Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Sep

Raw Food Gets Served

cooked
Friday we gave a raw foodism proponent, Raw Chef Dan, the opportunity to explain the philosophy. Dan’s a busy guy and he was up front about the fact that he couldn’t get into an ongoing debate but could share a bit about the philosophy. So the purpose of the feature on Friday was simply to present an introduction to the whole premise of raw food before I assessed the lifestyle. I initially planned to cover raw foodism in a follow-up Primal Health post this week, but I’ll go ahead and address it today since we’ve got a hot plate on our hands with this topic. (Guess that means homeopathy is on the burner for Wednesday’s Primal Health…I think you’ll find this to be an interesting week at MDA.) To be blunt, my assessment isn’t pretty. But I do want to be clear that this isn’t about one guy. Dan’s obviously got strong opinions and you can probably guess that I’d disagree with them, but I want to steer the conversation to the raw food philosophy in general. Let’s investigate.

Raw foodism shouldn’t be dismissed as merely another trend (no California jokes, people). It’s become insanely popular and, as you’ll note from the Friday post, has passionately devoted adherents. Raw food proponents toss around terms like “living” and “consciousness” and the diet has a distinct spiritual overtone (some might say religious). The raw food diet is perhaps one of the most difficult diets to follow – even more so than veganism and perhaps even more specific than the macrobiotic diet – and requires an enormous amount of effort and time. Still, if a diet is going to awaken your soul, I suppose the effort required is worth it.

The raw food diet entails the following: raw, obviously; typically vegan although not necessarily so; absolutely no processed, refined, treated, altered or preserved foods of any sort. Beyond that it gets more complex, as raw foodists explore which particular foods and food combinations are crucial for their particular systems and health characteristics. It gets a little too woo for me. But the basic gist of the raw food diet is that foods, in their organic, natural, uncooked state, are “alive” and full of nutritional density to which traditionally prepared – cooked – foods simply can’t compare. Moreover, raw foods are full of important enzymes, which are believed to be the fundamental wellspring of ideal human health. Our modern problems of obesity, depression, diabetes, arthritis, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and nearly every other disorder, syndrome and malady can be attributed to the dead food we eat.

Okay.

I don’t disagree that subsisting on raw vegetables, nuts, fruits and seeds is a better idea than living on fries and burgers. We should all make fresh – or frozen – vegetables the base, in terms of bulk, of our diets. Americans are sorely lacking in sufficient vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, and they’re also eating far too many garbage calories. Produce consumption certainly takes care of those issues. But nutritional benefits of produce, nuts and seeds aside, this is where the raw foodists and I part ways – and it’s where the gorillas and humans likely parted ways, too. In fact, one compelling theory in mammalian evolution – specifically, the great apes – holds that our human scavenging of any meat we could get our incisors on is likely why gorillas are gorillas and humans became humans. In particular, our ancestors went for the fattiest tissues they could find (brains, organs, liver…getting hungry yet?). We’re clearly evolved as omnivores and we do need a lot of protein. Based on my understanding of evolution and nutrition, I don’t espouse veganism or vegetarianism, although I’ve got both lifestyles going on under my very own roof, so I’m not telling you it’s my way or the highway, either.

Raw foodists are not necessarily vegans or even vegetarians, of course, although many shy away from “too much” protein under the misinformed belief that our bodies cannot digest “too much” (whatever that is). That said, some eat raw fish and others even go for raw beef. That’s important, because sufficient protein is absolutely a concern here. Fermentation is another part of the raw foodism umbrella (and we discussed fermentation with another radical foodster, Sandor Katz, last week). But let’s get back to the raw thing: what on earth makes raw better? How is some food “living” and nutrient dense by virtue of its temperature, while other food is “dead” and therefore poison? Another blogger posted a brutal assessment of raw food in response to Friday’s post, and I couldn’t have said it better. Go read her piece when you’re done here if you’re interested in this issue.

Fact: You cannot be deficient in enzymes (unless you have a rare genetic condition). You don’t need enzymes from food. Your body has its own digestive enzymes or builds specific enzymes within cells to catalyze biochemical reactions. No amount of living or dead food is going to change that. Don’t fall for enzyme therapy, “curative” enzyme supplements (unless they are digestive enzymes), and diets that focus on enzymes. Some of those juicer infomercials focus on “enzyme benefits” and they drive me nuts (I’ve ranted about this, of course).

Fact: By the time it gets to you, all food is dead. The fresher the better so as to obtain more vitamins, minerals and nutrients, but it’s not “living”. If you want to eat raw vegetables and fruits and nuts to obtain more nutrition, I’m all for that. But there’s nothing spiritual about it, and subsisting on raw food to the exclusion of some cooked foods could ultimately be unhealthy.

Fact: You do need protein, and lots of it. I suggest shooting for at least 20 grams at every meal, totaling at least 100 grams daily.

Fact: Cooking probably helped shape our evolution. Humans have benefited from the nutrition in cooked food for well over 250,000 years and it’s not a bad thing. Many nutrients that are important to the body – various carotenoids, for example – are often only released when the food is cooked. Over-cooking will reduce the amount of vitamins, but hopefully you don’t do that anyway, because soggy or dried-out food tastes bad. (Our tongues are surprisingly intelligent indicators.)

