Tuesday, 27 January 2009

'Healthy cooked food' - a contradiction in terms

When I first went raw, the words 'healthy cooked food' would have been the last anyone would have expected to hear from a raw fooder's lips. But in the last year or two things they have been a-changin'... 'Cooked food is poison' isn't pc. People say it alienates, antagonises. Although I suspect any disadvantages might be cancelled out by the advantages of 'shock-value', OK, I'm willing to go along with the current train of thought on that one. But now the pendulum's in danger of swinging just a little too far the other way; I'm hearing an increasing number of raw foodists (including some quite well-known ones) talking of 'healthy cooked food', and...I think a rallying call's due, troops!

We all understand the term 'healthy cooked food' as used by the world out there, and as used by ourselves before we went raw. It's used sometimes when describing a food that's preferred, for health reasons, to other foods in its group. For example, omnivores might describe fish as healthy compared with beef or pork. Or, it might be used to describe foods cooked in a way that minimises nutrient loss. For example, steamed vegetables might be described as healthy compared with fried or roasted.

It's great news to hear raw food teachers encouraging people not only to increase the raw in their diets, but, recognising the majority are not going to be going 100% raw, or at least not this week, also advising that, when cooking, people choose the gentler cooking methods. It's only when raw fooders use the words 'healthy cooked food' that I take issue. As, these words are not only inaccurate, but they confuse, and instead of leading people (gently, in time...) towards our core message, it could lead them away, that is, back into a mainly-cooked diet where they feel there is no need to make any further changes as, because it's (for example) mainly steamed and baked food, it's 'healthy'.

The words 'healthy cooked food' dilutes our message. What are we so afraid of? I'll discuss that later, together with some suggestions as to what words we could use to help the people we want to help yet not compromise on what we have learned to be true.

For anyone who has any doubts that 'healthy cooked food' is a contradiction in terms, please consider the following. And anyone who has no doubts - perhaps this will help you make your point when next you hear a raw fooder use those words.

All cooked food is damaged to some degree. All methods of cooking damage and/or destroy precious nutrients in our food. And because cooked food has nutrients missing, those present are in different proportions than those the food was designed to give - that is, too much of certain things and not enough of others. This imbalance has consequences for our bodies. As we know from chemistry lessons, chemicals need other chemicals in precise proportions for specific reactions to occur. And if something is missing in a food (eg B vitamins in cooked grains) our bodies may raid their own reserves in order to metabolise other substances in the food.

The foods that are most often described as 'healthy cooked foods' are steamed vegetables, and baked root vegetables, eg potatoes, sweet potatoes. They may be 'healthy' from a cooked-food-eater's point of view, in comparison with other cooked foods, and, sure, there's a difference between steamed courgettes and a deep-fried Mars Bar, but how can a raw fooder, someone who understands what cooking does to our food, describe these cooked foods as 'healthy'?


When steamed, food is heated to a very high temperature - 212 degrees F. Oxidisation is a big problem, with nutrients carried off in the steam. Contrary to what some claim, vitamins are also lost to water, as water usually collects at the bottom of the steaming bowl.

From old sources: A study at the University of Wisconsin showed that cabbage, when steamed, lost 22-43% of nutrients (amongst these - protein and calcium). Ragnar Berg ('Vitamins'): 'the mere steaming of vegetables for five minutes dissolves out so large a proportion of the inorganic bases that the residue contains an excess of acids.'

More recent sources say that steaming destroys various vitamins, most notably Vitamin C. And in a study published by Journal of the Science of Food Agriculture, researchers investigating effects of various means of cooking broccoli found that steaming caused an 11% loss in certain antioxidant compounds.

Sure, steaming may not be as bad as boiling. But still not a 'healthy' thing to do to our food.

Edit May '10 -

I offer you this contribution to the 30BaD forum from 'Carl Andrews':

'One of my brothers is a top ranked chemist here in Texas who runs a large water municipality. Although he is a SAD [standard American diet]eater himself, he was telling me some interesting things this past weekend about testing for chemicals in food, acrylamide in particular. It turns out tests conducted by the World Health Organization did in fact show acrylamide in boiled food.

My brother explained the confusion over it. Yes, acrylamide has in fact been found in boiled and steamed food - and at higher concentrations than the EPA deems safe in drinking water. He said the only reason it isn't always found in boiled food is because the two tests used for acrylamide in food are notoriously insensitive. They are almost useless at detecting concentrations below a certain level. The significant detail, though, is that almost every level below those test-detection ranges is still considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. As soon as a more sensitive test is had, my brother says - and the EPA has recommended that one be developed due to the "inadequacy" of the current tests - as soon as a sufficient test is available, boiled and steamed will officially join all other cooked foods as containing cancer causing levels of acrylamide. The upshot: anyone eating boiled or steamed food thinking he isn't getting acrylamide, and at carcinogenic levels, is fooling himself...'


