As you know, a few days ago I discussed the raw food diet. I’d like to thank you all for your support and comments surrounding this post, I really do appreciate it.
The raw food diet is definitely a much debated topic, and this morning I was reminded of this fact when I read a response to my article from Gena, who wrote a guest post over at Hangry Pants.
Gena is a high-raw vegan, and says her diet consists of mostly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, seaweeds, and occasional sprouted grains. She also eats cooked and steamed root vegetables.
I’m sure you’ll agree, such dedication to this type of lifestyle is to be commended.
Now, I do believe everyone has the right to make up their own mind about what diet they wish to choose. But, my passion for helping you (my loyal readership) drives me to make sure you’re sufficiently informed in the decisions you make concerning diet and lifestyle.
So, when certain diets or lifestyles are being presented as fact, with little scientific evidence, I feel it is my duty, (even a ‘calling’) to proclaim the facts, so you can make an informed decision.
I really don’t want to get into an argument with Gena, and I fully appreciate that she has seen improvements in her own health on this diet. Nevertheless, I feel if I didn’t respond, it would be neglegient and remiss of me.
Okay, a few facts:
Let’s be clear from the outset, I am in favour of raw foods. In fact, I think they should be included every day in a healthy diet, and for various reasons. Consider:
Fact: raw foods are healthy.
Fact: raw foods are better than a diet of fast food and sodas.
Fact: raw foods are even better than a diet filled with overcooked veggies that have been boiled beyond recognition.
Let me also point out, that when I discussed the raw food diet I was not comparing it to the unhealthy eating habits of many in the population of the western world. My issue is with what ‘raw foodists’ present as fact, not the issue that a raw foodist may have a healthier diet than many others in the population.
Interestingly, I found this quote today from a co-author of ‘Nature’s First Law: The Raw Food Diet‘, Stephen Arlin.
He was asked the question, “How did you come to this idea? Was it more a philosophical insight or something you learned from the scientific knowledge about health and the human body?”
This is what he said:
“Along with David Wolfe and R.C. Dini, I came to this conclusion by pure logic. Would fire and intense heat improve one’s house if applied? No, it would destroy it. And that’s exactly what happens when your food is cooked, it becomes something less than it was before.”
This argument is based solely on a “logic” that is flawed.
Let’s think about this for a moment…
Of course fire and intense heat wouldn’t improve ones house. To me that seems like a strange comparison, which doesn’t demonstrate the fact that cooking food would destroy the goodness. Don’t you agree?
What would you think of my ‘logic’ if I said that more life and goodness is put into food when heat is applied, because many plants like the seeds from a Banksia, or the Sturt Dessert Pea can only germinate when they come in contact with the extreme temperatures of a bush fire?
Clearly high temperatures do not always bring destruction, and can even be beneficial. However, this really doesn’t prove my point as to whether I should cook my food or not.
It’s a daft analogy, and a red herring answer to a searching question.
Anyhow, my point is this: if the basis of the raw food diet is merely someone else’s logic, is that something you want to be pinning your health to?
So, on to Gena’s reply to my article, and my response. I’ve tried to break it up so it’s coherent for you.
#1 My apparent contradiction
“There’s an inherent contradiction in calling any claim “outlandish” and then acknowledging it as at least partially true.”
There is no contradiction. I said:
It is true to say that cooking can destroy some of the enzymes, but most food enzymes are destroyed anyway by the acidity of the stomach. So, therefore:
- Plant enzymes are not needed for human digestion.
- And your body will still produce it’s own enzymes regardless of whether your food contains enzymes or not.
#2 My condescending tone
“I found her dismissive and condescending tone sadly indicative of the attitude with which most people view raw foods. Melanie is no different from most people in seeing the raw diet as a fringe movement, unmoored to scientific proof. But, also like most people, she’s clearly never tried the diet for herself.”
