Friday 28 March 2008

Are some foods 'better for us' cooked?

Frequently on raw food forums I see anxious posts from people new to raw who have been told by friends, or 'experts' that certain foods are 'better for us' cooked. Here's a selection of the sorts of statements made by 'pro-cookers', with reference to counter-arguments put forward by raw fooders.

'Cooked tomatoes give us more lycopene than raw.'

Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease and cancer. It's found in the cell walls of tomatoes; it's what makes them red. The argument for cooking is that it ruptures the cell walls, thus releasing more lycopene.

Shazzie ('Detox Your World') comments: 'Did nature make a mistake by only offering 'x' mg of lycopene in a raw tomato when its cooked counterpart has twice that? Or could it be that we really only need 'x' mg of lycopene per tomato? And do we need another substance which is destroyed in the cooking process to utilise the lycopene or other tomato nutrients in our bodies?'

Dr Doug Graham ('80/10/10 Diet'): 'cooking damages, destroys, and changes-for-the-worse many nutrients (and yes, a cooked tomato has more lycopene than a raw tomato, but is the amount of lycopene in a raw tomato sufficient? Hint: Yes. And for that one positive aspect of cooking, how many negative aspects are there? Answer: Plenty.') In fact, more recently he has refined this to say that it is the bioavailability of lycopene that rises when tomatoes are cooked but in fact the cooking results in an overall reduction in quantity of available lycopene, so, in his words 'another myth bites the dust' ('Get Fresh!' Spring 09).

My own elementary knowledge of chemistry tells me that many of the substances in our food (some of which scientists may not even have discovered yet) need other substances to work effectively and that surely proportions are important. Is it really a good thing for an unnatural process to give us twice as much of one thing, and, at the same time, damage or destroy other vital chemicals?

What about the Vitamins C, B1 and B6 in tomatoes - all of which can be reduced or destroyed in cooking? I'd rather have my tomatoes not messed around with.

Also, according to Hannah Allen, natural hygienist, the combination of citric, malic and oxalic acids in tomatoes can interfere drastically with starch digestion. Now, raw fooders eat little or no starch anyway, so no problem. But those who do still include in their diets cooked grains and pulses, for example, may be interested to know that these acids are all 'intensified' by cooking. Even more reason not to damage those lovely tomatoes by heating them.

And in fact recent research (reported by Journal of National Cancer Institute) shows that tomatoes' 'protective effects against prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease are due not simply to their lycopene content, but result from the synergy (my italics) of lycopene with other phytonutrients naturally present in whole tomatoes.' How many of these phytonutrients are going to be left after cooking to work synergistically with any increased lycopene? What would be the effect of ingesting increased lycopene without some of the chemicals that work with it in our bodies?

If you'd really like more of that lycopene, there's a way of getting more without cooking. When tomatoes are blended, the cell walls are broken down, thereby releasing more lycopene! A recent study by the Health Research and Studies Center showed that tomatoes processed in a Vitamix blender delivered over three times more lycopene than those prepared in a juicer or eaten whole. And although blending does destroy some other nutrients, it is a far less destructive process than cooking. But, having said that, wouldn't it be better to have the lycopene and other nutrients in the precise proportions delivered by the tomato in it's whole, unadulterated state rather than blended?

Chris Carlton of reminded me that anyone on a raw food diet would get more lycopene than a person on a cooked diet anyway, simply because raw fooders usually eat a lot more tomatoes than people on a standard cooked diet!

And let's remember that lycopene isn't just found in tomatoes - watermelon, apricots, papayas, pink grapefruits and strawberries are also all good sources.

Cooked carrots give us more caretonoids than raw

I'll deal with this one relatively briefly, or rather, Dr Doug will!

'Don't be fooled! We know that carotenoids are highly beneficial, but who says that more than normal amounts are good for you? Giving up vitamins, enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants and thousands of other phytonutrients in exchange for more carotenoids, while exposing yourself to the dangers associated with the consumption of heated proteins (which are linked to cancer and arthritis), heated fats (which become carcinogenic) and heated carbohydrates (which have been linked to the development of diabetes) is not a healthy tradeoff. Roughly 10,000 nutrients are damaged, deranged or destroyed by cooking for every single nutrient that becomes more bio-available.'

Also, if you have young children, please give them raw carrots - so much better for the development of their teeth and jaws than cooked.

'The body absorbs more iron when vegetables are cooked.'

