11 May 2009

There's a lot of great information out there in the health food community. And a lot of weird, unscientific, hinky stuff, too. How do you figure out what to believe? Well, if you're smart, you do your research...

Let me preface this article by saying I love raw foods. I love the creativity of the cuisine. I love the fresh, local approach to diet. I love eating salads and nuts and all kinds of cool things. I am a raw foodie, a member of several raw food communities, and an active participant in recipe creation.

That said, I'm a big believer in doing things that make sense. And in the Raw Community, there's advice and recipes founded on food science, and then there's everything else, founded on food philosophy.

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to define science as
knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method... a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws.

Philosophy, on the other hand, I'm going to define as
a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means... an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs... a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought... the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.

Science seeks to answer the hows of the universe, while philosophy seeks to answer the whys.Science tells you that the average, mildly active adult human body needs .8-1.8 gm of protein per kg of body weight.You believe that getting this protein from animals is wrong or acceptable based on your... Philosophy.

So what does this have to do with raw food? In the raw food community - a great, grassroots community if there ever was one, there's often very little distinction made between science and philosophy.

There are great leaders within the RFC, who also follow scientific evidence in making suggestions about what to eat and when and how to best prepare it for assimilation into the body. But there are others who offer advice based on philosophy, and while philosophy's great in helping us determine why we do what we do, it can sometimes get a person into trouble nutritionally.

The idea of living a "100% Raw Lifestyle" is a philosophy. The philosophy says that since raw food is good for you, the more raw the better, and a completely raw diet is best.

The extension of this idea - cooked food is toxic, and raw food is health-giving - is a cornerstone of many raw food communities. But does this philosophy always hold up to scientific scrutiny? Below are some examples of what has been scientifically tested and determined regarding claims of

Nutrient Absorption

Philosophy: Since man's earliest diet was 100% raw and vegan, the raw food diet is sufficient to provide ALL nutrients necessary for health, in sufficient quantities.

Science: A strict, raw vegan diet provides insufficient levels of some nutrients, such as B-12 and lycopene.

The B-12 issue is a particularly serious one. Several recent studies have shown that the effects of a strictly raw, vegan diet leads to malabsorption of vitamin B-12 in roughly 80% of adherents.

B-12 - found mostly in animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese - is necessary for cell division and growth and for proper function of the immune system. A lack of B-12 can lead to low energy, dementia, even senility. The science is pretty clear: find ways to get B-12 into your diet, or suffer permanent neurological and physical damage.

Traditional vegan sources, popular among raw foodists - such as spirulina and other seaweed, are not assimilable in the human body.

When Doctor Gabriel Cousins followed the science and began recommending supplementation in this article he was seen, by some, as a sell-out for admitting that 80% of people cannot successfully consume a completely vegan diet without additional human-active B-12 supplementation.

The 100% Raw Food Philosophy insists that such a supplement - which is not live nor plant based- would be unacceptable. Adherence to the philosophy rather than the science, in this case would lead to serious and perhaps irreversible consequences for most people.

Philosophy: Since raw food is live and full of enzymes, the body absorbs the nutrients better.

Science:Blood Concentration levels of antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, Bta-Carotene, and Copper among raw-vegans was significantly higher than among omnivores.

In this case, claims of greater absorption of nutrients made by raw foodists are backed by science. However the explanation differs as to 'why' greater absorbtion occurs.

Bioavailability of nutrients was similar in both raw and cooked foods, where similar quantities of nutrients were consumed. Scientific studies indicated again and again that the reason behind this greater level of concentration in the blood of subjects was the greater consumption of quantity of antioxidant dense foods.

In some cases, the absorption of nutrients was better after cooking, when enzymes had been destroyed, then before. The Journal of Nutrition, in 2001, showed that some nutrients were better absorbed after cooking, and new, beneficial compounds were formed during the cooking process.

Carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes, among others supplied more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body when cooked than they did when raw. These nutrients are important in destroying precancerous cells and in antioxidant activity within the body.

For instance indole, an organic compound, was formed when cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, were cooked. According to research in the Journal, indole helped kill precancerous cells before they turned malignant. For someone using diet to treat or prevent cancer, it would appear that consuming some cooked vegetables would actually be preferable.

There are more examples, but I'm not trying to be exhaustive here... If you'd like to do that go here.

Many of us came to the raw food community in search of greater health. If science says that it's more life-giving to eat kale when it is cooked, then eat kale cooked. If science shows that you're probably going to need B-12 supplements, get some B-12 supplements.

There is nothing healthier or holier about ignoring scientific data for the sake of food philosophy.

My approach - one I recommend to all newcomers in the diet - do your research, learn your facts, and enjoy your food!

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Just found you via a twitter post, and I'm in love...well with your ideas anyway! I eat what I can that offers me optimal nutrition. B12 and kale reference you make is right on for me. (shameless plug ahead) Take a listen to this www.thetruthaboutyourfood.com
(Im the webmaster for the Doc.) I have always disagreed with the raw foodies who preach "if its not raw, its against the law". well phooey!
Food is meant to be enjoyed and eaten. Animals were not, in my mind, meat to be eaten. Ive had far too many friends who were 4 legged to consider them as food.
Love this blog and already have you bookmarked!