food is all the rage these days. What is that about? Here is a
fairly standard description:
The raw food diet is based on unprocessed and uncooked plant
foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts,
grains, beans, dried fruit, and seaweed.
Heating food above 116 degrees F is believed to destroy enzymes in
food that can assist in the digestion and absorption of food.
Cooking is also thought to diminish the nutritional value and
"life force" of food. (http://altmedicine.about.com/od/popularhealthdiets/a/Raw_Food.htm)
the list of permissible foods, from the same source:
Unprocessed, preferably organic, whole foods such as:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Freshly juiced fruit and vegetables
Young coconut milk
At least 75% of food consumed should not be heated
over 116 degrees F.
Fortunately, you don’t have to eat these straight – you can fuss
with them, to make them easier on the stomach. For example, these
are some things you can do to make raw plant food more digestible
and less chewy, and add variety to the diet, including:
Sprouting seeds, grains, and beans
Juicing fruit and vegetables
Soaking nuts and dried fruit
what I’ve seen, there is a huge amount of work required to follow
this diet, what with the chopping, blending, dehydrating, juicing,
and so forth and so on. Often, food is prepared to make it look like
something it’s not – e.g. squash “spaghetti” and “mashed potatoes”
made with raw cauliflower. I can’t see this as the “correct” diet
for humans, as I can’t imagine prehistoric humans doing all this
stuff to raw food in order to survive. They probably just ate the
roots and berries straight . I can understand the berries, but not
the roots. Ever try burdock straight?
turns out, there has been a fair amount of anthropological research
done in this field. Richard Wrangham, a professor of Biological
anthropology at Harvard, is the author of a book called Catching
Fire: How Cooking Made us Human (Basic Books, 2009). I had
the pleasure of attending a lecture he gave at the Harvard Club in
NYC at the invitation of my friend Janet Mindes, and found his
material absolutely fascinating. He talked about studying gorillas
and chimps in the wild, in Africa, and that after a while of
trudging after them, he decided he might as well eat what they ate,
as that seemed to be easier and made sense. After all, we are
descended from these animals! However, he found that in eating the
monkey’s grub, roots, leaves, a few berries, and the like, whenever
he got back to the camp he was ravenously hungry. He yearned for a
plate of hot mashed potatoes. It turns out that chimps and gorillas
spend about six hours per day chewing! With some effort, modern-day
humans may spend about one hour per day chewing. Thus we have a lot
of time to do other things, I would think.
discovery of fire, and the cooking of food, made a huge difference
in the feeding of the apes. Cooking, grinding, mashing, and breaking
up food help make it softer, and so aid greatly in digestion and
absorption because these techniques allow the digestive juices to
extract more nutrients from both plant and animal foods. Professor
Wrangham posits that it is cooking which made the evolutionary
difference between apes and humans. Both fire and homo erectus
appeared about 1.9 million years ago. The earlier homo habilis
had larger teeth and a wider pelvis, whereas homo erectus
showed a marked decrease in teeth size, a smaller pelvis and a
larger skull– thus, smaller teeth and gut, bigger brain. With the
use of fire, civilization began.
interesting is the extensive research that shows that a cooked, soft
diet increases the absorption of both nutrients and calories. .
The calories from cooked food are more bioavailable than those of
raw food, and Prof Wrangham cautions that the calories counted by
the thermodynamic paradigm (which ignores the effects of cooking)
should not be considered the same as the energy that is obtained
from cooked food. People who had to live in the wild on raw food
became extremely gaunt and often died from malnutrition. Women on
60-100% raw food diets lose their periods and become infertile.
There are numerous stories like that throughout Wrangham’s book, and
I highly recommend that anyone interested in food and health read it
here is another interesting bit of information: evolution supports
the idea that we normally consume starch as a major part of our
diet. A 2007 paper by George Perry and Nathaniel Dominy showed that
humans have many copies of the genes that allows them to produce
salivary amylase, the enzyme specifically designed to break down
and the evolution of human amylase gene copy number variation” -
Nature Genetics 39, 1256 - 1260 (2007). The study indicates
that individuals from populations with high-starch diets have, on
average, more copies of this gene than those with traditionally
low-starch diets. As starches are most normally consumed cooked,
it’s been probably the cooked, starchy foods that helped make humans
what we are today.
movement emphasizing the consumption of raw foods considers these
more “natural.” That may be true. However, I believe that we
should not quickly assume that “natural” is always good. Poisonous
mushrooms are natural too, but I don’t see anyone eating them
knowingly. Nor is there is a “right” way for humans to eat. Most
human societies eat local and seasonal foodstuffs, which vary
greatly according to region.
we are not like the apes: we read books, ride bicycles, build
skyscrapers, fly planes. And we cook. Every single group of humans
that anthropology has studied has the use of fire. So I would like
to think that when food is hard to get and we need every bit of
nutrition we can get our hands on, cooking our food is the ideal way
to prepare it for consumption. But in our times we have gone to the
other extreme: in the last 75-100 years or so, with commercially
processed foods, we have gotten used to a very soft, finely ground
diet – chopped meat, white bread, cakes, cookies, ice cream – and
this diet over many years has brought us a great deal of health
problems and overweight. A raw-food diet, then, can be a very
healthy and helpful approach to counterbalance the unhealthy effects
of our long-term processed food diet.
this balance may be temporary. The pendulum swings. If one embarks
on a raw-food diet, it’s important to pay attention and see if at
any time the body says, enough! It may be a month, a year, or
seven, but a moment may come when a bowl of hot soup and some
flavorful rice and beans suddenly feel just wonderful again.
a great raw sauce good on cooked grain or fish.
SCALLION GINGER SAUCE
scallions, white and most of the green, trimmed, finely sliced
(about 1 cup)
slices of ginger, about 1 inch in diameter each, finely minced
Tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
natural soy sauce
Tablespoon wine vinegar
ingredients in a bowl, and serve a spoonful on rice, pasta, fish, or
starchy vegetables. This keeps for several days in the fridge.
Makes 3-4 servings.