When baking, food is cooked to extremely high temperatures - anywhere from 300 to 600 degrees. Protein is denatured, rendering it less assimilable by the body.

Vitamins are destroyed. Arthur M Baker, MD and naturopath: 'vitamins are heat-labile, with thiamin (B1) and vitamin C being the most susceptible to baking losses. When the pH of the baked product rises above 6, nearly all of the thiamine is destroyed. In high-protein cookies, calculations revealed thiamin losses exceeding 90%.' (When B vitamins are cooked out of our foods, our bodies will raid their own reserves of them in order to metabolise the food.)

Arthur M Baker again: 'Bake some yams or sweet potatoes. Notice the sweet sticky goo oozing from the skin that partially turns to ash from the excessive heat. You're witnessing sugar molecules (carbohydrates) caramelising, fusing together like sticky molasses. Similar to protein coagulation, caramelization also occurs on a microscopic level when all foods are sufficiently heated, whether or not it is witnessed. When complex carbohydrate sugar molecules are caramelized or fused together, amylases (digestive enzymes) cannot cleave them into constituent simple sugars for use as an energy source. Not only are they unavailable, but the heat turns them into an ash-like toxin.'

Baking is one of the cooking processes found by scientists to produce acrymalides, linked with various forms of cancer. And laboratory studies suggest acrylamides could be the cause of 'benign and malignant stomach tumors and damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Acrylamide occurs in baked potatoes,...' (Gabriel Cousens, 'Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine'). Acrylamide forms when certain carbohydrate-rich foods are fried, baked or roasted.' Note that it has been found that acrylamide levels appear to rise the longer the food is heated (not a great ad for slow-cooking).

So, baking might not be as bad as roasting, deep-frying or barbecueing. But it's not a healthy thing to do to our food. (Oh and if anyone says to you 'but potatoes have to be cooked', there's an answer to that - here.)


Before summing up, a word or few about 'blanching'. Not quite in the same category as steaming and baking, as we can all agree these are methods of cooking. But, some people seem to think 'blanching' isn't cooking.

And 'blanching' is most certainly cooking.

Recently, I heard a raw food chef instruct readers to pour 'nearly boiling water' over green veg, leave it soaking 'for one minute' and then 'plunge it into cold water' (the idea being to tenderise the veg and give it a bright green colour). He then said that this would not 'negatively affect the nutrients'. Perhaps he felt that because the veg would not continue to cook in its own heat once immersed in cold water that no damage would be done?

'Blanching' will most certainly 'negatively affect nutrients'.

Vegetables that are blanched before freezing (a common processing technique) can lose up to one-third of their antioxidants (US Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture). A study of blanching of artichokes carried out by University de la Frontera, Chile, 1997, showed a 16.7% loss of Vitamin C. A study of blanching of potatoes carried out by Loughborough University of Technology 1989 showed nutrient loss. 'Depending on the method of blanching, commodity and nutrient concerned, the loss due to blanching can be up to 40% for minerals and vitamins' (Food Processing, Principles and Applications - Ramaswamy & Marcotte 06).

And I carried out my own experiment by plunging some soaked mung beans in 'nearly boiling water' for 'one minute', then seeing if they would sprout. I sprout mung beans regularly, and, always, within a few days, I have a jar full of long-tailed sprouts. But this time, after three days, 90% of the beans had failed to sprout.

But, really, do we need these scientific studies, or our own experiments, to tell us what should be pretty obvious? We all know that various nutrients are lost in boiling water, paricularly Vitamin C and B vitamins. Raw foodists know from various studies that nutrient loss starts to occur when food is heated at somewhere between 105 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit! So how can there be no nutrient loss when vegetables are cooked in 'nearly boiling water', even if it is only for a minute?

If I was immersed in 'nearly boiling water' for 'one minute', then placed in cold water, I don't think I'd be 'refreshed'. I think I'd be...dead.

So please be content with the colour of veg in their natural state, and, if a vegetable is too tough un'blanched', then don't eat it (or perhaps spiralise it). 'Blanching' is cooking.


So, returning to the steamed veg, baked potato thing - 'healthy' cooked foods? Sure, 'healthy' as the world understands it, but raw foodists know better.