This statement came from researchers at the American Chemical Society after they found that the body more easily absorbs iron from 37 of 48 vegetables tested when boiled, stir-fried, steamed or grilled, eg absorbable iron in cabbage jumped from 6.7% to 27% with cooking.

But Arthur M Baker (author of 'Self Healing Body') says, 'what the researchers were apparently unaware of is the potential harm of high inorganic iron absorption. The reason for iron becoming more absorbable with cooking is that heat breaks down cell structure more completely than chewing alone. The ferrous iron (plant form) is changed to a more elemental inorganic form that is more easily absorbable in the intestine. But the more elemental iron begins to overload the system since it is relatively difficult for the body to eliminate. The iron in cooked food is altered by heat. Iron absorbed from cooked food is detrimental compared with raw. There are several forms of iron, and the body alters them to suit its needs. Elemental iron is inorganic. After cooking, the structures and bonds have been radically altered. Excess inorganic iron can be a problem; it is associated with increased infection, heart disease and predisposition to formation of free radicals.'

'Pulses are more digestible when cooked.'

In fact, provided we have a reasonably healthy digestive system there should be no problem digesting raw pulses (provided they have been soaked, ie rehydrated - please no one try to eat them dried!).

We're all familiar with the jokes about beans and flatulence, and my husband has cracked most of them when served with cooked pulses. However, since he's had them raw and sprouted - no problems! My experience, and that of many other raw fooders, is that sprouted pulses produce less gas in the digestive system than cooked pulses. How can this be?

One reason is enzymes. OK, the enzymes thing is controversial in the raw food world, but there's the argument anyway: we soak, then sprout, raw pulses become living foods - enzyme inhibitors are unlocked and enzymes activated. This places less burden on our own digestive enzymes, so we need less energy to digest sprouted (live) pulses than cooked (dead) pulses. The enzymes break down the protein in the pulses into its amino acids. So perhaps sprouted pulses are less gas-forming than cooked, as they are already partly digested by the enzymes in the sprouts.

Another reason for increased digestibility is that sprouting changes the starches into sugar. Alissa Cohen, 'Living on Live Foods': 'Sprouting...makes them far more digestible because their protein is broken down into amino acids, their starches are changed into simple sugars...'

The strangest advice I've heard in 'the raw food world' is people advising others to go to all the trouble of sprouting pulses (and grains) then telling them to cook them (oh by steaming of course...). In other words, release the life energy by soaking and sprouting, increasing digestibility by doing so, and increasing vitamins manifold, then...reverse all that by cooking at 212 F, destroying at least 10% of the vitamins in the processes. (Nutritionists say that when we cook grains B vitamins are lost, and the body, to metabolise the grains, has to raid its own stores of these.

'Some foods, like squash, are too tough to eat raw.'

It's true that most people on cooked diets would see raw pumpkin,or butternut squash, or perhaps sweet potato, as somewhat unpalatable.

So why might we have problems here? One reason is that for generations we have lived on diets consisting predominantly of mushy cooked food. John Coleman: 'the widespread consumption of cooked food has contributed to the growing incidence of dental problems...deprives our jaws of the natural requirement to chew, and is perhaps partly responsible for the widespread facial deformities (eg poorly-formed dental arches) seen in populations who no longer eat significant amounts of raw foods.'

Luckily, the raw fooder can use gadgets to do for us what our jaws and teeth are no longer able to do easily. A 'spiraliser' can make squash into 'spaghetti', a blender will blend squash into a soup, and one of my favourite juices is butternut squash and apple. Sweet potato is very good grated.

There are some who say that, even in this form, they 'cannot digest' these sorts of foods because they're 'too starchy', they have digestive issues and will have stomach aches if they eat them. Those digestive problems are very likely to do with the cooked food they've eaten throughout their lives. So why compound the problem by cooking those wonderful vegetables, thereby putting into their bodies yet more heat-damaged food? Again, juicing can come to the rescue here, and the fibre (pulp) can be stirred back in if desired.

