You’ve probably heard about the raw food diet, which involves eating mostly raw and unprocessed foods. Refined and pasteurized foods are completely out of the question, so the diet is made up of mostly fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.

Those who support this diet claim that the process of cooking food destroys enzymes and nutrients. Some even believe that cooked food is toxic.

But before you give up cooking and start juicing, blending, dehydrating and sprouting everything, let’s find out if any of this is true.

The Science

This diet is based on one simple fact; heat denatures enzymes. However, there’s a lot more to the story. Besides, it probably isn’t a good idea to base your entire diet on a single “fact.”

Here’s something to keep in mind. The body produces its own enzymes for digestion so you don’t really need to preserve the natural enzymes in your food. After all, those enzymes will be destroyed by the acid in your stomach during digestion.

Although cooking may reduce the amount of water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin B in food, it increases the availability of other nutrients and antioxidants. Therefore, if you only eat raw foods you will miss the health benefits of certain nutrients that are only available once the food is cooked.

Cooking food also destroys harmful substances such as lectins and phytic acid, which are found in grains and legumes. If these substances are not destroyed they can stop your body from absorbing the nutrients it needs.

Last but not least, cooking kills bacteria. Some proponents of the raw food diet consume unpasteurized dairy and eggs, and raw meat and fish. Sounds like a recipe for food poisoning, right?

The Benefits

There’s a reason why so many people swear by raw foods. Most of them are high in fiber, and low in fat and sodium so you are bound to lose weight on this diet. Raw foods are also high in vitamins and minerals.  Not to mention heaps of scientific evidence about how eating lots of veggies and fruits reduces blood pressure and lowers the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to get enough protein, calcium and Vitamin D on this diet, so you need to take supplements to fill any nutritional gaps.

The Verdict

Like any other fad diet, the raw food diet has advantages and disadvantages. However, you can enjoy most of the benefits of raw foods without increasing your risk of food poisoning unnecessarily. Just eat a combination of raw and cooked foods.

It’s about balance and moderation.

Since fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet there’s no harm in increasing the amount that you consume. The USDA recommends 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. One serving is about half a cup of fruit or 1 cup of leafy vegetables. It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference in your health and quality of life.

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