But what if you wanted the best health possible? What if you wanted the highest quality of life and longevity possible? Wouldn't your diet have to be the healthiest diet possible? Sure it would. And if that meant eating no cooked food, maybe you'd like to hear that this is an option... a doable option. Most nutritionists and dietitians will not encourage you to eat a 100% uncooked, plant-based diet. They're not trained to understand the advantages, and they themselves most likely eat cooked food, and do not want to appear hypocritical by advocating a diet that they themselves don't eat.

Althea Zanecosky, a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, and her colleagues cast a wary eye on health improvement claims [made by those who have adopted a raw foods diet], pointing out that while heat alters the shape of some enzymes, it also makes many nutrients more accessible to the human body. Vitamin A, which benefits eyesight, is one such nutrient; lycopene, which is being studied for possible cancer-preventing properties, is another. ''It's all still the same basic chemical compounds,'' Zanecosky says. "The only thing that might be in 'live' food and not in cooked is bacteria!" - "Finding Therapy in Uncooked Food" by Clea Simon, Globe Correspondent

Again, looking at things in isolation, and mentioning a substance that is made more bioavailable, while not mentioning the hundreds of substances that are made less bioavailable. But to hear her tell it, there are no substances made less bioavailable, demonstrating her ignorance of the subject matter. (and Vitamin A is NOT more bioavailable when cooked!). And I won't even dignify her remark about the bacteria with a response other than to say it again demonstrates her lack of knowledge... and this is the spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association!

"All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally it is accepted as self evident." - Arthur Schoepenhouer

Bottom line: The more uncooked fruits and veggies you get into your diet, the better. The more cooked, animal-based "food" you get out of your diet, the better. And the more knowledge (truthful information + understanding of that information), the better.

For a typical article on raw foods, including typical quotes from doctors and nutritionists, click here.

See also:
The Benefits of Eating Uncooked Food
The Natural Diet Primer
Healthy Diet Studies
Why Most Diets Don't Work
Research Yields Surprises about Early Human Diets

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