Although here's an opposing view on the starch thing...admittedly the nutritionist Milo Hastings was writing 50 years ago, but I offer it to you for your interest (and amusement):

'Closely akin to the idea of predigesting cereals by roasting and toasting them are the old notions that raw starch is indigestible and that all home cooked starchy foods need very long, tedious periods of cooking....I got suspicious of the idea that humans couldn't digest raw starch when I was in college and read about experiments in cooking grain for farm animals, in which the scientists proved that the cooked foods were less digestible than uncooked foods - for animals. The human food teachers came back by saying that man's digestive system has been changed by long ages of cooking and had lost the power to digest raw starch. So I tried it, and did my college thesis with a series of experiments on the digestion of raw versus long cooked cereal starches. I found out that my own particular digestive organs worked just like the pigs' and the cows'. Worse yet for the popular theory, my mother insists that I wasn't descended from raw turnip eaters, but that our folks came over in the next ship after the Mayflower and had been cooking as long as the rest of them.'

As I know the readers of this article will include not only 100% raw fooders, but those with no more than a toe in the water, could I suggest that if you really can't take certain foods raw, (whether it's squash, grains, pulses, (even if sprouted), don't cook them. Why eat damaged food just because you feel you must have a particular food? Just find something else to eat - there are thousands of delicious raw foods out there from which to obtain your nutritional requirements.

'Rice HAS to be cooked.'

Well, does it? Experimentation in the raw food world has suggested that some rice can be eaten raw and sprouted. However, most of the rice available in the UK won't sprout (it's often heat-treated)
And whether rice can be sprouted or not...

Viktoras Kulvinskas ('Survival in the Twenty-First Century'): 'Dr Koratsune, Japanese researcher, observed in 1951, that as long as he ate uncooked whole rice and raw radishes, spinach, kale and grated raw potatoes, he found he had excellent quality blood, even though his diet was poor in protein and calories. However, as soon as he ate the same quantity of vegetarian food in a cooked form, he began to notice symptoms of edema and anemia.' (Kyushu, Memoirs of Medical Science, v2, 1-2)
(I think Dr K might have been even healthier if he'd given the potatoes a miss...)


Someone on a raw food forum said to me that asparagus had to be cooked to be digestible for her.

My first comment was that, if the asparagus was slender and tender - no, it didn't have to be cooked. She replied by saying that the asparagus she enjoyed on French holidays was of the more thicker-stemmed, woodier kind, and was I suggesting she deprive herself of this pleasure?

Well...yes! I used to derive pleasure from all sorts of cooked foods, but now derive pleasure from raw foods (to think I hadn't truly discovered the pleasure of young coconut, durian and persimmons before raw!). If asparagus is thick-stemmed and woody and not palatable raw, then this is telling us it's not fit for human consumption. Cooking it to tenderise it, changing the natural food in the process, is not a solution. The solution something else.

'Potatoes don't taste good raw!'

They sure don't.

But I subscribe to the Natural Hygiene philosopy here, that if foods don't taste good in their raw state, perhaps they weren't intended to be food for human beings at all.

We haven't been eating potatoes for very long. The Spanish conquistadors discovered them in 1537 in the Andes and brought them back to Europe. Initially, people wouldn't touch them; they were considered poisonous, or evil. But eventually Sir Walter Raleigh and others persuaded the masses that potatoes were a great thing to eat. America didn't receive its first batch of potatoes until 1621 and it reputedly took seven transatlantic crossings before the potato gained acceptance there.

No, most people don't find potatoes palatable raw. But do they even taste good cooked? Really? If you are still eating cooked potatoes, when was the last time you ate one without any fat (eg cooking fat, butter, spread), salt, pepper or herbs? Do you really enjoy the taste of the potato itself? Or is it just a 'carrier' for fat and salt?

So I go with the radical view that potatoes are not food (for human beings, at least)

'Some foods are poisonous raw.'

Yes, they are. Yams and red kidney beans for instance. And, if poisonous in their raw state, they are not suitable for human consumption - full stop. (Note to US readers - some of you call what we in the UK call 'sweet potatoes' 'yams'. Sweet potatoes (red on the outside, pink/orange inside) aren't poisonous - they're delicious raw (eg grated). When I say 'yams' I mean the 'yams' that are the large grey root veg of West Indian/African origin.

So, do some foods 'need' to be cooked?

I haven't yet found one argument that persuades me that any raw food is better for us cooked.

Human beings have only started to cook food relatively recently. I wonder how we managed before. And how does every one of the billions of other creatures we share the world with manage without cooking their food?

Friday 21 March 2008

How to make nut milk & three great shakes!

I usually use almonds for nut milk, as they're relatively inexpensive, and, I feel, make a milk that tastes a little like 'that other milk' some of you used to drink...

