Since the majority of Americans are overweight, eating low-calorie raw plant foods can be a powerful weight reduction strategy.
For example, in Weimar’s NEWSTART program, we typically encourage our overweight guests to load up at the salad bar before thinking about cooked entrees.
However, this apparent benefit may be a liability for thinner individuals. Chowing down on lettuce, kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower may provide a good supply of phytochemicals, but it can also lead to difficulty maintaining weight for the leaner ones among us.
On the other hand, some raw plant foods are extremely calorically dense, and can actually make weight reduction more difficult. Try loading up on seeds, nuts, nut butters, olives and avocados – and you may find that your encounters with the bathroom scale less than encouraging.
Many assume that cooking renders a food less nutritious. However, nutritional science reveals the issue is much more complex than most lay people realize. It is true that certain vitamins and nutrients are “heat-labile” and thus their amounts in food are decreased by cooking. However, cooking food actually increases the body’s ability to utilize other nutrients. For example you’ll typically get more vitamin C and sulphorphane (an anticancer nutrient) from raw as opposed to cooked broccoli, and you’ll get more of the phytochemical lutein if you eat your spinach raw. On the other hand, when it comes to iron, studies have shown that cooking generally helps you get significantly greater iron absorption from the vast majority of vegetables. You’ll also get markedly more anticancer lycopene by eating cooked tomatoes as opposed to raw ones. Bread baked with yeast helps inactivate an anti-nutrient, phytic acid, which in turn helps you get more zinc and calcium from the grain.
What about enzymes in our food?
Raw food advocates often tout the superiority of their approach when it comes to “live enzymes,” claiming that cooking destroys these health-giving constituents. Unfortunately, enzymes are proteins, all of which are denatured and rendered inactive in the acid environment of the healthy stomach. For this reason there is no benefit in this department when it comes to the raw food regimen.
There is no compelling data from modern science arguing that we should all jump on the raw food bandwagon. Furthermore, eating largely of raw plant foods may pose problems for selected individuals such as those prone to anemia or trouble maintaining their weight. However, there are clearly benefits from raw plant foods – and most of us would likely benefit from increasing our raw plant food intake.