Transcend food fads and diets and adhere to the ultimate diet: Natures Diet.
The Dubious Flexibility of Scientific Literature
When engaging in discussions and dispelling myths of particular health trends, I truely intend to create a balanced argument on both sides. I like to present the pros and cons of both sides, the science and the ancient wisdom, then allow the reader to make an informed decision themselves that applies to their unique self.
According to the science, raw food and cooked food, are both beneficial and our ancestors enjoyed both.
Due to the dubious nature of scientific studies, a more holistic insight is required. Thus, it is wise to consider the traditional sciences that have time tested these topics for thousands of years, as in the case of Ayurveda.
Anthropology: What Did Our Ancestors Eat?
The logic that our ancestors only ate raw foods is flawed, with numerous studies suggesting we have been cooking for almost 2 million years.
Cooking with fire predates homosapians. If you trace your way back, you find the species prior, which were still in our genus, they were homo (human), "homo erectus" to name the precise genus, had fire and passed the torch onto homosapians. This was all found through fossil analysis.
What was the benefits of cooking with fire? The study says:
In Ayurveda, the discussion isn’t so narrow as to one is bad and one is good.
Many things are taken into account, including The Eight Factors Determining the Utility of Food:
- Prakriti - nature of food articles.
- Karana - method of processing.
- Samyoga - combination of food articles.
- Rasi - quantity.
- Desa - habitat of the food and where it is being eaten.
- Kala - Time - day or night, age of the person and stage of the disease in the individual.
- Upayogasamsthā - rules governing the intake of food. One should no speak, laugh, take in hurry, very slow, etc.
- Upayoktrn - wholesomeness of the individual who takes it. This includes "OkaSatmya" - What the individuals ancestors ate, what they were brought up eating, and what they are habituated to eat.
The Importance of Agni (Transformation)
As you see above, Processing (Karana) is one of the Eight Factors Determining the Utility of Food.
Processing or cooking foods is vital. It transforms the food. Usually for the good. Cooking in most cases can remove samskaras ("memories") of the food item and transform the qualities of it.
Example: transforming milk with fire
Take milk from stress-induced, unhappy factory farmed cows for example. When you boil the milk diluted with water, to some extent, the stress chemistry of the cows are removed from the milk.
Take it to the next level by adding some black pepper to further transform the milk as these little pungent black fiery spice balls counter the heavy, damp, mucous creating quality of milk.
There are many ways to process or cook food (detailed below). It is vital to purify the substance, enhance its absorbability for humans and nutritional effect.
On the other hand...
Common cooking methods can be used to enhance the nutritional value of vegetables, increasing bio-accessibility of health-promoting constituents.
Cooking has the effect of softening the indigestible cellulose, allowing nutrients to be rereleased that may not be when eaten raw.
Cooked foods is not just about nutrients, they are nurturing for your intestinal wall!
Foods that Have A Higher Nutrient Value When Cooked
Cooking artichokes increase their antioxidant levels (steaming is best).
Studies observed the cooking effect on the artichoke antioxidant profile is probably due to matrix softening and increased extractability of compounds.
Cooked asparagus has more antioxidants than raw.
This study assessed "significant and more pronounced" changes during cooking process.
Studies show cooked blueberries can have greater antioxidant levels than fresh.
Baking blueberries changes their polyphenol content.
Note that fruit doesn't need to be cooked since the sun cooks it!
Cooked carrots are more nutritious than raw. Steaming or baking whole carrots preserves more of the beta-carotene, studies showed.
The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A (retinol) - beta carotene is a precursor of vitamin A. We need vitamin A for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and good eye health and vision.
Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage
Some studies suggest raw because the heat breaks down the enzyme called tyrosinase, which is a precursor for broccoli to release cancer-fights and ulcer reducing sulforaphanes (which is what elevated broccoli to its superfood status).
Over all, you can’t digest those enzymes.
On the other hand, a perhaps even more health-prompting nutrient, Indole-3-carbinol, is processed only when broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are cooked.
Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to stop pre-cancerous prostate cells from becoming malignant by inhibiting cell growth and supports apoptosis.
Raw spinach - chew it and it tastes chalky because it contains oxalic acid - an organic substance that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron.
