|Extreme eating: is completely raw diet healthy?
by Kelsey Grobbel
In this modern day of convenience with appliances and gadgets assisting
us in all areas of our lives, imagine living without a stove,
microwave, or toaster. As difficult as it may seem to survive and
particularly, to eat without these appliances, many people are choosing
to steer clear of cooking entirely and are opting for a completely raw
diet. Proponents of this lifestyle believe that a raw food diet can
increase energy, ease digestion and improve health.
Critics argue that a completely raw diet doesn’t necessarily improve
health and can actually lead to nutritional deficiencies while posing
some food safety concerns.
The raw food diet consists of unprocessed and uncooked plant foods,
such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, sprouted grains, and
seaweed. Other foods permitted within the diet include young coconut
milk, raw honey, and raw dairy products like milk and yogurt. Advocates
of the raw food diet believe that heating food above 116 degrees
Fahrenheit destroys enzymes in food that can assist in the digestion
and absorption of food. Cooking also is thought to diminish the
nutritional value of food by leeching or destroying vitamins and
minerals. A completely raw diet contains fewer trans-fats and saturated
fat than the typical American diet. It also is low in sodium and high
in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, and phytochemicals; which may
ultimately reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that long-term
consumption of raw foods lowered both total cholesterol and plasma
triglyceride levels. In addition, environmental benefits to eating raw
may exist. Proponents of the raw diet have suggested that the lower
people eat on the food chain, the less impact they will have on the
earth’s resources. Plus, all waste materials from a raw diet are
biodegradable and great for composting.
Despite the many benefits of the raw food lifestyle, this diet is
inarguably extreme and comes with two major concerns: food safety and
nutritional deficiencies. First of all, the raw diet poses food-safety
concerns with some foods, such as sprouts, which can grow in
environments that promote harmful bacterial growth. Also, when foods
are not cooked to above 160-degrees, or are not pasteurized (as is the
case with raw dairy products and honey), possible bacteria goes
undestroyed and can lead to food-borne illnesses. The other major
concern, especially to nutrition experts, is that the raw diet is
restrictive and may lead to some nutritional deficiencies and
unintentional weight loss. For example, vitamin B12 and zinc are nearly
impossible to obtain from dietary sources when eating all raw, since
animal products are the main food source of these nutrients.
Claudia Gonzalez, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the
American Dietetics Association (ADA), said that it’s difficult to
consume more than 1,200 calories a day in raw foods. While this might
be great for weight-loss, Gonzalez said that once the weight comes off,
it might not be enough to sustain a person’s energy.
Meanwhile, raw food diet philosophy is gaining popularity and is
making its way into the restaurant sector. The first completely raw
restaurant in the United States opened up in California in 1917, but
the trend didn’t gain momentum until the late 1980s in New York. Now, a
raw restaurant, Sprout, has opened in Mount Pleasant.
Very few research studies have been conducted to assess the
effectiveness of this type of diet, but as more studies are completed,
the public will have a clearer idea of how a raw diet may be
beneficial. If you choose to follow a raw diet, research and be aware
of the possible risks associated with it. “As with any diet, when
evaluating the ‘raw foods’ approach, ask questions,” the ADA has urged.
This extreme eating philosophy warrants exploration and just might open
the door to a variety of tastes, textures and innovative recipes.
Friday, Jan. 16, 2009