Fad diets come and go. Some are healthy, some really aren’t and others kind of sit on the fence.
Vegetarianism – when done properly – is considered a pretty healthy way to go. The Mediterranean diet has some solid science to back up its health benefits.
Veganism can also be a relatively healthy choice if someone is careful to include all of the right nutrients.
One diet fad that might not be quite so good for you is raw veganism. Even people who sell the benefits of this particular diet also warn people of the dangers surrounding it. Raw veganism is not as healthy as it’s cracked up to be. Below we will discuss the reasons why.
For anyone who hasn’t come across raw veganism before, it is a plant-based diet where nothing should have been heated to above 40 degrees centigrade. Foods can only be eaten fresh, dried or fermented.
“Why?” you might well ask. According to raw vegans, heating the food not only destroys nutrients, it also makes the foods toxic and more difficult to digest. They refer to “live” and “dead” foods in this way.
The diet has its original basis in the ethics of veganism – don’t fuck with the animals – which is totally fair enough and I don’t think vegans get the respect they deserve for their thoughtfulness (they’re not all drum-bashing, dreadlocked know-it-alls). But with raw veganism comes a spiritual side – they believe that everything has a life force – chi – and when foods are cooked, the chi is destroyed.
The problem is, even if you are willing to swallow the spiritual mumbo-jumbo, the basic principles are rooted in flawed science:
Cooking Destroys Nutrients
Actually, cooking helps break down fibre and cell walls that would otherwise prevent nutrients from being digested and absorbed.
For instance, when carrots or tomatoes are cooked, antioxidants that would normally remain locked away are freed up (beta-carotene and lycopene, respectively). Cooking also minimises certain chemicals in vegetables that prevent the absorption of important minerals, like zinc and iron.
Cooking spinach, for instance, increases the amount of iron available to our guts to absorb.
It’s true that some vitamins – A and the B vitamins – do break down substantially when cooking, but that’s why it is important to eat both fresh and cooked foods.
It’s also true that if you boil the living crap out of vegetables, nutrients will be lost; but cooking them to a normal degree is not unhealthy in any way. Char-grilling foods can produce cancer-causing chemicals, but as long as you aren’t eating char-grilled foods for every meal, you are unlikely to have any problems.
Cooking Destroys Enzymes
This isn’t really a misconception – it’s actually completely true, but the point is, destroying plant enzymes doesn’t matter.
We don’t need plant enzymes to digest food – we make our own. The very fact that most cultures on earth cook their food and digest it is pretty strong evidence that we don’t need intact plant enzymes in our diets.
As an additional kicker, most enzymes are destroyed by the acid in our stomachs anyway.
Plant enzymes are not at all important for human digestion. Another aspect to this myth is a belief that enzymes in humans run out after a certain number of years, and that they need to be restocked. This is false, too. Humans create enzymes throughout their lives.
Raw Foods Are Detoxifying
The whole premise of this one is incorrect. “Detox” diets are a fad based on bad science.
People often try to sell us things that will “detoxify our livers.” It’s true that the liver cleans out our toxins, but that doesn’t mean that there is a build up in the liver.
Stuff goes into the liver, it’s broken down, and the liver remains toxin free.
Just to be clear, there are no known foods that bind to and destroy or remove toxins. It’s as simple as that. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they are quite literally making it up.
Raw Veganism Is Healthy
It’s true that some people lose weight on the raw vegan diet, as in general the foods on offer are lower in calorie. Weight loss is not the primary goal of the raw vegan diet, though.
In fact, it is very easy to become deficient in vitamins unless supplements are taken, especially vitamins B12 and D, selenium, zinc, iron and two omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.
It is virtually impossible to get B12 without supplementing it artificially.
Also, because of the seasonality of vegetables, you end up having to eat just a small number of foods at any one point in time, and our diet, as omnivores, needs to be varied.
Getting enough energy can be challenging as well; most of a raw vegan’s daily energy intake tends to come from spades and spades of nuts. And, as healthy as nuts are, they are also packed full of fats. They are natural fats for sure, but they are still fats.
If nuts aren’t the main source of energy then bananas are often used. Bananas are good for you of course, but only one or two per day, which isn’t enough if they are your primary energy source.
Some raw vegan’s teeth begin to rot because of all of the sugars in the fruits they consume (particularly dried fruits).
There is no evidence that eating a raw food diet has any benefits above and beyond eating a balanced diet. Is it better for you than eating junk food three times a day? Perhaps, but that’s not really a good comparison.
Raw Foods Are Natural
Yes, raw food is “natural,” but that doesn’t make it any better for you necessarily. Raw vegans often use this argument – they say that cooking isn’t natural (although mixing tropical fruits with winter nuts in an electric blender is apparently fine). They say that “no other animals cook” – which is true.
The bottom line is, there is no known culture on earth where humans don’t cook at least some of their food. So cooking is natural – for humans. We have been doing it for at least 200,000 years, and we need it.
We simply can’t get enough nutrients any other way.