Raw foodism: real value or raw deal?

Raw foodism: real value or raw deal?

Raw foodism: real value or raw deal?

by Gianluca Tognon

Since I have often eaten raw meat in the form of tartare or carpaccio, being a fan of fish carpaccio (although not of sushi) and raw milk, I was immediately strucked by the diet fad of the moment: raw foodism.

Many years ago, my mother, probably in an attempt to turn her child into a sort of Rocky Balboa, introduced me to the practice of drinking a raw egg. She taught me how to use a needle to break the yolk enough so I could swallow it and get all the healthy content from the raw egg into my body. But as nutritious as it was, it wasn’t something I kept doing and at this point I haven’t drunk a raw egg in years…

Thus, when I heard of this new diet, I immediately thought “Could I become a raw foodist?”

Well, I posted a question on LinkedIn about it, and a guy immediately replied that the raw food diet is absolutely fantastic and can help everybody. Then I checked on Wikipedia, and found that raw food diets for cats and dogs exist, so it must be really for everybody!

But what is it?

Raw foodism can include any diet of primarily unheated food, or food cooked to a temperature less than 40 to 46 °C. Raw foodists can be divided into raw vegans or vegetarians, raw omnivores and finally, raw carnivores.

Depending on the type of lifestyle and results you desire, raw food diets may include a selection of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds (including sprouted whole grains such as gaba rice), eggs, fish (such as sashimi), meat (such as carpaccio), and non-pasteurized/non-homogenized dairy products (such as raw milk, raw milk cheese, and raw milk yogurt).

Nothing wrong with those foods…all good stuff! But…

Although many foods in raw food diets, such as fruits, salads, meat, and dairy, are simple to prepare, others can require considerable advanced planning to before you can actually eat! Rice and some other grains, for example, require sprouting or overnight soaking to become digestible. Many raw foodists also believe it is best to soak nuts and seeds before eating them, to activate their enzymes and deactivate enzyme inhibitors. The amount of soak time varies for all nuts and seeds.

So a raw food diet can be a bit complicated too…

According to some cookbook authors, preparation of gourmet raw food recipes usually calls for a blender, a food processor, a juicer and dehydrator.

Wow! That’s all?? Is there anything else you need to prepare raw food?? A personal chef, maybe?

But it might be worth the kitchen appliance investment…cooking can cause some problems, especially in area of toxin creation.

For example, cooking muscle meat creates cancerogenic heterocyclic amines, while nitrosamines, formed by cooking and preserving in salt and smoking, have been linked to colon cancer and stomach-cancer.

Toxic compounds called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), are formed by cooking as well and finally, acrylamide, a toxin found in roasted, baked, fried or grilled starchy foods, but not in boiled or raw foods, is a known to be toxic for the brain and able to induce cancer.

Cooking can also cause the loss of vitamins and minerals from your food, although other bioactive compounds are better absorbed by your cells thanks to cooking.

So there might also be some drawbacks coming from consuming a raw food diet. For instance, some plant foods contain antinutrient factors that are destroyed by cooking, although they can also be reduced through soaking and/or germination (trypsin inhibitor, tannins, phytic acid and hemagglutinin in legumes , for instance[1]).

Food poisoning might also be a health risk for people eating raw foods, and increased demand for raw foods is likely to be associated with greater incidence of foodborne illness. If you eat home prepared sprouts, for example, this would be an issue if there’s microbiological contamination of the water used during germination.

As a scientist who specializes in health and nutrition, my opinion is that there seem to be significant health benefits from eating a raw food diet. But are the benefits associated with raw foodism because of the diet itself, or because raw foodists tend to drink less alcohol, consume a reduced proportion of refined sugars and, particularly, that most of them are vegeterians?

What do you think of raw food diets? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

[1] Mubarak A.E. Nutritional composition and antinutritional factors of mung bean seeds (Phaseolus aureus) as affected by some home traditional processes. Food Chemistry 89 (2005) 489–495.

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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About Me

I’m an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. I started MY career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden.

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