Report talks to raw foodists
It's one thing to graze through the salad bar once in a while. It's another thing to go totally raw. But that's the latest food movement, NBC5's Dick Johnson reported, and devotees call it a life-changing experience. But there's a flip side, Johsons said, and some nutritionists say they are concerned about the possible consequences.
Pure raw foodists eat nothing cooked, Johnson explained, and most stick only to raw vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts a literal back-to-nature existence.
"They repeat like a religious mantra that 'cooked food is poison,'" Johnson said.
As extreme as a raw-food diet may seem, some of the ideas behind it are finding their way into the grocery stores and your home. There are magazines, books and even raw food catalogs.
For instance, you can get raw sushi, made to go, at Dominick's grocery store. The produce section at Dominick's, dubbed the "Fresh Store," now accounts for 25 percent of the floor space at most Dominick's stores, Johnson reported.
"It's almost as though fresh produce has become the center of the plate," Dominick's Marketing V.P. Don Fitzgerald.
It's one thing to graze through the salad bar once in a while, Johnson said. It's another to go totally raw, 24/7, nothing cooked nothing.
Johnson talked to people who are following the all-raw diet.
"I'm in a war zone here," said Judge Michele Lowrance, a totally "raw" dieter who works at Cook County divorce court. "So you need tools for survival. It's been a process of 12 years. I don't suffer ever through fatigue. So if I'm on a trial, at 2:00 o'clock, all the lawyers who had a big lunch (are exhausted), and I'm (energetic) and ready to go."
Nick Sinadinas, who owns a graphic design firm, told Johnson that eating all raw foods has been a life-changing experience for him, too.
"Not being burdened with digesting difficult-to-digest things returns to you energy that is available to you to get through whatever you are doing," Sinadinas said.
Karyn Calabrese, known as a local guru of the raw food movement, told Johnson that even before she opened the doors of her new store in the 1900 block of N. Halsted, would-be devotees were clamoring to get into her classes.
"There is no limit to what you can accomplish, I'm telling you," Calabrese told students in a class Johnson attended.
"When you cook something, you destroy the enzymes," Calabrese told Johnson later. "You need enzymes for every metabolic purpose in your body. When you lose enzymes, that's when you die."
Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute, told Johnson he disagrees with Calabrese and does not think it's healthy to eat all raw food.
"We've been promoting a more vegetarian type of diet for decades, and I still want people to move in that direction," Kushner said. "But to put up artificial barriers and silly rules that say you can't cook fruits and vegetables is pushing the envelope a little too far."
Kushner said cooking sometimes brings out the best nutritional value in fruits and vegetables and used cooked tomatoes as an example.
"You can become deficient in a variety of nutrients, like vitamin B-12, calcium, iron and protein," Kushner. "And you can become sick."
"Not true," Calabrese disagreed. "I'm not a medical doctor. But, you know one of the things I tell people? Educate yourself, learn as much as you can ... and then weigh it. That's the best way to find out. Weight it, and see what works."
Johnson said many experts agree that moderation is the key and that there's something positive in both schools of thought.
"Although (many nutritionists) are not so concerned about the organic part, they do strongly suggest that you cook some of the eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables that they recommend every day, saying that cooking makes some of them even more nutritious."
The biggest difference between all-raw eaters and others comes to other recommended eating habits, Johnson reported. The "regulars" want you to consume two to three servings a day of low-fat dairy products, seven to eight servings of whole, unrefined grain products, and one serving each day of trimmed meat or, preferably, fish, Johnson reported.
raw foodists, on the other hand, are strict vegetarians," Johnson said.
Articles on the raw food diet are best written by those who can be objective, and by those who don't let their personal eating preferences color their judgment. The above article was obviously written by someone who will never consider eating an all-raw diet.
The comment by Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute, that he does not think it's healthy to eat all raw food, illustrates how little medical doctors know about nutrition. But writers of articles on diet, in an attempt to pen a balanced article, assume that doctors and nutritionists know about nutrition, when in fact they do not. They only know what they've been taught, and that curriculum is filled with biased and erroneous information, and is heavily influenced by industry... a BIG industry. To say that not cooking fruits and vegetables is a "silly rule" and is "pushing the envelope a little too far" demonstrates the average doctor's ignorance.
And nutritionists, who you'd think would know better, are equally as clueless. Just because cooking a tomato makes the lycopene more bioavailable doesn't necessarily mean that cooking improves the overall nutritional value of a food. The opposite is true. But those who love cooked food, will jump on anything that supports their preferred way of eating, and are adept at looking at things in isolation, like the lycopene issue. (Truth be told, there is plenty of bioavailable lycopene in an uncooked tomato; to give a balanced view, in addition to looking at the one positive aspect of cooking, let's also look at the other 99 negative things like destroyed enzymes and vitamins, and damaged proteins and fats.)
And I can't leave this article without commenting on Dr. Kushner's remark, "[If you eat all raw food] you can become deficient in a variety of nutrients, like vitamin B-12, calcium, iron and protein, and you can become sick." It is the cooking of food that leads to nutrient deficiencies and illness. The fact that there is plenty of calcium and protein in an all raw plant-based diet is obviously unknown to Dr. Kushner (and I have a feeling he'd be loathe to consider the supporting evidence). And Dr. Kushner is also unaware that cooked animal food eaters suffer from B12 deficiencies, as well as vegetarians who eat cooked food.
I, and many other individuals, have been eating a 100% uncooked, plant-based diet for a long time, and as long as one eats enough variety and is active enough so they eat enough calories so they get enough nutrition, there's no problem getting enough iron, calcium, and protein. Cooking food does far more harm than good. It's a crying shame that those who the public turns to for nutritional advice are completely unaware of this fact.