Raw foodies shun the stove
For five years, Tanya Davediuk ate almost no cooked food. Her meals consisted of things like salads, smoothies, cold soups, raw falafels, and dehydrated cookies made with soaked, ground almonds.
In a phone interview, Davediuk tells the Straight that after a few months on the raw-food diet, her energy level skyrocketed. “I remember one day getting up and thinking, ”˜I just have to run around the block,’ ” Davediuk says. “It was this huge boost. I just ran and ran and ran for the pure joy of it.”¦It was like unplugging your drain—all of a sudden everything could flow.”
Davediuk is now a yoga teacher, and although she resumed cooking several years ago to accommodate her teenage children, she still advocates the raw route.
“If I eat too much cooked food”¦I’m just not as with it mentally, not as happy,” she says. “I can be in the darkest mood, and I’ll juice a couple of beets, drink it, and within half an hour I’m feeling happy.” Her explanation? Cooked food “requires more energy to do that digesting, and that’s energy taken away from you for just feeling great.”
In Fresh: The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook (Random House, $22), authors Sergei and Valya Boutenko also tout the benefits of going raw, claiming that it cured their family of myriad ailments, including arrhythmia, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis, as well as providing mental clarity.
So why do raw-food enthusiasts frown on cooking?
“When you cook food, it destroys all the enzymes that are present in the plant,” says Aaron Ash by phone from his vegan, raw-food café Gorilla Food (436 Richards Street). “That’s what helps metabolize all the nutrients into a usable form.
It’s kind of like the electricity of the plant, the life force, and that [cooking] destroys it.” (Raw-food diets aren’t necessarily vegetarian.) The board member of the Raw Food Society of B.C. says that raw foodies generally agree that food shouldn’t be heated past 108 ° F (42 ° C).
Rosie Dhaliwal, registered dietitian for SFU’s health and counselling services department, counters these claims. In a phone interview, she says cooking doesn’t kill enzymes necessary for digestion.
Dhaliwal explains that plant enzymes “can’t act when they’re in the body”. That’s because they get broken down by the acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines. The enzymes needed to help you absorb nutrients are already present in your body and are not provided by food.
According to Dhaliwal, cooking does not destroy vitamins if vegetables are cooked properly, to a tender-crisp rather than a wilted brown. Boiling is the exception, however, and it’s not recommended for vegetables “because you can lose nutrients through leaching”.
She cautions people to take testimonials with a grain of salt, and to consult a doctor or the Dietitians of Canada Web site (dietitians.ca/ ) and Canada’s Food Guide before cutting out cooking. “There isn’t any scientific evidence to support the superior nutritional quality of a raw-food diet,” she says.
Moreover, these diets may be unbalanced and deficient in carbohydrates, which fuel the body. Dhaliwal points to a 1999 study of raw-food dieters in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism that concluded that “a very strict raw food diet cannot be recommended on a long-term basis,” since many raw-food dieters were underweight and experienced amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods).
“Heat has a definite beneficial effect in terms of food safety,” says Tim Durance, professor of food, nutrition, and health in the UBC faculty of land and food systems. People associate salmonella and E. coli outbreaks with meat, but vegetables are also susceptible. “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat raw vegetables, but they should be washed and taken care of and handled properly.”
According to Dhaliwal, claims of better digestion may stem from an increased fibre intake. “Increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption is an excellent idea, but not necessarily within the raw-food diet,” she explains, adding that Canadians generally don’t get their recommended 25 to 35 grams of fibre daily.
Gorilla Food’s Ash, who has been eating “98 percent raw food” for the last seven years, explains that he does so because “it’s the best food I can put in my body”¦food that’s in its most natural state.”
Nature’s bounty certainly is attractive in the summer, so perhaps now’s the time to start eating more fruits and vegetables—cooked or uncooked.