Is Raw Food Healthier Than Cooked Food?


There are two schools of thought when it comes to eating: raw foods and cooked foods. The later classification allows for both cooked and raw foods while the former only allows for raw foods or foods that have not been heated over a certain degree (115° F). Raw food advocates make claims about the health benefits associated with their way of eating, but do any of these claims hold any scientific merit?

I personally enjoy foods that are cooked, but I do agree that over cooking any food can destroy many of the food's  nutritional value and benefits. While doing research on this topic, I found a good amount of studies that were conducted by the nutritional sciences department of various universities around the world.

One of the studies that I found determined that a long-term raw food diet results in low levels of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene, found in fruits such as tomatoes and watermelon, has been extensively studied to determine it as a key factor in reducing risk for cancer and cardiovascular ailments. Cooking fruits that contain lycopene, like tomatoes, significantly raises the bioavailability of the antioxidant, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, Rui Hai Liu, concluded this in his 2002 study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

Another claim that is made against raw foods is that steaming or boiling asparagus, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, and spinach, among other vegetables, supplies more antioxidants like carotenoids and ferulic acid to the body than they would raw. This claim was proven in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry which concluded that boiling, as opposed to frying, better preserves antioxidants in broccoli, carrots, and zucchini.

A strict raw-food diet is very difficult to follow, and the number of people that stick to a completely raw diet in the long term is very small. Furthermore, some foods contain dangerous bacteria and microorganisms that are only eliminated by cooking. Eating a completely raw diet that includes fish and meat comes with a risk of developing a food-borne illness.

 A very intriguing report that was done by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS),was in regards to the evolution of the human brain and an exploration in to why humans do not have the largest body mass amongst primates but the largest brain size and neuron count. The human brain is metabolically costly and requires 20% of resting metabolic rate.

Humans are the only primates that cook their food. Raw foods have a low caloric yield, which imposes “a tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons, which explains the small brain size of great apes compared with their large body size.” Homo erectus overcame this limitation by cooking foods so that less time was spent feeding: cooked food provided a greater amount of brain neurons and drove humans to evolve with an increased brain size and functioning capability.

But, raw food isn’t completely tossed aside; it still has its worthiness. Raw foods are paramount in this processed and reheated world. Raw foods supersede cooked foods in that they contain biophoton (life-force energy of food) light energy and enzymes that are often destroyed with cooking.

While there are varying levels of raw-food diets, all of them involve eating mostly unheated, uncooked and unprocessed foods. In general, a raw-food diet is made up of at least 70% raw foods. Many raw foodists consume a vegetarian or vegan diet, eliminating animal products and eating mostly raw plant foods. However, a small number also consume raw dairy products, fish and even raw meat.

One of the greatest advices that dieticians give to their patients is balancing and not going too extreme when it comes to eating. I strongly sympathize with dieticians that advise their patients to realize that balancing raw foods with cooked foods is the best strategy as far as diets are concerned.

Choose the middle of the two extremes - don’t eat exclusively raw foods and don’t eat exclusively cooked foods - eat them both in equal harmony whenever possible.



Yi Zhang