Whether I have tried this diet or not, is really not the issue here. In fact, it’s another flawed argument, because when it comes to theories which can be tested (such as the benefits and drawbacks of a diet), experience does not overrule objective truth.
My statements were intended to refute some of the claims which raw foodists make that are incorrect, both logically and biologically.
If I am condescending in anything it is this; I dispise the fact that information is presented as being true to the unsuspecting reader, when it is very far from it. For example, that we need the enzymes in food to help with their digestion.
As I’ve intimated already, I believe it is my duty as a dietitian to point error where I find it regarding diet. I make no attack on the individuals who choose to go raw.
#3 My apparent quoting out of context
“As for Steve Pavlina’s experience: first of all, this quote is taken out of context.”
I must disagree here. This quote is certainly not taken out of context. I was simply pointing out the side effects Steve experienced in the initial stages of changing his diet, something that I feel many of my readers need to know.
I did link to Steve’s website, so you are free to find out about his experience of going raw.
#4 Gena relies on personal experience not science
“And this is where science—in my opinion—bows to experience. What I always tell people about raw foods is that you can’t knock ‘em till you’ve tried ‘em.”
Gena lists a whole host of benefits from following a raw diet, and I am more than happy to hear that people have had good success by making changes in their diets.
However, I wonder if all factors have been considered. For example, when going raw a person might:
- Cut back unhealthy foods such as fast food and soft drinks
- Cut out caffeine
- Cut out wheat
- Increased fruit and veg intake
- Increased intake of beneficial nuts and seeds
If someone makes such beneficial changes in their diet, they are bound to notice an improvement in health and energy levels!
Isn’t it true to suggest, that any benefits noticed may simply be the result of an improved diet, not simply due to the addition of raw foods?
#5 My faith in our digestive system
“As for Melanie’s faith in our digestive systems, it’s well-intentioned, but not totally sound. Any gastroenterologist will tell you (and a few have told me) that most of our digestive systems have been compromised by decades of eating crap. The standard American diet—full of refined sugar, processed food, excessive protein, hormones, fillers, and antibiotics—has wreaked havoc on our stomachs. And so most of us are less capable of producing those enzymes that the author claims are so readily available.”
I am not sure how this claim is backed up, “Most of us are less capable of producing those enzymes?”
Of course, the gut flora balance can be compromised by eating a poor diet, and also by rushing or skipping meals. However, eating a healthy diet containing both raw and cooked foods, will provide a wide variety of nutrients, helping to improve that balance.
No one is supporting a diet of refined sugar, processed food, and hormone-containing foods. Certainly not here on Dietriffic!
Personally, I consider myself to have a good diet. If I’m to judge how I ‘feel’ and how my body functions, it would appear that my digestive enzymes are in full working order! I certainly don’t have any issue with nutritional deficiencies, or poor health conditions, and yet I don’t follow a strictly raw diet to achieve that balance.
#6 The belief that we need enzyme rich food
“Most of us can and would benefit from the experience of eating enzyme rich food.”
Here Gena is contradicting herself becasue she has already admitted that, “As far as I know, there is no solid science to prove the enzyme claim. And so I can’t totally refute Melanie’s disagreement.”
I have firmly stated that the body does not need the enzymes in our food, and it will continue to make it’s own enzymes in response to the food we eat.
So, why would we need to eat a diet rich in enzymes?
#7 The belief that food is living
“Raw food is the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their living, uncooked, unpasteurized state.”
It doesn’t matter whether you cook food, or don’t cook it, it is already dead.
The very second you pick a tomato from the plant, all source of nutrition is cut off from the fruit, and therefore it is dead and almost immediately begins to decay or rot.
When you pick a carrot from the ground you kill the plant. It does not continue to grow in your fridge, does it? No, becaue the food is not living, it’s already dead.
Therefore, Gena’s argument that we can eat living food by not cooking it is simply incorrect.
