What does it mean to eat a “raw food diet”? There are different ways of defining this term. What all definitions usually have in common is that this type of diet, or lifestyle choice, includes food that has not been homogenized, not been pasteurized, made without the use of synthetic pesticides, industrial solvents or any chemical food additives. (1, 2)
To “cook food”, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means: prepare (food, a dish, or a meal) by mixing, combining, and heating the ingredients. (3) It is the heating up part, that makes the difference. The act of heating food has an impact on several levels.
Which is best? Let's look at a couple of scientifically proven health benefits of both.
4 health benefits of eating raw food
1. Vital enzymes
Raw food contains vital enzymes, which makes the food easy to digest (2). Raw food contains certain “living”, digestive enzymes that help break down food, making it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients.
It is important for us to not only be aware of taking in various nutrients, but we also have to make sure our body can actually absorb them.
2. Very filling
Raw food tends to fill you up sooner, which makes you eat less. It contains a lot of bulky, satiating fibre. People who like to eat big volumes of food (and try to lose weight) could benefit from adding more raw foods to their meals. Eating copious amounts and not having to second-guess whether or not you ate too much (calorie-wise or volume-wise), creates a peaceful and happier state of mind. This will then lead to more self-love and healthier (food)choices.
3. Chew more, eat less
We have to chew on raw food more (at least, we’re supposed to) making our meal-time stretch over a longer period of time. This is beneficial for our digestive system, which is often overly taxed having to digest a SAD (Standard American Diet).
Taking longer during a meal makes that you will actually feel when you have eaten enough. The signal that the stomach is full takes some time to travel to the brain.
Hence, if you chew less and eat fast, you will eat more in the same time frame, as when you chew well and eat slowly.
4. Health sensitive nutrients
Raw food provides us with an abundance of nutrients. Some of those nutrients, e.g. phytonutrients, anti-oxidants, enzymes and water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C), are sensitive to heat. Cooking foods – depending on the temperature – can mean breaking down these nutrients.
4 health benefits of eating cooked food
1. Helps the gut
Some people have put too much strain on their digestive system and will profit from eating more cooked food. If you frequently experience bloating, gas, indigestion, irregular bowel movement, constipation, nutrient deficiencies, etc., then the simple act of eating more cooked vegetables could benefit you tremendously. Cooking food helps break down vegetable fibre (e.g. cellulose), making it easier for the body to absorb nutrients.
2. Better acces to anti-oxidants
Some nutrients are in fact better accessible after boiling or steaming. This is true for several anti-oxidants: ferulic acid (found in e.g. asparagus), lycopene and beta-carotene (found in orange and red coloured vegetables e.g. sweet potatoes, tomatoes and squash). (4, 5, 6)
Cooking food kills bacteria and pathogens which would otherwise cause illnesses. From a hygienic point of view, and considering where food is made geographically, cooking food can be a wise option to rule out getting sick. Next to that, cooking food prolongs its shelf life.
4. Makes us healthy and happy
And last but not least, the act of cooking food also has a positive effect on people’s health. It appears that people who cook, have healthier diets than those who don’t.
The reason is twofold: Generally speaking, when people cook often, they tend to gravitate towards cooking simple, healthier foods and don’t prepare a lot of greasy, junk food.
We can’t deny the social impact of cooking. Getting together, sharing good company, juicy stories and home-made food instigates happiness and is intellectually engaging. (7)
What does all of the above teach us?
Variety is key! Don’t restrict yourself to either cooked or raw foods, but make sure you incorporate both into your diet. Each option helps us to stay healthy.
Whether you choose to eat only/mostly raw/cooked food, or both, make sure that whatever gets on your plate is primarily natural and unprocessed. This is the best way to reap the benefits of all the nutrients without ingesting excess additives and toxins.
Want to learn how to revitalize your health and kick disease using food as medicine? Our online Eat to Beat Challenge will help you reach this goal. The program is based on the Gerson Therapy, which includes exclusively organic, both raw and cooked foods.
What does your diet look like? Do you mostly eat raw or cooked food? Or a bit of both? How do you feel after a meal? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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(4) Long-term strict raw food diet is associated with favourable plasma β-carotene and low plasma lycopene concentrations in Germans; I. Hoffmann, British Journal of Nutrition, Vol 99 (6), 2008, pp 1293-1300
(5) Antioxidant Changes and Sensory Properties of Carrot Puree Processed with and without Periderm Tissue; R.H. Liu, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2000, Vol 48 (4), pp 1315-1321
(7) M. Pollan, Cooked
She loves going off the beaten path, following her (gut)- feeling and isn't shy to try new stuff. After all, nothing beats experiencing something yourself.
As a former university college teacher, researcher, independent (sports)dietitian and jack of all trades at a vegan restaurant, she has now discovered her life goal of teaching & helping others to work towards a healthy, energised life filled with love, peace & happiness.