Now, it's at this juncture that I need to stress a few things, to minimise the chances of my being misunderstood.

  • Is a high-raw diet with a little steamed/baked food a good diet? YES! It's light years ahead of the average diet health-wise. If I could get half my family and friends onto such a diet I'd die happy (well, hope I die happy anyway!).

  • Is it a good idea to help those who are not ready and/or not willing to go raw to stop eating the most harmful foods and replace the most destructive cooking methods with less (or at least marginally less!) destructive cooking methods? YES! And if what we say and do has helped them make good decisions we'll have done them a huge service, and may have helped transform their health.

  • Am I just bashing those who choose to eat a little cooked food? NO! There are many who feel that the inclusion of a little cooked food gives them just the flexibility they need to stay, happily, 'high-raw'. And that's nothing but good! And it may be that eating all that raw makes up for any deficiencies/imbalances in the cooked food and that their bodies have sufficient energy (from the raw!) to detox any toxins created via normal daily detoxing. But - that still doesn't make the cooked food in itself healthy.

My objective only is to ask that raw foodists who are using the term 'healthy cooked food' think about their use of language, for, as we know, the words we use, the way we put things, matters. The language we use habitually can affect the thoughts of others, and our own thoughts!

As raw fooders, we have a very special message. Did 'the lights go on' for you when you found raw food? Did it make 'perfect sense'? If it did, have you ever thought that maybe you have a responsibility to be a living testimony, to spread the word? There are thousands, hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people out there telling people best not to eat meat, to cut down their dairy, to steam their veg rather than fry it, etc. It's old news. Even the people sitting in McDonalds right now know that. As raw fooders we're saying something different, something radical. We're saying: 'don't cook your food'. Simple as that. It will ring true with everyone who's ready to receive it, and, if we feel someone isn't (and - warning - difficult to know!), then we can disguise it, soften it with a more gentle approach, and I'll be describing some.

We can join those others who are pointing the way towards healthy eating, and say the same sorts of things, but should do so in a way that communicates that unique message of our own, which is: 'cooking damages food'. We should be able to sense whether the strident approach might actually be the right one, or whether (more likely) it's a case of 'gently does it'. But, whatever approach we take, it's possible to help others move forward with their diets without diluting our special message, and confusing with words that we know simply aren't true.

I hope some of you will help me to encourage raw fooders you hear using the words 'healthy cooked food' to come up with alternatives. Here are a few. Perhaps you can suggest others (let me know).

  • 'less unhealthy foods'
  • 'less harmful ways of cooking'
  • 'better ways of cooking'

Allof these can help point to better choices of food, and gentler ways of cooking if people want to have cooked food, without using a phrase that, for a raw foodist, can't be right...

I do appreciate that some may fear the reaction of others, and may be concerned that if we say what we really think we may 'turn people off', off what we have to say, and off us... So, if put on the spot, and asked whether any cooked food is healthy, how about this?

'Well, this may seem strange, but no cooked foods are healthy. However, it's certainly true that some cooked foods are less unhealthy than others.' (said with a smile!)

No one is likely to be offended or alienated by this. Whilst they may be momentarily taken aback by the first statement, the second statement will have a softening effect. They're on familiar territory. You might then discuss different cooking methods. Alternatively, or additionally, their interest may be sparked by the first statement and they may say so. It's then up to you to judge whether they would welcome further discussion. And, even if they make no comment at all, you've planted a seed, and they might just mull over what you have said - if not now, in ten years time.

And, using such words, we are remaining true. We aren't compromising. Or diluting. We're saying it as it is, but in a gentle way.

A way that opens doors.


Basker said...

I wonder whether the body really has to work much to expel excess from a multi pill since the things in those pills don't really absorb well. Rather, let me put it this way (this is just a question): any vitamin or mineral that my body does not absorb from a multi, does it go right through, or what happens to it?

Debbie Took said...

No, we can't be confident that things the body doesn't absorb 'go right through us'. Example - table salt. We don't eliminate all of the sodium chloride successfully, which is why it causes problems in the body. And similar happens with any toxin (and anything in excess is toxic to the body). Do feel free to contact me via the Contact Form at www.rawforlife.co.uk if you have any other queries, Scott.

Debbie Took said...

I've given the 'science facts' for not steaming our food. Here's a more qualitative and persuasive account from Roger Haeske:


New Thinker #1 said...

Charlotte Gerson had followed a predominantly raw vegan diet for many years, especially leafy green juices but her hair has been white for a long time. I wonder what the others who reversed it did different?