In the old days, it was recommended to cook everything, and uncooked foods were often considered unfit for consumption. Today, there are health movements to bring to light the benefits of raw, uncooked food, with claims that it’s usually better for you. So what’s the deal? Which one is better for your health? And where did the disagreements start?
First, our terms: Living food and Dead food.
As part of the all-raw movement, living food is considered to contain intact enzymes, which are like worker bees in the body that scavenge free radicals, break food down, and transform one chemical to the next. Without enzymes, you simply can’t survive. Living food is usually considered to be, well, living – meaning the cells of the plant or animal you’re eating are still functioning as you chow down. (For meat, think of food like fresh sushi. It wasn’t long ago that people ate raw meat, and today there’s a small amount who still do!)
Dead food is the opposite. Most cooked food is considered dead, as well as things that are canned, frozen, or in some way preserved, subjected to high heat, or heavily processed. Foods like these are no longer able to function as living beings – there’s little to no activity in their cells.
Salad greens are an example of living food. Seeds that are still viable (able to grow when planted) are also living, as are many dried grains, all fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh mushrooms, etc. And we all know these foods are good for us… but are they better uncooked?
The most truthful answer to the above is probably. Here’s why….
In the distant past, cooked food was almost mandatory because of the risk of illness, like parasites and worms. In addition, supermarkets and farmers’ markets didn’t really exist, and neither did our enormous plantations and ranches or farming technology. Subsisting on raw fruits and vegetables wasn’t even a notion – that is, unless you were on a spiritual quest. Compared to getting your nutrition from cooked staple foods like potato and wheat grain, it was expensive, sometimes risky, and mostly out of the question. For these reasons and more, cooked food was the food, and raw stuff was usually the occasional sweet fruit.
Today, we have access to relatively cheap living produce and fresh meats, and newer research has shown both the good and bad effects of cooking. Used to, people didn’t have a lot of choice – eat your hot porridge or go hungry. Today, we take advantage of the vast selection of easily available foreign foods, and haven’t stopped to give thought to whether or not old practices need to be adjusted. Eating mostly cooked food came from an old world, and we’re living in the new.
So here’s the rundown:
- You can survive on raw food or cooked food exclusively. However…
- If life extension, happiness, and healthiness are the goal, both types of food are necessary. And…
- In excess, both can be harmful. (Now to explain.)
The benefits and downsides of each type:
Raw food contains functional enzymes and nutrients that haven’t been broken down, burned, or misshapen by cooking. These nutrients can be taken up by the body more efficiently, and many of them are disease-fighting chemicals that are lacking or absent in cooked versions. Cancer, for example, is speculated by some to be partly the result of eating cooked food exclusively, because as much as 90% of the cancer-fighting compounds in fresh, raw food are lost due to high temperatures and long storage.
- There are many indigestible parts of our food that require cooking to be available. While modern farming practices have taken care of most food-born pathogen problems, people with weak digestive and immune systems (most Americans) may still have problems with some raw food.
- Cooked food is good because nutrients that weren’t available for absorption before are made available using high heat. Minerals and starches are two very important examples. When you cook a food, more locked-up nutrients are able to be digested, because cooking something breaks complex things into simpler ones. Cooking food also destroys pathogens and supplies non-caloric heat to the body (warming you up effortlessly). For all of these reasons, cooking is recommended for people with low strength, digestion, and immunity, and for those who are sick.
- However, cooked food contains less to none of the beneficial qualities listed previously for raw food. Some nutrients are also made much more difficult to digest and absorb through cooking, and it’s well known that over-cooked and burned foods contain carcinogens (cancer-causing char).
The solution to the problem of cooked vs. raw, living vs. dead, is to eat both in moderation. Modern man has a frightening addiction to cooked food, and needs to focus on getting fresh, raw fruits and vegetables into meals. Without raw food, you may be increasing your risk of disease.
Many will find that as they introduce raw salads and fruit, they become much more tolerant of them. Your taste preferences will change after a while on a new diet, and difficulty digesting things like raw spinach or kale will go away entirely.
It’s really true; you are what you eat. And if the only thing you eat is dead… you get the picture.
-The Advantages of Raw Food (Julian P. Thomas)
-Eating Alive: Prevention Thru Good Digestion (Dr. John Matsen, N.D.)
-Charaka Samhita (Atreya, Agnivesa, Charaka, and Drdhabala; Vol. I & II translation by P.V. Sharma, edited by Gabriel Van Loon)
-The Chemistry of Man (Dr. Bernard Jensen)
-Is Cooked Food Poison? Looking at the Science of Raw vs. Cooked Foods (Jean-Louis Tu; credit to Tom Billings,Ward Nicholson; beyondveg.com)