What’s With the Roar for RAW Food?

Nutrition // Lisa Donaldson // 24 September 2014

Why would anyone choose to eat raw foods exclusively? Was there a mind-blowing health benefit? I decided to investigate! Open any menu these days and it’s not unusual to see dietary choices like Vegan, Gluten Free, Nut Free and Dairy Free options listed… but I have to say I was a little surprised recently to see ‘raw’ listed on a menu as a dietary option. As a dietitian my interest was sparked. Surely those eating a ‘raw diet’ are few and far between? 

The Raw Food Debate

Raw foodies maintain that raw foods contain natural enzymes and nutrients that break down during cooking. These food enzymes are said to improve digestion and assist the body absorb other beneficial nutrients. In contrast to this, traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners state that raw foods are in fact too ‘cold’ and hard to digest.

It is true that raw foods are packed with vitamins and minerals. They are also high in water and fibre, fabulous for a healthy gut and minimising constipation. BUT, did you know that some nutrients actually become more bioavailable once heated? Lycopene is one example, it’s an antioxidant found in tomatoes.

Accessing Those Nutrients

When we look at accessing nutrients, we see another divide between raw versus cooked. When we cook vegetables, water soluble vitamins like B and C can leach out and into the cooking water. In contrast, certain nutrients are actually stored in the tough fibres of raw vegetables and the human body is not great at breaking these down. Vegetables, like carrots and spinach, have very rigid cell walls and the cooking process can actually help ‘predigest’ and soften these fibres so we can access the vitamins and minerals stored within.

Did You Say… GOITROGENS?

In my research the word ‘goitrogen’ was reoccurring – sounds like a Transformer name doesn’t it? Goitrogens are naturally occurring compounds that are found in foods like broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage. These goitrogens have the capacity to block thyroid function and disrupt the hormones needed for regulating your metabolism.  Should you stop eating broccoli and kale? No, but to deactivate a good number of these goitrogens you need to HEAT your cruciferous vegetables!

Raw Food Choices

When we look at raw food choices, we need to consider that by eating purely raw there is valuable nutrition that won’t be consumed.  Eating raw limits the consumption of amino acids from proteins like meat and dairy. Raw foodies tend to eat nuts and seeds in place of meat and dairy and in this case a greater volume of vegetables and nuts needs to be consumed to make up the same number of amino acids. For dairy products, the process of pasteurisation requires ‘heating’ the milk. Managing to consume enough calcium and protein from raw foods alone requires a high level of food knowledge.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is, is that eating RAW foods exclusively has no miracle health benefit and in some cases, eating raw can actually mean limited access to valuable vitamins and minerals. Rather than restricting your consumption of certain foods to eat ONLY raw, start  thinking about consuming all macronutrients via a range of minimally processed foods. Try flash steaming, roasting or lightly sautéing your vegetables to break down those really rigid fibres and deactivating goitrogens. Consume a range of vegetables, lean proteins, wholegrains and reduced fat dairy for optimal nutrition. Simply, eat close to nature.

Lisa and our team of nutritionists and dieticians write all our 12WBT Meal Plans so you know you’re getting a well-balanced, healthy variety of foods. 

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