Fact: Humans clearly evolved eating a variety of meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, greens, shoots, stems, peppers, roots, tubers and even flowers. While it’s possible (and recommended, given how hard you’re going to have to work to get enough protein) to eat a great variety of foods on the raw food diet, there’s simply no great nutritional advantage and no scientific merit to going raw.

Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten. Technically, all living things, plant matter included, have evolved particular defensive mechanisms – from chemicals to spikes and thorns to toxins – to stand a better chance at survival. Many perfectly nutritious foods do require cooking to remove poisons or become edible. So the belief that our modern diet is replete with chemicals and toxins – while often accurate – does not negate the fact that raw, “natural” foods can also contain their own chemicals and even toxins.

I welcome your thoughts.

Further Reading:

Escape from Vegan Island

Low-Carb Recipes for Vegans and Carnivores Alike

Flickr Photo Source (CC)

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I agree that the live food theory has many a hole in it. But I do buy into eating fresh organic foods, along with foods like tuna and other fresh fish. Greasy foods will in the long run do a lot of damage to your body. Eating fresh non-fried foods is a very healthy way to go.

    terry wrote on September 10th, 2007
  2. “If eating raw is wrong…then I don’t wanna be right” ;-)

    Great article Mark. I would love to see Dan’s or any raw experts rebuttle of the facts presented in your post.

    T.

    Tatsujin wrote on September 10th, 2007
  3. “Fact: By the time it gets to you, all food is dead.”

    I beg to differ. May I refer you to…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RTPKXdNpIA

    It’s catching on. Is the baby in the background eating live octopus too?

    McFly wrote on September 10th, 2007
  4. I am not a raw foodist. I never will be. Eating raw organ meats would take some time getting used to I think. However, in response to “Fact: You cannot be deficient in enzymes (unless you have a rare genetic condition).”, some people don’t produce lactase. Isn’t only ~40% of the population that even produces lactase? If you pasteurize milk, it gets boiled away. Thus, lactose intolerance.

    This is a perfect example of cooking destroying an enzyme that is needed for digestion. Ok, so it’s a tiny point. Still, there’s a hole in that fact. :)

    Abraham Williams wrote on September 10th, 2007
  5. Oh and also, I’d recommend being careful not to char that meat in the picture: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060406101252.htm

    Abraham Williams wrote on September 10th, 2007
  6. This is such a fun article. Thanks, Mark. One other callout.

    “Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten…”

    Very true as many minerals in grains are bound up in phytic acid, phosphorus in particular. This prevents their absorption. Many traditional societies soak, sprout, or ferment their grains in lactic acid (whey) as a predigestive step towards removing the phytates (salt form of phytic acid). I know this from my studies, but I refrain from the grain.

    Abraham Williams wrote on September 10th, 2007
  7. I have two friends who have actually started feeding their very sick cats and dog raw diets. The animals are all doing great. The cats were diabetic and obese and the dog had kidney problems. It’s pretty amazing when you see the difference on these animal, so there is definitely something to this.

    shaw wrote on September 10th, 2007
    • Animals will certainly do better on raw food which they should be eating. Cats in nature would not eat grains or cooked meat. There’s a good book called Pottenger’s Prophecy about Dr Pottenger’s experiments with feeding cats raw or cooked meat. The ones on cooked food became sicker. It took 4 generations of good feeding to bring them back to health. It occurred to me that with the Std American Diet, humans’ epigenes are being adversely affected as well. Food for thought.

      Robin wrote on June 19th, 2012
  8. Just a minor , off topic, point because I know she’s gonna be jazzed. The blogger you linked to is a she. Yay LabRat!

    daddyquatro wrote on September 10th, 2007
  9. *grin* Hi D4. (And yeah, to be honest I think I blushed to the roots of my hair.)

    Shaw: The raw diet works as well as it does on many dogs and cats because a great many commercial pet kibbles are formulated as though they were feeding primates, not carnivores. They’re as depressingly high-carb as so many of the offerings for humans; part of it is ignorance, but a lot of it is that grain meals are cheaper than meat meals, and some of it is that you can only put so much protein and fat into a dry food before you have to find some kind of engineering solution to prevent the food from falling totally apart. A few companies have managed compromises, and they sell very expensive but very high-quality kibbles. Canned is often even better, especially for cats- there are WAAAAAAY too many carbs in cat food. Dogs are meat-leaning omnivores, but cats are obligate carnivores, and the poor quality of so many foods hits them harder; unlike dogs, they haven’t been eating human refuse for the last hundred thousand years or so.

    Once you control for the formula, whether a cat or dog will do best on a home-prepared raw diet or a quality (cooked) commercial food seems to depend on the individual. Which is not to say that asking questions on food isn’t still the fastest way to start a flame war on almost any given pet forum…

    LabRat wrote on September 10th, 2007
  10. Abraham,

    I like a good debate. I’ll stand by my “fact” about enzyme non-deficiency. I think you may be confusing lactase with lactose. Lactase is the enzyme many humans make to asssist them in digesting lactose (the sugar in milk). Milk does not contain lactase. If it did, there would be little or no lactose left for us to consume. So pasteurizing milk won’t change its digestiblity very much. You are either good at making the lactase enzyme or you are not (genetically speaking). It’s interesting that one of the theories of recent human evolution suggests that our genome may have changed fairly recently (less than 500 generations) to allow many of us to digest the milk of other animals. This is more a case of spreading “lactose tolerance” than it is of increasing lactose intolerance.

