Enzymes, Vital Force, and Other Tales: the Raw Food Movement

It' amazing how simple veganism seemed exotic just some years ago; since then, vegans have gone much further, inventing such dietary fads as eating raw. They state that cooking destroys the "vital force" in food - but what does science say?

Image credit: natalienorman.com

Yet another fad?

Spreading out of California – the global capital of fad diets and quacky spiritual movents – raw veganism is taking over the world, and many famous people – Uma Thurman and Demi Moore, for example – have subscribed to the new craze. Books, websites (like this one), and retreat programs promote the philosophy of “living food”, “vitality”, and “whole-planet healing”. Most raw foodists are vegan, though some eat very fresh raw eggs and dairy. As for the rest, this diet is based on lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds… and supplements, like protein and B12 (which cannot be found in any vegan uncooked foods).

Bold claims

Here are some of their arguments in favor of ditching cooking:

  • No other animal cooks, and our human ancestors did not cook, either; it is unnatural;
  • Cooked food is “dead”, devoid of its life force;
  • Cooking destroys enzymes – the source of that mystical plant life force and the key element in nutrition;
  • Vitamins are also destroyed by cooking, while dangerous acids and carcinogens are formed, thus poisoning our cells;
  • Eating raw organic foods can cure diabetes, heart disease, and completely transform one’s body.

Raw food enthusiasts often include phrases like “science has proven” or “research now shows” to support their claims. But has science really proven any of that?

Scientists beg to differ

The raw food movement is one of those dietary fads that seriously irritate scientists – mostly because their claims are not actually based on any sound research, but the proponents of the raw philosophy simply won’t listen.

  1. We have big brains thanks to cooking. As a recent study shows, apes (that eat only raw food, of course) have to spend up to 7-8 hours a day eating to get the necessary calories; and the size of the brain relative to the body apparently depends on how many nutrients you get, since the brain consumes 20% of all our energy. If humans were to eat raw in the wild, we would need to spend 9 hours a day at it. Conversely, it was the invention of cooking (circa 1.8 million years ago) that apparently spurred a fast growth in our brain size.
  2. We don’t need plant enzymes, because we have our own in our digestive system. It is true that plant enzymes are destroyed by cooking, but when we eat raw food, they are just as easily destroyed by the acid in our stomach – a proof that we have no use for them.
  3. It IS true that cooking partially destroys some of the vitamins (such as vitamin C), but it increases the bioavailability of others – vitamin A, for example. The same goes for carcinogens: some cooking methods create them, some don’t.
  4. Correct diet and exercise can indeed lead to a remission of diabetes (more info here) and many other disorders; however, it doesn’t mean that the raw diet is the only one capable of achieving this effect. Any limited-calorie diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can be very efficient.
  5. And as for the “life force” and cooked food being “dead” or a special “vital aura” seen around sprouted beans – science has not found any evidence that such things exist.

Just like so many dietary movements based on spiritual ideas, the raw food diet completely lacks a scientific basis and is geared at people who are easy to impress. The passionate proponents of the movement cannot be convinced that they are wrong, of course. But for those of you who may only be contemplating switching to raw food we have a simple piece of advice: use the critical approach and study what science really says.

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