Raw foodism

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Deliciously edible!

Food and Diet

Dubious diets
Food woo
A tortilla is made in a diny [sic] dirty factory by some dude who hates his job, boss, life, and YOU! And sends that hate into the food and you eat and sends it to the centre of your core being!
—Perfectly rational explanation of why raw food is better[1]
Raw foods were here first, and we were doing FINE! Cooked foods came along, and now we're about to DIE!
—Some who is apparently immune to Typhoid[wp], E. coli[wp], and many more foodborne illnesses[wp], but allergic to food without them[1]

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).[2]

[edit] Examining the premises

An understanding that certain foods taste better after exposure to fire and heat may go back millions of years to a common ancestor of people and chimps, [Alexandra G.] Rosati proposes. Knowing about naturally roasted fare, early fire-tamers got cooking right away, in her view. That was a big deal, because increased energy available from cooked foods would have fueled brain expansion in Homo species over the last 2 million years, as Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham has argued.[3]
  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.[4] Humans lived without refrigeration, vaccination, or sterilisation as well, but these are all things that have improved average lifespans. "Wild-born chimps living in a sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo understand that raw food can be cooked, and they appear to prefer cooked over raw."[3][5] And, "wild chimps have been observed collecting and eating charred seeds and nuts from areas recently engulfed by wildfires."[3]
  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 bacteria and parasites,[6] 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.[7] 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 antioxidants (though their value is still debated).

[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,[8] 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's supposed health claims and plenty of grounds to be extremely wary of it due to the increased potential for ingesting food borne pathogens, the most prevalent of which (such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Listeria) are killed by heating your food to a sufficient temperature. 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. Indeed the problem of getting enough calories from a raw food diet, especially a vegan one, may be one of its foremost problem (unless the rawfooder makes heavy use of, for instance, virgin olive oil) — a problem exacerbated if one actually needs energy for physical labor or is a growing kid.

For raw foodism to prove its health claims, studies could be designed by selecting at least three samples of people to be randomly assigned either a usual Western diet, a raw food diet, or a diet similar to raw food but which allows for heat treatment.[9] These three samples would have to be followed over at least a number of years and preferably decades (to catch any long-term problems) to be able to evaluate any statistically significant differences between them in terms of health.[10] This study, if practical,[11] then might 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. 1.0 1.1 Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, episode 1.11, Eat This!
  2. http://www.ba.ars.usda.gov/hb66/025nutrition.pdf
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Apes do the darndest things: Chimps display hunting, foraging skills that may have served early hominids well by Bruce Bower (2:22pm, September 9, 2015) Science News.
  4. Unless you believe in things like Adam literally living 900+ years and fire not being discovered until, say, Abraham.
  5. Cognitive capacities for cooking in chimpanzees by Felix Warneken & Alexandra G. Rosati (Published 3 June 2015) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0229.
  6. Try to compare Wikipedia's ist of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll[wp] where, as of July 2015, 6 came from meat that either had been or were destined to be heat treated and thus off-limits to raw fooders. In addition, 3 other outbreaks (from peanut butter, canned tuna and vichyssoise) would also have been avoided by raw fooders as all are heat treated. However, that would still leaves 6 major outbreaks against which a raw food diet wouldn't have been any protection (though one of these outbreaks, from raw milk cheese, would have been avoided by raw food vegans).
  7. Of course, salmonella can also be present in salads if it has been transferred from meat, eggs or live animals, for instance via human contact. Not to mention that one of the more serious outbreaks of food poisoning in Europe in recent years, which cost the lives of 48 (possibly 51) Germans, a Swede and an American in 2011,[wp] was traced back to raw bean sprouts — exactly the kind of food rawfooders might eat. Interestingly, in East Asia where bean sprouts are part of the traditional cuisine, they are fried in wok dishes or similarly heat treated as a filler in deep fried dishes or soups — unlike their use, raw, in salads in the West).
  8. http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/05/the-way-we-eat-now.html
  9. This would probably mean a vegan diet, but a flexitarian one would do if the rawfooders in question eat raw meat (e.g. steak tartare[wp]), sushi, or other animal products.
  10. We're pretending that we're mainly dealing with a raw food diet's effect on adults here, but a truly all-encompassing study would either have to include growing children, or raw food needs to be portrayed as at best a dubious diet for children. A somewhat similar situation might apply to the elderly.
  11. 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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