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

Raw Food Gets Served

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.


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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Personally I think it’s a trade off and a healthy diet should be promoted with both raw AND cooked food. Here’s my 2 cents:

    – if you cook it you may lose some stuff, may retain some stuff, and in some cases even form some good stuff. At the end of the day: you will end up with some good stuff! And enough to reach a healthy daily amount to be beneficial

    – cooked almost always tastes better than raw, and can be far more palatable and easy to digest. This MUST be taken into account when thinking about children and the elderly who would have issues in those departments

    – living in the modern world and surviving on a tasty and fulfilling ‘raw’ diet can be very difficult and can lead to anxiety (personal experience). However living on a veggie / vegan diet with cooked foods for example is far more practical and less stressful

    – I’ve known many people (friends / family) who are close to or have almost reached their 100th year. The majority are or were very happy, kind, generous and loving people with minimal heath problems. In true British style they swore by the ‘meat n 2 veg’ diet. I’m sure a nutritionist could (and would) have ripped their diets apart in spite of there happy final years

    – comparing the healthfulness of raw and cooked food is complicated, and there are still many mysteries surrounding how the different molecules in plants interact with the human body

    Simon wrote on May 24th, 2013
  5. Interesting take on raw foods. I agree with you about heat deactivating certain toxins and increasing certain vitamins, but certain vitamins are also heat sensitive- such as C, B6, B12, and E. Enzymes, however, I feel are important. I’ve read many studies on their benefits and importance. Another factor is microorganism as obviously they are useless when cooked.
    That said, I am not a raw foodist. I eat around 50% raw, that portion being animal products, dairy, fruits, and soaked nuts. I actually consume small amounts of raw liver. Cooked? Animal products, veggies, nuts, properly prepared grains (gasp).
    My point is, I believe some foods are more nutritious raw, others- cooked. No one is going to eat raw bones, but neither is raw honey so beneficial when cooked.
    Just the thoughts of a Weston A. Price eater. :)

    Gavin wrote on June 2nd, 2013
  6. 100 grams of protein a day?*

    *citation needed.

    Ryan wrote on September 26th, 2013

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