Alright, raise your hands: how many of us have seen something on social media recently with a photo of a happy, fit-looking model, and the words “detox” or “cleanse” thrown somewhere in there and thought, “Oh, wow. I’ll have what she’s having”? In today’s age of social media, health fads have the ability to spread faster than ever. And us evidenced-based nutrition folks don’t like it. With all sorts of information now at our fingertips, it can be difficult to navigate through to find sources that are valid. That’s the purpose of this blog post.
The Raw Vegan Diet or also know as the Raw Food diet is a trend that is loud and clear on our radar. Actually, it’s on our front door step. Let’s learn:
What is it?
The Raw Vegan, or Raw Food diet consists of eating plant-based foods that have not been cooked, or that have been dehydrated at a very low temperature (usually not higher than 40 degrees Celsius). This is (falsey) based on the premise that cooking destroys enzymes and nutrients that are essential for human health, as well as can “produce toxins that accumulate in the body”.
Wait, is this true?
Well, there are some truths, however, don’t hop onboard just yet. Yes, cooking can destroy some nutrients in fruits and vegetables such as vitamin C. However, many nutrients actually become more bioavailable, or easily absorbed and used by the body after being heated at a certain temperature. This includes some good stuff such as lycopene in tomatoes and red peppers, and beta carotene in carrots and sweet potato.
Cooking = not a bad thing.
Cooking vegetables also helps to break down tough cell walls in plants which releases nutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible to the body. This, in turn creates less work for your digestive system (ie. spinach). Many people who have switched to a raw food diet report concerns with bloating and gas due to the excess fibre content associated with consuming large amounts of fruit and vegetables. No fun.
There is one nutrient that would be very difficult to obtain from a raw vegan diet, Vitamin B12. This micronutrient is found mostly in meat, or fortified foods – neither of which are allowed in a raw vegan diet. Deficiency of this particular vitamin leads to a host of problems including fatigue, weakness, memory loss, and depression. Not fun. Not fun at all.
What about those enzymes? Don’t I need them?
Yep, cooking does indeed denature some enzymes, which are made up of proteins. This means that they unfold and unravel so that they can no longer function properly. But guess what? These enzymes are no match for stomach acid either. Raw or cooked, proteins in food will get denatured so that the body can break them down into building blocks to use for other things. We are fully capable of producing all the enzymes we need. Our bodies are smart like that!
Show me the money. Cost?
With the rising cost of produce in Canada, the raw food diet simply isn’t economical. Since fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than other food groups, you would have to eat a much larger volume to meet your required energy intake. Therefore, you would have to buy way more (can you imagine a professional hockey player on this diet? No!). If you live somewhere where most fresh fruits aren’t in season in the winter, you’re not only paying more for imported produce, but increasing your carbon footprint due to the transportation of these foods. Those instagram collages of pretty blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are worth the double-tap but can cost a fortune.
What about the benefits?
Many raw vegans claim to feel more energetic, and have lost weight loss since starting this diet. Swapping out certain processed foods for more fruits and veggies will do that for ya. Indeed, eating more fruits and vegetables is great, and we should definitely take advantage of the nutrients that raw food provides (check out these easy recipes for Avocado Chocolate Mousse, Energy Date Balls, and Tropical Green Smoothies)! However, restricting yourself to only raw foods could really limit your variety. It would mean excluding many vegetables that have SO MUCH to offer, like root vegetables, squash, and pulses which have formed the staple diets of various cultures for centuries. I mean, how would we have survived the Great Depression without potatoes?
Despite individual testimonies, there is no evidence that shows the long term effects of a raw diet on the body. On the flip side, fire has been used for cooking for hundreds of thousands of years! Many anthropologists believe that our brains would not be as developed as they are today if it weren’t for the switch to the consumption of cooked food. Gotta love the industrial and agricultural revolution.
At the end of the day, when it comes to most of us, the best diet is no diet.
It’s all about balance
At the end of the day, when it comes to most of us, the best diet is no diet. All foods provide energy and nutrients. Eating a variety of whole foods; cooked and uncooked is the best way to ensure that we get the proper amount of nutrients we need to thrive. Our bodies will take care of the rest! When in doubt, consult with a Registered Dietitian before starting any new meal plan. They’ll tell you what’s up!
To learn more about our thoughts on detoxes, click here.
This blog post was written by Christy Lai, 4th Year Human Nutritional Sciences student. Follow Christy on Instagram, trust me, you’ll want to.
– With Love, Carrots and Cake,