    As for the grains, the fact that some societies have found ways to reduce the toxicity of their staple starch doesn’t mean they have made it 100% safe for consumption. Look at how pervasive corn is in our diet. Like you, I refrain from grain :-)

    But I like the way you think.

    Mark wrote on September 10th, 2007
  11. Argh, sorry for being such a knucklehead, Labrat! Great post.

    Mark Sisson wrote on September 10th, 2007
    • I know this post is 3 years old, but I wanted to reply to you personally to maybe ‘teach’ you something new :-)

      Many people claim that humans cooked their food for hundreds of thousands of years, this is false.

      First of all the earth has turned itself over 4x…and everytime life was wiped, something new evolved to be the top of the food chain.

      Continents again, split apart from another, new oceans are being built all the time, there is a new one evolving since 2005 in the northeastern desert of Africa.

      Not all humans came from Africa, that theory is wrong! Africa was the very first tiny little vulcano that evolved first, making life possible there first…which doesnt mean ALL humans came from there because the earth had turned itself over AGAIN after that.

      My people (Palatinate, central europe, very old, still very primitive compared to the rest of now Germany) ate most of their foods RAW. And they were mostly carnivores. Even boar was consumed raw.
      (Neanderthal area)
      The head of the rabbit was a delikatesse and still is today (cooked though).

      Way back when, fire was used to thaw out frozen meat or to warm it for children, never was anything truly ‘cooked’.

      Also, the first ‘grains’ weren’t used for humans consumption either, it was planted to lure animals back to grass land and vegetation so it can be killed. Humans figured out how to find water under the desert and use it to irrigate (with the help of gravity not modern machines) large areas.
      You have probably seen his earth biography series on NatGeo and recognize this name Dr. Iain Stewart.

      His e-mail iain.stewart@plymouth.ac.uk

      Prof. of Geosciences Communication

      If you’d also like his phone number pop me an e-mail:-)

      suvetar wrote on July 5th, 2010
  12. My friend’s mother is one of those gullible hippy types you can imagine falling for this type of fad. She’s never had an ounce of fat on her as long as I’ve known her, however she started the raw diet several months ago.
    Well last week she had to be airlifted to the hospital while she was at an outdoor art festival because she collapsed from exhaustion. After running some tests the only thing the Doctor could attribute as the likely cause of her exhaustion was diet.

    cog wrote on September 10th, 2007
    • Gullible hippy types…so true. There’s a couple of people I know who proudly called themselves ‘raw vegan’ and embarked on a physically demanding adventure covering a lot of miles in mid summer. Their adherence to raw food only and their ignorance/denial of their body’s signals to stop and replenish meant that after about 4 days they both ended up in hospital. Such was their depletion of essential electrolytes etc that in fact they were only a hair’s breadth away from heart failure.

      What I have found with a lot of ‘raw’ people is that if they are feeling crap or really ill, instead of listening to the signals from their body, they’ll turn it around and blame the symptoms on their former cooked food diet and ‘toxins’ coming out of their system.

      I had a close friend who was on an incredibly strict raw regime. He lost a lot of weight, became ill while away, did not seek medical attention and instead attributed his symptoms to his body just ‘detoxing’.

      He died.

      But whenever I’ve talked to ‘raw’ people about things like this they immediately go into denial about it.

      healthy food lover wrote on July 6th, 2010
  13. Mark, a question (rather than a challenge) – You say, in defense of cooking, that humans evolved to eat cooked food. On the other hand, in your reasoning not to eat grains, you cite the relatively recent introduction of grains (via farming) into our diets. But where do you draw the line between food we evolved to eat and dietary changes too recent to be “natural” to us? I’ve read elsewhere things along the lines of, “Humans have been cultivating grains for such and such many years, and they are a natural part of a healthy diet.” I’m talking other healthy, sane sites, not the corn lobby or anything. So how do we know what’s what?

    jaime wrote on September 10th, 2007
  14. Mark,

    Glad you said that lactase wasn’t in Milk. It prompted me to check my facts. I’m hard pressed to find real evidence of lactase in raw milk. Raw milk proponents say it’s in there where as the FDA says it’s not. I did read in the ajcn that unpasteurized yogurt was found to digest more readily in lactose intolerant people where pasteurized yogurt did not. The finding was “…lactase activity is released by the yogurt microorganisms…”. Haven’t found a study on raw milk though.

    Thanks!

    Abraham Williams wrote on September 11th, 2007
  15. Thank you! You’ve restored my confidence. I know that you started the last post by a disclaimer, but it wasn’t really enough. This post makes more sense to me. And it is good form that you linked to the “rant” at Atomic Nerds.

    Pelikan wrote on September 11th, 2007
  16. Abraham – I’ve heard that yogurt in general is easier for lactards (like myself) because the bacteria digest some of the lactose into easier-to-handle sugars. I’ve heard the same for cheese – the harder/older the cheese is, the less lactose it, allegedly, has. I’m wary, because I’ve lived so okay without dairy, and testing it out doesn’t seem worth the price if it doesn’t work for me, but that’s the info I’ve gotten.

