Expert Q&A

Raw foods: Are they healthier?

I've heard that raw foods are healthier than cooked foods. Supposedly, when raw foods are cooked their enzymes are destroyed. Is this true? If so, do you recommend a raw foods diet?

The raw foods movement has been gaining popularity for some time now. It is based on whole, unprocessed, unpasteurized, uncooked foods that haven't been treated with heat or processing, and on the premise that all nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes are heat sensitive, and deleteriously affected by heat above 110 degrees. The truth is that some foods are healthier when they are raw, but others are healthier when they are cooked. For example, you get more cancer-fighting lycopene from tomato sauce, ketchup, or pizza than you do from a similar amount of fresh tomato. This is also true for foods containing beta carotene such as carrots, and of vegetables in the cabbage family.

The idea that enzymes are destroyed when foods are cooked is also partially true. Yes, some enzymes are destroyed, but the body does a very efficient job of producing the enzymes needed for proper digestion. There is no evidence to suggest that the natural enzymes in the foods are needed for proper digestion.

While I promote a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods, I don't promote a strictly raw foods diet. The key is to balance your diet with all types of healthy foods to reap all the benefits and enjoyment food has to offer.

Erin Dummert RD, CD
Contributing Expert

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