#8 Processed vs unprocessed food
“Is it SO crazy to suggest that the body has an easier time recognizing unprocessed food (whole plants, nuts, and fruits) than it does cooked grains, pasteurized dairy, and the like? Call me a lunatic, but this seems like common sense to me. Wouldn’t an apple or a walnut be more digestible (which is some of what raw foodists mean when they say “recognizable”) than processed food, full of soy isolates, chemical flavorings and colorings? How about meat/eggs/dairy that have been suffused with hormones, fillers, and antibiotics?”
My argument was not whether a walnut would be more digestible than a twinkie. The argument is about whether or not the body can, or cannot, recognise cooked food.
Of course I agree that raw food is much better for the body than the processed junk food that many people stuff into their bodies these days. But, it is not only raw foods that are good. We can also eat cooked whole grains and fish etc and still be healthy, just read my post on the Okinawan people to discover that.
#9 Is raw food unnatural?
“As for the possibility of deficiencies in the raw food diet, this is where I take most issue with Melanie’s piece. To claim that the raw foods diet is unnatural because it can, if followed carelessly, result in nutritional deficiency, is ridiculous.”
I did not claim that raw food is unnatural. In fact, I often recommend a diet rich in raw foods, but I do not believe you need to be mostly raw to gain the maximum benefits.
#10 The risk of nutritional deficiencies
“ANY diet—from omnivorism to veganism to raw foodism—can leave you with deficiencies if you’re sloppy, underfed, or not thinking about nutrition. Of course you can end up with low zinc, iron, or fatty acids eating raw foods; you can also end up lacking those things just as easily eating cooked and omnivorous foods.”
I totally agree.
Any diet followed carelessly can result in nutritional deficiencies; that is obvious. But, I really do take issue with any diet that encourages people to leave out whole food groups. This is very dangerous, and leaves people much more open to nutritional deficiencies.
It is certainly something that should be monitored very carefully indeed, and people thinking of following such a diet should be made aware of the possibility of danger.
“My point is that people, even nutritionists, are mighty quick to point fingers at raw foodists for not getting enough nutrients, when in fact it’s the majority of the cooked-food-eating, soda-guzzling, and omnivorous population that’s not getting enough of what they need from unprocessed, plant based whole foods.”
First up, I am not pointing my finger at any raw foodists for not getting enough nutrients. As a dietitian, I am simply pointing out the fact that there is the possibility for this to happen on the raw food diet, because it excludes whole food groups.
Any of you who read my blog on a regular basis, will be well aware that I am equally as sore on the “soda-guzzling,” junk food eating population. Clearly their diet is not something I promote here on Dietriffic.
I do however, have a problem with Gena lumping together cooked-food-eating, omnivorous people, with those who are not getting enough unprocessed, plant based whole foods; as if they always go hand in hand.
My diet includes plenty of unprocessed whole foods, some raw, and cooked foods on a daily basis, and hey you know what? I’m still alive and kicking, with a healthy weight, balanced moods (ask my hubby :D ), and plenty of energy.
#11 Nutrient rich veggies
“Because regardless of what anyone says, it’s undeniable that veggies remain the most nutrient rich foods out there. And if those veggies happen to have retained most of their vitamin content from being uncooked, so much the better!”
Yes, veggies are nutrient rich, but so are many other foods. We don’t need to eat exclusively raw diets to benefit from the nutrients.
#12 The issue is raw vs cooked!
“Or when I’m asked accusatorily: “what will you feed your children?” Assuming I raise them mostly or wholly vegan, I will have much less reason to worry about the vitamins they’re getting than the many Americans who are stuffing their kids with chips and lunchmeats and dairy products full of hormones and chemicals.”
I’m sorry if I appear repetitive, but this is really not the point of my article. Cooking your food does not necessarily mean you are guilty of feeding yourself and your kids junk food. The issue here is raw or cooked – not junk food vs healthy food!
Anyway, I think (for now at least) I’ve said enough on this.
Please do check out the original article over at Hangry Pants. I’d love to hear your thoughts!