NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

All Raw Diet Hard to Digest

April 21, 2003

The dietary fad of eating only uncooked foods surfaces repeatedly. "Living foods" are touted as offering improved nutrition and health, spiritual enlightenment and inner contentment. Cooked foods are disdained as "dead foods."

What's wrong with a diet consisting solely of raw foods? Plenty, says Consumers' Research magazine. A totally raw food diet eliminates quality protein foods, unless one is willing to risk food-borne illnesses from pathogens that likely contaminate raw high-protein foods, but which are deactivated by heat.

Some naturally occurring toxins in foods can be rendered less poisonous by cooking. Some toxins are changed into harmless products by heat. Even the water used in cooking may serve a useful purpose, by diluting the toxins.

  • Cooking destroys avidin in raw egg whites -- otherwise, avidin would bind biotin and some iron present in the egg yolk, and make these nutrients unavailable.
  • Cooking increases the bioavailability of niacin present in a bound form in many cereal grains.
  • Heat processing increases the digestibility of starch, by gelatinization, and the digestibility of protein, by denaturing.
  • Many plant foods such as legumes (beans and peas) contain anti-nutrients that make the nutrients unavailable to humans unless they have been reduced by cooking.

Although raw fruits and appropriate salad greens should be part of a mixed diet for most people, the digestive tracts of some individuals cannot tolerate large quantities. Such individuals can tolerate cooked foods, especially if they have consumed mainly cooked food over the year. Thus, any radical shift to an all-raw food diet could adversely affect their health.

Source: Beatrice Trum Hunter, "The Raw Deal: Why You Should Avoid the Trendy "All Raw' Diet," Consumers' Research, Vol. 86, No. 3, March 2003.


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