    Jaime wrote on September 11th, 2007
  17. The author is doing what he is accusing of others of doing….presenting his own personal views as “fact”, and even labeling such as “fact”. Wow! That’s about the most nonobjective reporting I’ve ever seen!
    I’m a former meat & potatoes kind of girl who switched to (mostly….let’s say 85%) raw a couple of years ago. And yes, I’m one of those who eats raw meat/fish to ensure getting enough protein. But what is ‘enough’? Even the FDA, a meat & potatoes organization in my opinion (note that 90% farm subsidies either go to the meat industry or to creating feed for the industry!), shows the RDA
    for meat as 50 grams a day. I think I used to eat maybe 75 grams a day until I became a low-carber for a while. At that point I let it go to 100-110
    grams a day. My health deteriorated rapidly during those 2 years as I decreased the amount of fruits and veggies in my diet and increased the protein content. When I moved to raw, it was less of a switch than some might think, because I had already eliminated sugar and refined carbs from my
    diet. Essentially I halved the amount of protein that I was eating and quadrupled the greens. But guess what? The greens contain loads of protein themselves! I tend to avoid soy since it is cooked and in some ways not too healthy; about 3.5 oz of fish or meat is what I typically eat in a day, and that brings me easily to my 50 grams.
    I also discovered that blending the greens (and sometimes fruits) into smoothies that would last me throughout the day made an amazing difference.
    How did this “adjustment” affect my health? My lifelong allergies and asthma disappeared. My skin became clear. My weight dropped to exactly where I wanted it. My chronic sinus condition is slowly, but surely, improving, and I no longer need prescription medications for these conditions! It is not a “fact” that enzymes do not disappear and need to be replaced. It IS true that most young people have plenty and don’t need the enzymes that food provides. But as we get older the ability to manufacture them gets less every year, and we DO need them from fresh, raw food. If I had started eating the way I do now when I was in my 20′s instead of my 50′s I probably wouldn’t have to deal with the sinus problems that I’m now having. Have you ever looked at the complexion of a person in their 20s that has ALREADY been eating raw for 10 years? You will never doubt the benefits of that diet once you’ve met somebody like that!
    And where does “Humans have been benefiting from cooked food for 250,000 years” come from? FACT???? Yikes!! Although there is some scientific evidence that humans have been eating cooked food for that long, it was probably primarily meat that was being cooked. There were no processed foods around to cook then! Certainly no pasta :-) And that humans have been “benefiting” from them is not clear–there is some evidence that humans likely survived millions of years prior to starting to cook their foods, and possibly their life spans were much longer than the average meat-cooking cavemen that existed about 30 years. Fact? Who knows, but I certainly wouldn’t present it as such! By the way, your last “fact” is indeed correct! There are many plants that do not want to be eaten; some never, some not until they’re ready. Others BEG to be eaten once they are ripe! It is the means by which the plants propogate!
    For instance, the vast majority of fruits are propagated through the seeds being disbursed when the fruits (or vegetables) are plucked. Ripening is the signal that the plants are ready to propagate. And have you noticed that even some of the thornier plants (raspberries, for example) are easier to pluck at the end of the season as the branches begin to wilt from dryness and the berries are ripe for the picking? For those that eat wild greens, arguably the healthiest of the raw foods, thorns are indeed a warning and a godsend.
    But, please, Mark, get your “facts” straighter before you publish them as “fact”.

    Lscoop wrote on September 11th, 2007
  18. Oops, made a couple of errors above. When I said 50 grams of “meat”, I meant “protein”. Ditto in the next sentence when I said that “3.5 oz of meat or fish gets me easily to my 50 grams”…..it’s 3.5 oz of meat/fish protein coupled with a LOT of greens and some seeds that gets me to the 50 grams!

    Lscoop wrote on September 11th, 2007
  19. Lscoop,

    Good stuff. I will continue to disagree on several points, though. First off, I will reiterate that this site attempts to be objective, but (there’s always that “but”) when all is said and done, it’s our (MDA staff) reading of the science and interpretation of it that forms the opinion expressed on the site. Maybe our use of the term “fact” assumes a bit much, since there continues to be so much disagreement among even experts in this vast area of nutrition.

    As for protein requirements, I stand by my reading of the science that sugggests we need much more than the RDA/RDI/DV. Some of the top paleo-diet researchers suggest that 150-200 grams a day is not too much, provided you also get your veggies. THat’s what outr robust ancestors got. IMHO 50 is WAY too little. I’d be concerned about bone density, among other things.

    Most researchers agree that humans have used controlled fire to cook food for at least 250,000 years (and some say maybe even over 1,000,000). And yes, most of those early meals were cooked meat. When I say cooking helped shape our evolution, I don’t mean necessarily for better (or worse), but just that you probably can’t avoid some adaptive response to that universal a change in food prep. I think your choice of raw meats and fish along with raw veggies is a good one and I applaud it. My very good friends Roman Devivo and Antje Spors pioneered a program called “Genefit Nutrition” (see the book) and base everything on raw foods. But I reserve the privilege to cook some foods to enhance flavor and nutritive value.

    As for the enzyme question, I will continue to state this as “fact.” Humans do not use the enzymes in plants to help them digest foods unless they are extracted and used for specific purposes not related to that plant. An example is bromelain which is a protease (protein-digesting enzyme) extracted from pineapple. People use that and papain to help tenderize meat! Virtually every enzyme in plant food is digested in the stomach and/or upper part of the small intestine and broken down into amino acid sub-units. If you or anyone wants to benefit from digestive enzymes because you feel you have stopped producing them, look for a decent digestive enzyme product in your health food store.

