Raw foodism

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Food and Diet

Dubious diets
Food woo

Raw foodism is food woo that states that uncooked food is, by definition, intrinsically healthier than cooked food. While most raw food diets are related to vegetarianism and veganism, this is not necessarily always the case.


[edit] Premise

There is no unified source for researching raw foodism. The scientific literature contains very few studies. What is out there is mostly in articles and websites. There do seem to be some agreed-upon premises in the movement.

  1. Humans ate raw food for millions of years and were just fine.
  2. All other animals eat raw food and are healthier and relatively longer-lived than humans.
  3. Raw foods contain enzymes that are very good for you.
  4. Cooking food produces toxins.
  5. Cooking food can break down some vitamins in food (though it makes them more available - but why worry about facts).[1]

[edit] Examining the premises

  1. Humans did evolve for millions of years eating raw food, before they discovered fire. There is no evidence that pre-fire humans were any healthier or long-lived than humans after the discovery of fire.[2] Humans lived without refrigeration, vaccination, or sterilisation as well, but these are all things that have improved average lifespans.
  2. There is no scientific evidence that other animals live proportionally longer than humans, or are even healthier. In fact, the human lifespan has increased dramatically over the years, primarily thanks to improved public health provision and advances in agriculture. And it is estimated that animals kept in captivity generally live longer, healthier lives than those that are out there in the wild, although there could be several other reasons for that, as well. Some rawbies are fond of pointing out that certain animals live x times past the age of maturity, and humans do not match this. This, in most cases, is generally considered irrelevant due to developmental differences between species, namely the long gestation and postnatal growth period required to foster the human brain before puberty.
  3. Enzymes are simply protein catalysts that operate at the specific temperature and pH for which they evolved. There is nothing magical about enzymes, and indeed the plant enzymes that raw foodists are so enamored of aren't even meant to function in a mammalian body. In any case, human digestion breaks most proteins (including natural enzymes) down to constituent amino acids fairly quickly, making them nutritious, but inactive. There are some cases where cooking foods can cause the leaching of nutrients (specifically by boiling them); however, this is not true in all cases, and sometimes cooking can even make nutrients more accessible. Finally, those few proteins that aren't broken down quickly by the digestion process can result in a food allergy; many cases exist of people who are allergic to a raw food item but not to cooked versions of the same item.
  4. Some ways of cooking some foods can produce carcinogenic compounds. Cooking also kills germs, destroys some natural toxins (for example, cyanogens, lectins, some kinds of bacterial toxins), and makes some foods more digestible by breaking down indigestibles like hemicelluloses, pectins, and complex proteins such as collagen.
  5. A logical explanation for the abundant anecdotes claiming raw foodism makes foodists feel healthier and more energetic has nothing to do with the hypothesis behind the diet, but rather with the healthy incidentals that are necessary to support "raw foods". Like many people, raw foodists have a vested interest in not contracting Salmonella. This forces them to consume more salads and fewer Big Macs. Also, raw food diets are lower in saturated fats primarily used for frying, eat less processed sugar (which is not considered 'raw'), and have diets rich in anti-oxidants (though their value is still very much in doubt).

[edit] Experiments

In trying to determine things like "when in human history, did we start cooking foods", and how is development of the brain related to what we ate, many groups have run various trials on how much food modern humans need to consume if they did not have access to meat or cooked foods. Various studies exist, but the basic breakdown is this: for a human to consume enough calories to simply live a sedentary life, on raw fruits and veggies alone, they would have to be eating nearly 5 hours a day if raw meats were consumed,[3] and consuming bucketfuls of raw produce if meat were not on the menu.

[edit] Summary

There is no convincing evidence currently available to fully evaluate raw foodism. There is evidence that in general, people who consume calories that match their activity are in many ways healthier. There is also evidence that diets with less animal fat and fewer calories help prevent cardiovascular disease. These, however, are truisms that equally support vegetarian or flexitarian diets and a general reduction in consumption, and have no real bearing on the possible dangers of cooking.

For raw foodism to prove itself, studies could be designed to select a sample of people to randomly assign to either a usual Western diet or to a raw foods diet. Then, meaningful outcome measures need to be evaluated over a period of years. This study, if practical,[4] would lead to a valid evaluation of raw foodism.

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Doughism.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.ba.ars.usda.gov/hb66/025nutrition.pdf
  2. Unless you believe in things like Adam literally living 900+ years and fire not being discovered until, say, Abraham.
  3. http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/05/the-way-we-eat-now.html
  4. Practicality in this case would be dependent on two things: a) the subject would have to be trusted and b) the experiment could somehow be done without double-blind testing. a) is difficult; b) is highly unlikely.
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