Almonds are a good source of vitamins (B2, folic acid and E) and minerals (calcium, copper, magnesium and zinc). Also, although nuts in general have a slightly acidic effect on our bodies, almonds are the least acidic nut, and should cause no problems provided we balance with lots of alkalising green leaves.

Do use raw almonds. Luckily, pre-shelled almonds are, to the best of my knowledge, still quite widely available raw in the UK. But, do check 'country of origin', as most almonds from the USA will, sadly (due to a recent FDA ruling), have been pasteurised.

Alternatives to almonds: try brazils or cashews for a 'creamy' shake. But note pre-shelled brazils and cashews, whether sold in supermarkets or health food shops, will not be raw (steamed for shell removal). Buy brazils in shells and shell them yourself. Truly raw cashews can be obtained at various on-line stores, and the best price inc P/P last time I looked was at Funky Raw. Thanks to Chris Carlton from Purelyraw for suggesting a 2:1 ratio of sunflower seeds to pine nuts - works well, Chris!

How to make nut milk

(Recipe makes more than four cups of nut milk, so more than enough for you to try at least two of the shakes that follow!)

  • 1 cup nuts (soaked 4+ hours - aids digestibility)
  • 4 cups water
    Blend until thoroughly blended. Strain into a jug or bowl.
Ah, the straining...
You can use muslin or tights, both of which I experimented with in the early days. However, I can save you a bit of mess in the kitchen by saying that it's much easier to use a nylon mesh bag. 'Nut bags' can be purchased from The Fresh Network for £7.99. But, although these bags are a good 'cone' shape (minimising spillage) they are very expensive. A much better-value option is to buy a pouch of five 'weigh' bags from Onya (share them with your friends!) for £8.50, as used in the picture.

Some people use the pulp in burger, cookie and bread recipes, but mine generally goes on the compost heap.

Nut milk can be enjoyed 'as it is' (perhaps sweetened with dates), is a great base for smoothies and shakes, and can be poured over raw muesli - delicious! I've also used it for soups.

Three Great Shakes
All quantities serve 2. In all cases, it's worth having at hand a little more of each ingredient, so you can customise your shake to taste!

Banana Cinnamon Shake
2 cups nut milk, 2-3 spotty bananas, 2 dates*, 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Blend. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top.

Strawberry Vanilla Milk
2 cups nut milk, 1 cup thinly-sliced strawberries, 2 dates*, seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla pod slit vertically.

Chocolate Milk
2 cups nut milk, 1 heaped tbsp raw chocolate powder**, 3 dates*

Soak the dates (I use Medjools) first for 1+ hours until soft; chop and blend with a little water before blending with shake ingredients. The dates will disperse through the mixture better this way, particularly if your blender is anything less than 'high performance'.
**available from various on-line stores, eg Detox Your World.

Friday 14 March 2008

Always have (at least) one Onya!

Having had several people come up to me in shops saying 'I love your bags - where did you get them?' decided I just had to tell you about them.

For a long time (years, I'm ashamed to say), I'd been trying to use reusable bags instead of 'disposable' (er - or not, as we now know!) carrier bags. But, it wasn't working...I'd either forget to take them on my shopping trip, or, having taken them, leave them on the car seat, or find myself making an unplanned shop. Also, being somewhat vain, there was the 'style' thing. I really didn't want to carry a traditional (and bulky) 'shopping bag'. And, although the supermarkets do their own 'reusable' bags, wasn't mad about advertising Waitrose every time I went shopping!

So the 'green' shopping bag was a bit of an issue for me until I discovered...Onya bags!

Onya bags are the brainchild of Jon Brousson, who describes how he came up with the idea:

'One night whilst laying in a hammock gazing up at the stars I put some thought to this problem. A brilliant solution would need to be with you for every shopping trip, for all those unplanned 'spur of the moment' trips; as convenient as a plastic bag and certainly not bulky to carry around. Realising that current alternatives available have only really aimed at the 'committed', a true solution would need to be appealing to all ages and genders. Over and over in my head I would think, 'Attractive, Desirable & Convenient'. Soon I was very close to the answer, in fact I had been sitting on it for the past 5 minutes. My hammock was made from strong parachute material, had great colour and simply stuffed away into its own convenient pouch. Brilliant! These are the perfect principles for the bag we all need. I just needed to make sure it would never be forgotten, so I pondered, could a bag also fit on my front door key? The Onya bag was born.'