    I would suggest that your improvement in health came from your adding many more fruits and veggies back into your diet, not from decreasing protein. Healthy fats, plant antioxidants, reducing sugar and grains all have proven health benefits. For sure, keep that up. We will have to agree to disagree on the protein question.

    Lscoop, thanks for participating in this debate.

    Mark wrote on September 11th, 2007
  20. I can’t be bothered to read all of this but your perception of the raw life style is so far off it’s no wonder you are not an advocate. The raw food way of eating is very simple. Way more so than vegan or Macro. And way easier to prepare and clean up that cooking.
    The other thing is that the awareness in raw foods is about eating quality food not a restriction of what you can and you can’t eat. If you have a high performance race car you don’t just put any fuel into it or it will destroy the machine. Eating High power, high quality and low “garbage” foods is what raw is all about. Come on, its common sense; an apple off the tree is better for you than canned apples. Dahhh
    Think of it as food made with fresh raw materials, not uncooked food.
    And Mark, raw food has living Enzymes and Living Pro-biotic bacteria’s how can you say that the food is not living. A seed from a melon will grow another melon. That’s not living? Cook it and see what it will grow. Mold, thats what!

    I also see so many comments here saying there is no information out there about the science behind eating raw and the health benefits of it. That’s because it is not about what you eat to get well, it is about eliminating the poisons found in common food that make us sick. The body will heal it’s self. Besides there is a ton of research out there supporting the benefits of eating “Raw Foods” and millions of testimonials. Anne Wigmore institute. Dr Gabriel Cousins, Dr Doug Gram, Hippocratesinst Institute…

    Yes we have been cooking food for ever but we also have been suffering from diseases for ever. I personally haven’t had so much as a sneeze for eight years.

    raw chef dan wrote on September 27th, 2007
  21. There is a lot of great information here and many great arguments. In my personal opinion you should eat what you want to eat, just as long as you take the time to educate yourself a little so you are not just eating anything and not having a clue to what and why. You also need to take a good look at who you are getting your information from. I wouldn’t ask a 300lbs guy how to loose weight or a smoker how to quit. Some of these “specialist” don’t look to healthy too me. Whatever they are doing obviously isn’t working.
    In the long term I have seen the most success with a combination of cooked and raw with that being mostly raw. Just stay away from processed foods. That means meat folks the drugs and the toxic food supply forced into your cows and chickens today don’t yield the fresh beef and poultry of the past. It is highly processed in the end.
    As for protein well, protein is assembled from amino acids and there are amino acids in everything you eat. Your body knows how to put them together to provide the protein it needs.
    I also feel that if you are suffering with any illness, the best thing to do is take some time out to clean and detoxify the body with the purest of pure food source you can get and let things clear up as much as they can on their own before taking any other drastic measures. If you vacuum the carpet you may find you don’t need top replace it.

    raw chef dan wrote on September 27th, 2007
  22. I think that IF I found truth and value to the idea that heating food beyond a certain temperature is bad for it and bad for me, then I’d consider eating that way.

    However, to “properly” practice rawism I’d have to do a few key things, one of which is EAT RAW MEAT. Eggs, organ meats, fish in particular. Getting the high enough levels of both protein and fat I think would be very important to health on such a diet.

    But, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

    Andrea wrote on November 8th, 2007
  23. Extremely interesing article and comments. This is one of the best articles I have seen on the “raw food” debate, Mark.

    Whether you agree or disagree with any particular diet or lifestyle, the important issue is to do what feel right and trust your body. I have personally experienced a renaissance of health and vitality over the past four years simply by eliminating fast food (I was a bonafide junkie — aka Subway Jared!), processed foods and simple sugars. I shed 50 lbs (220 to 170) and have easily held this weight for the past two years. Exercising consistently (8 hrs / week) helps too! Like Chef Dan, I too have not been sick at all since I changed my diet and lifestyle.

    I am always looking for the ultimate “Fountain of Youth” and the raw food diet is very compelling. I’ve begun to swing my diet even farther towards the raw side, since I do believe plants can provide all of the “raw” ingredients that your body needs to assemble whatever proteins it requires.

    What no one has mentioned here is this important point: When you sprout a seed or bean, the proteins that are bound up inside are released as nature converts the proteins into the basic building blocks of life — amino acids. (Take Wheatgrass, for example). When we consume the raw food (Wheatgrass juice), our body can assimilate those amino acids directly, instead of having to break down the proteins. This is incredibly efficient and the end result is that our bodies do not have to do “double duty” to get the muscle-building-brain enhancing-blood supporting amino acids that we require.

    I have personally tested this concept during the final two weeks of my Triathlon training last August. I did a total body cleansing for two weeks, subsisting entirely on juiced organic fruits and vegetables, flax and borrage oils, nut milks and lots of water (Avg. daily caloric intake = approx. 1500 KCAL). Oh, and of course my daily 8oz. shot of wheatgrass juice from the local juice bar. I continued my normal training regimen including 3 x 1hr strength training sessions, 3 ea. swim/bike/run sessions and my weekly yoga and massage.

    The results? I felt a little weak around days 2 and 3, but after that I felt incredibly strong and energetic. I even placed 4th in my age group in the sprint event — a personal best!

