Is Raw Food Healthier than Cooked Food?
- Published on: 09 November, 2016
- Last update: 07 August, 2017
Raw food has been all the rage in the health community these past few years. Many people say it’s closer to nature to eat food in its uncooked state, and several websites will tell you raw is better for detox. I see two sides to the story here. Yes – the enzymes in fresh produce can help a great deal with breaking down cellular waste in the body, and can even strip the protein coating of cancer cells so that your immune system can find them. There’s no doubt that a certain amount of raw food can be therapeutic. But what if I told you that by cooking a majority of your vegetables, you are actually SAVING your body a ton of digestive energy that can go towards much deeper healing in the long run? Eating too much raw food can deplete this vital energy, especially if you have been chronically ill and are feeling weak.
As the instinctive creatures we are, we have come to love “comfort food” and crave the warmth of home-cooked meals. We enjoy this hot food because we intuitively know how digestion works. If you ingest raw eggs and they come back up, they would look exactly the same as if they’d been cooked on a griddle. The white would be opaque, and the yolk would be solid. Spinach would come up wilted with a rich green hue as if it was sautéed.
Why? Because the proteins in food react to the heat in a hot pan or the acid in our stomachs as one in the same: they unfold. In this unfolded state, nutrients can be extracted far more easily in the small intestine. Cooked food saves us the entire burst of energy required to unfold those proteins ourselves, which would have otherwise been expended by the stomach. Think of that energy as money saved in the bank which can now go to a host of other processes: fighting infection, healing wounds, and even fueling immune cells to seek out and destroy cancer. All of these processes require a ton of energy, and making your stomach do the extra work of ‘cooking’ raw food depletes your reserves. By preferring cooked food, the body is outsourcing that part of the digestive process, which is especially beneficial for those already suffering from fatigue
Think about broccoli in its uncooked state. It’s green of course, but the color is somewhat muted.
Now think about the transformation that happens when it’s cooked. You can see the full potential of its deep green pigment, and the cellulose fibers within the stalk become much easier to tear and chew.
Not only is it far easier for the mouth and stomach to chew and break down, it’s also much more attractive to the eye. It’s human instinct to seek out bright, colorful foods. It’s nature’s way of drawing us to the most nutritious, antioxidant-rich resources on earth. Your eye is more drawn to the deep red strawberries in July than the dull ones in December, and for good reason. Children are especially intuitive, which is why companies fill gummy bears and candy with so much food coloring! Color is just one of the ways nature has wired us to recognize what’s best for us to eat. When broccoli turns bright green from the right amount of heat, it’s a signal that it’s ready! (P.S. This further enforces my view of balance in all things: think about broccoli that is overcooked, too. It’s not so pretty anymore and becomes a brownish-green. The same way we shouldn’t be eating too much raw food, we also shouldn’t be eating lots of food that is overcooked/fried/etc. Light, quick cooking, like steaming, is best since it preserves the enzymes and you get the best of both worlds!)
Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective
In TCM, it is believed that raw foods are too ‘cold’ — or yin — in nature and require too much energy from the body to digest. This cold nature puts a damper on the body’s digestive fire (which means your metabolism and relates to your fire/zest for life!) Over time, this can weaken the body’s digestive system causing bloating, glassiness and poor absorption of the nutrients in foods. Does your stomach/abdomen swell up after you have raw, cold, or sweet food? Do you worry excessively? Do you feel tired after eating? Do you bruise easily? Do you suffer from edema or fluid retention? These are all signs of a cold/yin condition, and can be exacerbated by too many raw foods. This is especially important to note if you have menstrual issues or struggle with infertility, as TCM believes cold can somewhat ‘infiltrate’ the reproductive organs and create stagnation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can never eat the salads and fresh fruit you love. As I always say, balance is key. In TCM, the optimal ratio of raw to cooked foods depends entirely on the individual. Animal protein is very warming, so people who eat meat every day are thought to be able to handle more raw foods. Vegetarians, however, are thought to be able to eat less raw foods because their diet is colder in nature (grains, fruit, etc). Climate also determines the optimal balance. During the winter, our bodies need a warming, enriching diet to balance damp, windy and cold weather. In the summertime, however, cooling water-rich foods can be used to balance the heat and treat dehydration.
If you are still a raw food lover, there are certain things you can do to balance your intake. Never, ever consume icy drinks (always room temperature or warm!) and drink ginger tea throughout your day. Ensure that you are eating enough protein, since it’s an important source of both heat and energy. Also be sure to use warming spices as seasonings (I even season my salads sometimes) – these include things like nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, clove, chives, and red pepper.
But most importantly, try to change your diet to include more cooked greens and veg. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health, especially if you are trying to recover from a disorder and need all the energy you can get. There is nothing more nourishing than, for example, a nice soft cooked sweet potato that is so smooth it’s basically chewed for you! Your body has to do hardly any work to break down and extract a powerhouse of healing nutrients. Warm plant foods are a staple in my diet and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
What’s your ideal ratio of raw to cooked foods? Have you noticed an improvement in your health since including more warming/cooked food? Let me know below, and I’ll see you guys very soon! x