A study showed it also attaches to quite a few other vital nutrients, and long-term consumption of foods high in oxalic acid can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Cooking spinach breaks down oxalic acid.
Studies showed cooked tomatoes have higher lycopene, a potent antioxidant more powerful then vitamin C, and is particularly useful in helping the body repair damaged tissue, and preventing cancer and heart attacks.
Other studies show vitamin C decreased when being cooked.
Reported Benefit of Raw Food: Cleansing
Yes it is true, raw roods can be cleansing since they have more fibre.
This is why people get good bowel motions - it is going straight out.
They think this is a good thing, but actually, they are not absorbing nourishment.
This can be of benefit for when the body is sick and toxic, like in the case of cancer - as the fibre can scrub the intestines.
But once you are cleansed, raw food is not sustainable.
In the beginning, when lots of raw vegetables or "green juices" are eaten, the system starts to digest the ama (toxins and blockages) because you are not getting enough nourishment, so it is like fasting. Catabolic activity happens. The problems start when the ama is finished and then the body starts to eat the dhatus (healthy tissues).
Raw Food Will Cause Weight Loss, But You're Losing Healthy Tissues!
Definitely people will loose weight on a raw diet. Due to catabolic action where tissues are broken down, including fat tissue. However, it also depletes other tissues, like bone, bone marrow, and reproductive tissue.
In ‘Catching Fire’, Professor Richard Wrangham wrote:
“Recent studies indicate that low bone mass in the backs and hips of raw foodists was caused by their raw diet.”
There are healthier ways to loose weight: Balance agni and activate healthy tissue metabolism.
Not only will the healthy tissues become depleted, but the digestive fire becomes compromised. And it takes a lot of attentiveness from someone recovering from raw food diet damage.
Overall with cancer, the more vegetables you eat, the better. Plant based diet is key.
In the condition of inflammatory bowels, the very first recommendation is stop eating raw food. While they are cleansing, they are very rough on the intestinal wall. Cleansing is not a suitable diet in this case of sensitive gut.
Reported Benefit of Raw Food: More Energy
Again, this is true but also false.
Raw food takes about 80% more energy to digest than cooked food. Plus it also provides the body with less energy following digestion.
So how is it that raw food makes you feel more energetic?
Because it certainly does, in the short term at least.
You get a short term hit of energy due to the catabolic effect. But then, (few months to a few years later) you are left depleted.
This is why the raw food diet doesn't last to long with people.
Vata Aggravating & Catabolic Effect
Raw food has the qualities of Dry, Light, Cold and Rough.
The vata dosha (bioenergy responsible for movement) also has those qualities.
Thus, according to the natural law of “like increases like,” eating raw foods increase the vata dosha.
Vata is responsible for catabolism - cell reduction.
The Raw Food Diet Has Never Been Time Tested
When a cell breaks down, it is like a star exploding – it releases a lot of energy!
So, if you’ve ever been on a raw food, smoothie or juice diet, for a short period of time you may very well have felt on top of the world!
But this feeling won’t last forever and neither should your raw food diet.
Excess catabolism occurs, where healthy tissues become depleted. Then the Ojas (immunity, vitality, essence of your tissues), also gets reduced.
This is why many of the people I see who have tried raw diets feel great in the short term, and get inflicted with fatigue down the track. You may have experienced this.
People do not stay on the raw vegan diet for long.
Even 10 years is very rare for someone to be on a raw food diet, but those who have been, even that isn’t a long period of time!
Never as a human species have we done this.
Historically the diets of humans last centuries, not 10 years! And they never dipped in and out of fads. They maintained the same diet for generations.
They adhered to the ultimate diet. Natures diet.
Reported Benefit: Reduced Risk of Disease
Not a precise point to argument since people on raw food diets tend to stop eating processed food or a regular western ‘convenience/fast food’ diet.
This processed and unnatural diet is well recognised as the main cause of some of the most common chronic diseases in Western society.
They also eat more fruits and veggies and less meat.
They also tend to be people who care about their health, so tend to make other life-style changes - like sleeping better, meditation, exercise, healthy relationships, less alcohol and smoking etc. - that turn out to benefit their health.
The Wisdom of Ayurveda
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I really do try to make the argument balanced. But I just couldn't do that for raw foods.