    Mark, my point is that even though I agree with you about getting a good variety of clean, wholesome foods (including lean, organic meats and wild fish), I think there is something to the “raw food” thing that might warrant further research. I for one will be delving into this subject (and the sumptuous dishes) and keeping tabs on how I feel! It can only get better from here!

    Your’s in health!

    Geoff wrote on November 14th, 2007
  24. hey! have you seen raw chef dan’s new blog? check it out! http://www.rawchefdan.typepad.com

    anina.net wrote on November 17th, 2007
  25. This is indeed an interesting debate going on here. I didn’t get to see all of the replies (even the ones made before mine) until just now.
    I should note that when I was young I tried going vegan several times….every last time I had a notable increase in colds. Clearly there was a problem when I didn’t get enough protein….back then there weren’t nutritional programs around where I could check my nutrient levels and I’m sure I was way off base from what I needed.
    Interestingly enough, during the years that I was low-carb, eating about 100 g of protein a day, although I felt generally well I had an average amount of colds. However, I’m blown away by the fact that I never seem to get them any more since going (85% or so) raw. I’m relentless about getting my 50 grams of protein. I know that’s enough for me…maybe partly because of my size….5’2″, 112 lbs. If I were a large man maybe I’d need 100 grams like you suggest, Mark, so you were missing that piece of info. Also, I should note that unlike some raw foodists, I completely believe in taking quite a few food supplements along with my raw foods, and, among other things, they include very high quality Calcium along with other supplements needed to assure their absorption, as I am indeed concerned about losing bone density. I also believe that one of the biggest flaws in the raw food movement is the preponderance of some folks to eat a load of sugary (agave nectar, dates, ultra-sweet fruits, etc.) and oily (nuts & oils to an extreme) foods. Raw Chef Dan (above) got it right that raw food, in its simplest and healthiest state, is the easiest food in the world to prepare. It’s the nut-crusted, fatty, ultra sweet concoctions meant to mimic some of the S.A.D. diet’s desserts that take a lot of work and probably aren’t that much healthier than the orginal thing. When I was eating low-carb I was always looking for low-fat, low-carb versions of the originals and there is no doubt in my mind that these were probably healthier options than some of the raw desserts out there. These days I make my own raw chocolate….raw cocoa butter, raw vanilla, a bit of organic powdered or non GMO lecithin as an emulsifier, a pinch of salt (for white chocolate), plus the addition of raw cocoa powder for dark chocolate.
    Now, as for the sweetener, when I make the stuff for at-home use I use xylitol that I powder myself or xylitol syrup. When making it for raw food potlucks I use agave nectar because many of them are not educated as to the benefits of xylitol on the teeth and won’t even try it with the xylitol!
    For fats, I pretty much keep it low….a few olives (I have an olive tree and make my own), some flax crackers and occasionally a few nuts, plus some supplements such as fish oil and evening primrose oil and the fats that occur naturally in my raw meat/fish protein)….but living off the land to some extent is what makes this diet so much fun! I also have a great raspberry crop that I bring into winter by freezing and/or dehydrating, a year-round rangpur lime tree (looks like a mandarin orange, tastes like an orangy lemon), decorative bushes that produce voluminous amounts of pineapple guava in the winter months, and seasonal fruits/vegetables that I plant annualy in pots (due to gopher/mole problems–sigh) such as tomatoes, squash, lettuce, kale and chard.
    Ok, back to the subject of xylitol…many raw foodists that load up with nutty, sugary concoctions find their teeth deteriorating in record time…I noticed that was starting to happen to me and adjusted my diet accordingly. I have replaced agave, dates and honey with xylitol–not raw, but great for the teeth and tastes very good, and I eat lots of berries and very few sweet fruits. For those raw foodists reading this post, I also discovered the miracle of dental health by throwing away toothpaste in favor of Tooth Soap and Tooth Powder (tooth soap you can buy online or, cheaper but not quite as good, you can simply use Dr. Bonner’s castile soap–just don’t swallow the soap after brushing! For Tooth Powder simply mix 3 parts baking soda with 1 part himalayan crystal salt and 1 part xylitol). In less than a week ALL plaque on my teeth was gone and over the last month or two my receding gums have completely mended themselves! I also believe that tongue scrapers along with this–and flossing and using a water pik if possible–help keep bacteria in the mouth down and are likely to make me even less likely to get colds than I am now (and even now I can’t remember the last time I had a cold!).
    Well, I’m rambling and will stop here. I hope that maybe some of you have found something that might pique your interest though!

    Lscoop wrote on November 18th, 2007
  26. SSSsome of you so called facts are not facts. Raw food can be spiritual and that is the fatc. All you have to do is read the essene gospel of peace to find out how. Also all of your so called facts are only theorys if you include evolving from gorillas(A very mindless view). Gorillas are gorillas and humans are humans. Here are some facts that everyone should know about.

    -Einstein said “Humans are the only species smart enough to cook their food but dumb enough to eat it.” Go ahead and argue Einstein and look like a moron.

    -Live raw food contain bioelectricity and cooked food contains very litte.

    -Eating raw adds life energy while eating dead takes energy.

    -Digesting raw food is ten times easier and you get almost all the benefits while cooked food takes ten times longer and you get 10% if you are lucky

    -digesting cooked protein is like trying to digest leather. Where do cows get their protein?

    -If you say we are not cows to argue the last staement then you obvioslyt so not understand nutrition.

