Is the raw food diet a half-baked idea?
By Cheryl Forberg, RD
The raw food diet has been touted for a variety of health benefits, including weight loss, increased energy and better digestion. The eating plan consists largely of uncooked and unprocessed plant foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans, sprouts, grains, nuts, seeds and seaweed. The biggest benefit of a raw food diet may also be its biggest drawback — the impact of cooking on the nutrient value of food.
Cooking certain vegetables is thought to kill the enzymes they contain, a process that makes them easier to digest, but which can result in vitamin loss. Vitamin loss in food is affected by:
To optimize vitamin levels in your vegetables:
Exposure to air
Exposure to light
Exposure to heat
Whether a vitamin is fat- or water-soluble – vitamin loss from cooking is more significant with water-soluble vitamins such as B and C, because prolonged heating breaks them down. By contrast, fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, A and K) as well as fat-soluble plant chemicals (e.g. lycopene) become more concentrated with cooking; the vegetable loses water content, thereby decreasing dilution of the nutrients.
At the end of the day, I think it’s best to eat a combination of fresh cooked and raw foods to achieve the optimal amount of nutrients and vitamins they contain. Here’s a scrumptious recipe for a vegetable that can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
Use foods when optimally fresh.
If cooking, use steaming over boiling, and avoid long cooking times.
Remember that the significance of losing some of a vegetable’s vitamins/nutrients depends on the food’s context in your overall diet. If you’re eating plenty of fresh produce, the benefits lost by cooking a single dish are unlikely to make a dent in your health.
A balanced diet should include all nutrients, both fat and water-soluble.
A raw food diet may not be practical if you have digestive issues. As we get older, some of us have digestive problems with raw onions, cucumbers, bell peppers etc. At this point it becomes subjective. How much benefit are we deriving from eating all raw foods if we don’t enjoy how it makes us feel? The nutrients gained may be outweighed by the discomfort.
Curried Cole Slaw
This addictive picnic favorite is a riff on a chicken salad recipe I wrote for my last book. We recently had a holiday cookout, and I wanted to kick up my coleslaw one notch, so I basically repurposed the mayo seasoning blend that I generally use in my chicken salad recipe. Hope you’ll like this as much as we do! I always make a double batch.
For the dressing:
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chutney (I used mango chutney)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 head of Napa cabbage, cored, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup grated or shredded carrots
1/2 cup currants
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup chopped roasted, salted cashews, roughly chopped
Heat oil in nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 4 minutes or until soft and just beginning to brown. Add garlic and seasonings and simmer, stirring, for about one minute or until fragrant. Do not brown garlic. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine yogurt, mayo, chutney and lime juice with a whisk. Stir to combine. When onion mixture has cooled, whisk it into the dressing.
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage and carrots. Add dressing, currants and cilantro and stir well.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with cashews and more cilantro.