They are incredibly strong, and I guess that's the parachute silk! Mine have been filled to the brim with all sorts of fruit and veg, including melons, and after nine months show no sign of strain.

One of the many great things about Onya bags is that they pack up very small. That means you can always keep at least one in your handbag, backpack, pocket, or, as Jon suggests, on a key-ring. And they're easy to stow away in their pouches. There's no complicated folding required - just stuff 'em back in. I've pictured them here next to a lemon so you can get an idea of size.

Onya bags are £6.50 each and can be purchased in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, at
If you already own Onya bags, how about buying some for friends and relations? They make perfect presents (very easy to pack and post), and every time the recipients use them, they, and the planet, will have you to thank. And just in case anyone's wondering, I am not an 'affiliate', ie I won't benefit financially if you buy one. But I do hope that Jon Brousson becomes ridiculously wealthy.
RawforLife Raw Food Preparation Classes April 24th, May 14th
For full details see website at

Monday 3 March 2008

The best water on the planet - FREE!

Have you heard the advice 'Drink eight glasses of water a day'? I've certainly never felt like doing that (at least not in a UK winter...). Does anyone?

But, those eating cooked food certainly do need to heed that advice, for the typical Western diet, where food not only has much of the water cooked out of it, but is salted and spiced, is very dehydrating.

And those who drink tea, coffee, carbonated drinks and alcohol need far more water than those who do not. As Lewis Montague and Sarah Best explain ('Get Fresh', Winter 07): 'These have a diuretic effect - meaning they pull water from the body, increasing the state of dehydration. Without adequate hydration the brain will take water from cells throughout the body, resulting in chronic cellular dehydration - also known as aging and ill-health.'

And what sort of water should we drink? Mineral, spring, distilled, filtered, ionised, energized, vortexed, magnetized...? Which is best? there something better than all of these? Harvey Diamond ('Fit for Life'): 'We need water to wash out the toxic waste from inside our bodies...drinking water won't do it, because drinking water does not carry the enzymes and other life-preserving elements into the body that the water in fruits and vegetables does.'

Yes, the good news is that those on a raw food diet are drinking the highest-quality water....

Plant Food Water!

Plant food water is top-quality water, as it is purified by the plant's root filtration system. And of course we don't have to pay £££s a bottle - it comes FREE with raw (organic) plant food!

Before raw, I used to wake regularly each night, often several times within the night, to have a gulp of the water by my bed. Of course this would lead to a full bladder and I'd have to get up... On a 100% raw diet I still have a bottle of water by my bed, and may wake once at night to have a sip. But some nights it's not touched at all, and night-time toilet visits are a thing of the past. I consequently sleep for longer stretches, and more soundly, and this is powerful proof for me that my cooked-food diet had been dehydrating.

If you are still eating some cooked food, do increase the raw percentage, or at least eat more of the raw foods that contain the highest amounts of water. Next time you feel thirsty, instead of going for water from a bottle or tap (no matter how 'purified'), consider an apple instead. Listen to the water you are gulping down as you eat it.

I drink very little water outside the water in my raw foods, except for when it is particularly hot or when I have lost a lot of water through strenuous exercise.

Most fruit and vegetables are at least 75% water. These are particularly high in water content (85-95%): cucumber, lettuce, celery, bell pepper, tomato, melon and apple. Not forgetting of course coconut water ('99% water'); drink fresh from a young or mature coconut.

And some believe that the water in fruits (which includes non-sweet fruits such as cucumber, bell pepper and tomato) is even better for us than the same amount of water in vegetables. Our bodies can't utilise inorganic minerals (eg as found in rainwater, and tap water), but by the time these reach fruits they are transformed into organic forms we can use. The water in the leaves, stems and stalks of vegetables on the other hand still contains some unprocessed minerals.

So - what colour should it be?

Health articles will often say that urine should be 'clear' and that anything else indicates dehydration. The problem with that is that 'clear' has often been interpreted as 'no colour'. 'Clear' should be understood as 'clear colour'. If your wee is generally pale clear yellow you are most likely fine. But if it changes to a darker and/or cloudier yellow/amber at times this is an indication that you are dehydrated.

And, finally, if you are a 'Global Juice Feaster' and your wee turns red, don't worry - you are not bleeding internally (well, almost certainly not...). Give the beetroot juice a rest for a day and things will return to normal.