Raw food diets are promoted in dozens of sites on the internet, with proponents claiming all manner of health benefits. Their reasoning is typically that raw foods contain vital enzymes that would be destroyed by cooking.
But the fact is that enzymes are irrelevant to human nutrition. The reason: stomach acid destroys them just as cooking does. Also, certain nutrients in cooked food are actually more available to the body – it is well established, for example, that one can get more carotenoids from cooked carrots than from raw ones. Finally, cooking destroys natural toxins that are present in a variety of plant foods, such as carcinogens in common white "button" mushrooms.
I believe the evidence is clear that cooking is essential. Evolutionary biologists tell us that heating food is actually one of the key processes that allowed primates to become human. Our relatively large brains got that way because a few pioneering hominids figured out how to free extra nutrients from food by heating it over a flame.
Bottom line: raw foods can, and should, be part of a healthy diet, but I do not believe a 100 percent raw food diet is optimal. On the other hand, overcooking does food no favors either; it can deplete nutrients and make it unpalatable as well. I am a great fan of steaming and gentle baking as simple and easily controllable ways to make your food both healthy and delicious.
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