    -all of your statements are bogus and you should go back to school for real nutrition

    -Garbiel Cousins(raw food doctor) Is 70+ and looks 40 while he can do 600 pushups at once. No meat eating cooked protein brute has these characteristics.

    -People who eat because they like the taste only, end up in caskets after suffering from terminal illneses.

    Get the real facts and not some poor explantion to make excuses for eating cooked food and meat. That was the worse explination I have seen yet.

    Matthew wrote on June 10th, 2008
  27. Well, to each his own. I can’t speak for any one else, I can only speak for me. My eyesight was poor before I encountered raw food. I always had eye infections and was constantly put on steroidal prescription eye medication.
    Six months of raw food and several packs of goji berries later, my vision is 20/20. There’s something to be said for raw foods.

    kaybee wrote on January 8th, 2009
  28. I have to wonder if all these benefits listed of the “raw food diet” such as better eyesight, better performance, losing weight, etc. aren’t just from eating better-quality foods. If you go from the typical Western diet to a raw food diet, of course you’re going to see improvements in your health. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of the diet itself, it could just be from eating less junk.

    I’ve tried to do the raw food thing and in my own experience, it makes me really bloated, gassy, and terribly uncomfortable. That’s not to say I think it’s complete hogwash for others – but I know it’s not something I could do and feel well doing.

    With that said, I don’t think I could go completely primal and feel great either. Both diets offer some really great aspects to them, but for me, personally, neither will work exclusively.

    If anything, I think this debate just shows how varied human biology is. And if someone feels healthy, happy, and content eating a certain diet, why should it matter if you agree with their choice?

    As people have mentioned about the raw food diet, ALL diets are like religion in the sense that it’s very personal, very sensitive, and very individualized. But in the end, if it’s what makes you feel good, it shouldn’t matter how you get there.

    So please, let me eat what feels right for me in peace, and I will respect your decision to eat what feels right for you. We’re all eating high-quality, natural (or as close to it as possible) foods anyway.

    AlainaOfArc wrote on March 15th, 2009
  29. I have some friends and acquaintances who are into Raw (and a couple of them I would describe as Raw Food Nazis). I think it’s more accurate to say they are enslaved to their diets.

    I had a raw food friend stay over recently and she ate like a horse – continously! She admitted to me her diet has become a problem: it drains all of her spare money – which means as a student she’s in constant debt and living in poverty. For her, the search for suitable raw, organic food is a constant pursuit which occupies a large part of her time and money. It also means she is pretty much bound to being in the city, unless she plans well ahead and takes all her food with her. She experiences great anxiety at even the thought of eating anything cooked because she has swallowed the big lie that “cooked food is toxic.”

    Some people I have met who are into Raw, it is I believe, a massive ego trip. It’s ALL they talk about, it occupies their time and their life, they organise events /attend events about raw food, and they want to ram it down not just your throat, but everyone elses too. It’s more like a religion or – in some cases – an eating disorder.

    Me, I enjoy the best of both worlds – I think it’s great to eat clean, raw fruits and vegetables as well as having the FREEDOM and great PLEASURE to eat Granma’s delicious (and nutritious) home made family recipes from her mother country!

    the healthy food lover wrote on May 19th, 2009
  30. Hi Mark and other MDAers-
    I would not consider myself any label of a raw foodist. However, I just want to point out to you that dismissing the positive effect of incorporating a large amount of raw food, juicing, and food combining has on all aspects of the human body is beyond unfair. You have not attempted a diet of this sort, therefore you are not qualified to make such a harsh judgment on something that you have not personally experienced. Removing animal products from my diet, juicing, and food combining has eliminated my depression, digestive issues, menstruation issues, acne, and stomach fat and bloat. I am not a strict anything – I eat what makes me feel right and happy, so I am not chained to any “diet” – I am liberated by it. NOTE: It is what works for me. I don’t judge people on their consumption of meat, although I personally don’t believe it has as many benefits as one would believe. The way you think the “fact” of enzymes is BS compares to the way I think eating 100 grams of protein a day is a BS “fact.” But I’m not here to argue, I just want you, and the rest of you guys to know that MY experience has literally changed my life, and if you haven’t done it you will not understand, but really have no business judging it. As with any diet, there are going to be people who will take it to an extreme, who annoyingly get on their soapbox and try to convert non-believers. These people are the ones that jump on bandwagons to find a quick fix. But instead of judging them, maybe try to appreciate their desire to better their lives and find whatever type of health they believe in, and what works for them. Anyone who has found something like that is going to be overly enthusiastic and think they are right – just don’t judge their way of life until you’ve been there! :D

    Jenny wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  31. I just wanted to add as I looked through a few other comments that just going “raw” has no better health benefit than eating 3 pounds of bacon a day. Anyone who truly cares about their health doesn’t binge on “raw” nuts and sugary concoctions day in and day out just because it is labeled as raw. That is what I hate about these labels – for me it is about HEALTH. How my body responds to food. How it makes me feel. THAT is what separates the crazies from the ones who actually know what they’re talking about, and don’t feel the need to label themselves as “raw vegan.”

