The Raw Deal
A diet solely of raw foods may sound boring, but many people swear it's the healthiest way to eat. And some nutritionists support it, too.
Nutritionists who aren't raw fooders themselves agree that such
an eating plan has its advantages. Molly Kimball, RD, a nutritionist with a
division of the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, says a raw food diet is
"nutrient dense," with a high content of minerals, vitamins, and
enzymes. And because it emphasizes organically grown foods, says Kimball, it's
virtually free of pesticides, chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that are
found in meats, poultry, and non-organic produce.
There is also little or no saturated fat, no added refined
sugars, low sodium levels, and high fiber content. "All the things that are
recommended to decrease our risk of heart disease, cancer, and other
illnesses," says Kimball.
Kimball does have some reservations, however. For one, cooking
does not destroy as many of the nutrients as raw fooders claim -- "I think
they're being a bit extreme in that regard" -- and, in fact, enhances the
benefits of certain foods. Cooking increases the availability of the beta
carotene in carrots, for example, as well as releasing the lycopene in tomatoes
(both beta carotene and lycopene have been shown to offer protective benefits
against heart disease and cancer).
A diet made up solely of raw foods may also leave you coming up
short when it comes to calcium, omega-3 fatty acids (which are found in
plentiful supply in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna and offer protection
against heart disease and cancer, too), iron, and vitamin B-12 (which is found
only in animal foods). "Raw foods do have calcium, iron, and even
some fatty acids -- in walnuts and flaxseed, for example," says Kimball,
"but not as much as you would find in other foods, and they're not always
absorbed as well."
This doesn't mean you shouldn't necessarily follow a raw foods
diet, but you should plan your meals carefully and consider taking supplements,
Following such a food plan can have other drawbacks as well.
People with irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis may find a diet made up
solely of raw foods a bit hard on their system, says Kimball. And people who
have been told by their doctors that they have abnormally high potassium levels
should boil their vegetables so that some of the potassium makes its way out of
the veggies and into the water, says Wahida Karmally, MS, RD, a spokesperson
for the American Dietetic Association. Karmally says that not all raw
vegetables taste good, and if it's a matter of not eating vegetables at all, or
cooking them, then by all means cook them.
"There's also something to be said for the comfort of a hot
meal," Kimball says. "The satisfaction, or satiety -- that feeling of
fullness -- you get from a hot meal is important to some people."