The reality is, when you acknowledge the time-tested, rich science of Ayurveda, raw food only has a small place in the human diet.
For those who want optimal health and to cure and prevent disease, should primarily cook their food.
The famous Ayurvedic sage, Caraka Samhita, has 10 rules for eating raw food. They are in order of importance, and yep you guessed it, cooking food is included. In fact, it is number one most important for food to be wholesome.
10 Rules For Taking Food:
- Food Should be Warm/Cooked:
Reasoning for this from thousands of years ago:
- It is delicious.
- After intake it provokes the factors (enzymes) in the abdomen and helps digestion;
- It gets digested quickly;
- Helps digestion, fluids and nutrients move downwards (vata anulomana);
- Maintains detachment of sticky, undigestible, toxic substances (kapha).
And the other 9 rules for food intake:
2. Food Should be Unctuousness (Snigdha)
3. Food taken in Proper Quantity.
4. Intake After Digestion of Previous Meal.
5. Intake of Food Having No Contradictory Potencies (Incompatible food combinations)
6. Intake in Proper Place (Calm environment) and With All Accessories.
7. Intake, Not in Hurry.
8. Intake, Not Too Slow.
9. Intake with Concentration, Self-Confidence and with due regard to his own self.
Reference: Caraka Samhita, Vimana Sthana.
The Eight Factors Determining the Utility of Food
Let's look at more ancient wisdom.
We saw the eight qualities earlier on in this article, lets go more into the second factor, and view the ancient ways of processing substances (that are still practiced today):
Karana - Processing the Substances:
- Karana (processing) results in the transformation.
- Transformation of the attributes is effected by:
- Application of heat,
- Churning - e.g. Curd by nature aggravates oedema; when churned, even with the fat content of it remaining intact, it alleviates oedema.
- Flavouring - e.g. sweet smelling drugs like utpala (Nymphae alba/White water lily) in water.
- Impregnating - drugs like amalaki in juices.
- Preservation - Ingredients of Duralabhasava are required to be kept in a jar smeared with ghee for 15 days before use (Chikitsa 15:154).
- Container - e.g. TriphalaRasayana is to be prepared in a new iron container smeared with the paste of amalaki (Chikitsa 1:3:43)(22-II)
Vegetables That Can Be Eaten Raw (Plants in Salad Form)
There is some balance in Ayurveda after all!
Ayurveda does mention certain vegetables that can be eaten raw. However, if these vegetables are cooked, that is ideal and easier to digest.
Ardraka (Green Ginger)
- When taste is not well manifested and tender, it alleviates vitiated dosas, is light (laghu) and stimulates digestion.
- When overgrown, it provokes these dosas.
Leafy greens - Ajwain, Arjaka (Ocimum gratissimum / Clove Basil / African Basil), Sigru (Moringa oleifera), Saleya (Tringonella foenum-graceum / Fenugreek) , Mrstaka (Brassica nigra / Black Mustard) - Leaves of these vegetables are cordial and palatable.
Bhustrna (Cymbopogon citratus / Lemon Grass).
Dhanyaka (Coriandrum sativum / Coriander)
Palandu (Allium cepa / Onion)
Lasuna (Allium sativum / Garlic) - Can provide its fantastic health benefits when raw.
Source: Caraka Samhita, Vimana Sthana.
Other vegetables okay to eat raw:
- and vegetables with strong pitta characteristics can be eaten raw in limited quantity. Grated is best and at lunch or as snack if agni (digestive fire) is good.
What About Fruit?
Fruit is cooked by nature, by the sun. So when it ripens that is cooked.
What About Nuts?
Nuts you can take raw, but better to cook them - either soaking them, peeling some nuts like almonds, or activating.
Some Tips on Cooking
- Don’t damage foods with high heat and over-cooking. Lightly steaming, lightly cooking is fine and will enhance health of the intestinal skin.
- Unless it is soups or stews - they capture the nutrients.
- Blanch salads and leafy greens.
- Use pure Clay Pots since they retain the nutrients profoundly.
- Retain the water.
- Use some quality oil always when cooking.
- Eating a little raw food is completely fine. Your diet should be predominately cooked food.
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- "Caraka Samhita," Vimana Sthana.
- "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human", Richard Wrangham.
- "Are Raw Food Diets Healthy?," Nadia Marshall.