    Jenny wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  32. Many of your “facts” don’t hold up to scrutiny, and this article has not made a good argument to make me think raw food “got served”. For someone looking into primal, raw paleo, raw food and various diets, it is of little value.

    john wrote on December 29th, 2009
  33. So hey, what’s ‘raw chef dan’ hoyt up to these days? Taking any subway rides? I’ve known quite a few raw foodists over the years, and not all of them are compltely insane. Just enough to make me reject their hippy philosophy. On one hand I think the raw food diet has some good features- low calorie, few allergenic foods, lots of fresh fruits, and vegetables. On the other hand what few calories there are come from sugary fruits- ‘dr.’ doug graham recommends eating 40 banannas in a sitting- and the amount of calories can be so restrictive that it might begin to affect the reasoning processes of some of these folks. There’s also the continual never ending cascade of new age snake oil, which being weakened from too much ‘liver flushing’ fasting your average rawfoodist just can’t refuse to buy at a hefty mark up. Still there has to be some thing in the life style, eh dan? Here’s some of your press http://nymag.com/news/features/16576/

    davewoof wrote on February 16th, 2010
  34. I recently read a paper that reviewed fat/protein metabolism. Unfortunately I didn’t bookmark it, but it concluded that humans cannot survive on a diet where 85% of calories come from protein (but many humans can survive on 85% fat).
    I did find a source that discusses the concept, but it doesn’t have the numbers I read.
    http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/fat-not-protein.html

    Here’s an interesting experiment showing the benefit of a high-fat diet.
    http://www.mybigfatdiet.net/

    Ralph Doncaster wrote on February 18th, 2010
  35. Fact: Many plants – especially grains and seeds that contain lectins – do not “want” to be eaten. Technically, all living things, plant matter included, have evolved particular defensive mechanisms – from chemicals to spikes and thorns to toxins – to stand a better chance at survival. Many perfectly nutritious foods do require cooking to remove poisons or become edible. So the belief that our modern diet is replete with chemicals and toxins – while often accurate – does not negate the fact that raw, “natural” foods can also contain their own chemicals and even toxins.

    Well if that’s your argument AGAINST going raw, then you just debunked your own reasons for not eating legumes. Black beans, peanuts, soy…. those can’t be eaten in their raw form without making you sick. But here you’re saying if cooking is a prerequisite to being edible. You’re contradicting yourself.

    I’m kind of surprised on your stance on this. My whole rationale for eating primal is very simple. Could primal man in the wild, free from technology have eaten this food? If the answer is yes then I think it’s “healthy” and fit for human consumption. If the answer is no and it has to be processed first in some way, then the answer is “no.” COOKING IS A FORM OF PROCESSING! If you HAVE TO cook beans for example just to make them safe to eat, then that tells me Nature did not intend us to eat this food. While I don’t eat a raw diet, “Can this food be safely eaten raw in nature?” is the ultimate test of what’s fit for human consumption. I think your logic is wrong on this one Mark. Cooking IS processing. No other species on the planet cooks any food they eat. EVER.

    fixed gear wrote on April 21st, 2010
  36. I have not read all the comments so I may have missed something…
    There is one very fine food that we (many of us) eat alive, and raw and that is Oysters. If I bring in a bunch of oysters from our bottom and the not eat them, I can put them back in the cove and they will go on filtering algae just like before. This is true for other mollusks as well, such as clams, scallops, cochina etc.
    Question…where can I find a definitive list of foods and what effects specific to a food occur when cooked verses

    Chris wrote on February 24th, 2011
  37. http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html
    We have evolved with cooking for long enough for it to be a part of us. This TED talk argues that the invention of cooking helped significantly to make us into the big brained humans we are today.

    Trent wrote on March 29th, 2011
  38. When it gets to me not all the I consume is dead.

    I eat a lot of oysters, I raise my own, and there is nothing better than to dive for a few and open them up and eat them right there in the water. This also goes for some clams and scallops and other shell fish.
    They are alive. I you took a bunch of oysters, purchased from the fish monger and put them back in a suitable environment, they stand a good chance of going on living and being wild shell fish.

    Also, when in season I eat numerous foods from my garden, that are alive when consumed…seeds are viable.
    But I still cook much of what I eat. I catch lobster but I don’t eat them still flopping in the shell…they go in the pot…eighteen minutes.

    Chris wrote on March 30th, 2011
  39. About 9 years ago I ate a raw vegan diet for 10 months. I had a lot of weight to lose (50 lbs. or so) but I lost maybe 10. (Proof that calories are not the end-all, be-all of weight loss.)

    I was sick to my stomach and starving all the time. The advice I got online told me it was my fault for practicing improper food combining and eating too many nuts and avocadoes. I occasionally overate nuts and avocadoes because I was freaking starving.

    I think my vegan and raw vegan experiment exacerbated my metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. It certainly didn’t help. I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time (and MONEY!!!) on something so bad for me.

    True story: Every few weeks I would get so miserable and fed up from the constant hunger and cravings and headaches, and secretly binge… on cheese. Good unpasteurized cheese from Whole Foods. And I would feel so much better and sleep like a baby. (I slept horribly on raw food. I needed to eat every 2 or 3 hours.)

    Kristen wrote on March 11th, 2013
  40. This was an interesting read until you started talking about the great apes. What percentage of their diets include meat? And in what situations do they resort to it? And how do their bodies digest it? Bad example. Also you displayed your ignorance about Veganism when you brought up the P word: protein. I didn’t bother reading the rest.

    Annette wrote on May 16th, 2013

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