On the road to good health, there are many forks. Some paths, such as vegetarianism or the Mediterranean diet, have considerable science supporting them. Others, such as the vegan or plant-based diet, which shuns all animal products including eggs and dairy, are winning converts.
And then there's a new offshoot, the raw vegan diet, which deems cooking to be unnatural and unhealthy.
An increasing number of celebrities — most recently, tennis sensation Venus Williams — swear by this diet as the best way to prevent and reverse diseases and to stay young and vital. Testimonials from ordinary folks are endless, boasting advantages along the lines of having more energy, better skin, improved relationships with woodland creatures and so on.
But on your road to good health, the raw vegan diet would likely be a U-turn. If you are already vegan or vegetarian, you have nothing to gain and much to lose by going totally or even mostly raw. Even doctors who prescribe and live by a vegan diet caution their patients against attempting a raw diet.
The reason? You would greatly reduce the types of foods you can eat. And you would do so in vain, because most of the raw vegan principles are based on misconceptions about human nutrition, and work counter to good health. [7 Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe]
This article addresses five such principles that are either half true or completely false.
What is raw veganism?
First, a primer: Raw veganism is a plant-based diet that involves no cooking. No food is heated above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Foods are eaten fresh, dehydrated with low heat or fermented.
A core tenet of the diet is that heating food above 104 degrees not only diminishes its nutrients, but also makes the food toxic and less digestible. In raw vegan parlance, cooking is killing. Many raw vegans speak of "live" foods versus "dead" foods, and they aren't talking about sushi, so fresh it still wiggles.
Live or uncooked foods are said to be filled with vital life energy. In this way, raw veganism is an extension of the vegan appreciation for animal welfare, with the added spirituality of a life force, called chi or prana. Dead or cooked foods are said to be depleted of their life energy, as well as most of their nutrients.
Juicing and blending "green smoothies" often are key elements of this diet.
Now for the misconceptions:
Misconception #1: Cooking destroys nutrients
Sure, raw foods can be nutritious. But cooking breaks apart fibers and cellular walls to release nutrients that otherwise would be unavailable from the same raw food. Cooking tomatoes, for example, increases by five-fold the bioavailability of the antioxidant lycopene. Similarly, cooking carrots makes the beta-carotene they contain more available for the body to absorb. Soups are full of nutrients that would not be available in a pot of raw carrots, onions, parsnips and potatoes. [Science You Can Eat: 10 Interesting Facts About Food]
Cooking can also reduce certain chemicals in a vegetable that inhibit the absorption of minerals, including important minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. Cooking spinach makes more iron and calcium available from its leaves, for example.
Admittedly, some nutrients are lost in cooking, such as vitamin C and certain B vitamins. But "plants are so excess in nutrients that even this breakdown is insignificant in practical terms," said John McDougall, creator of the McDougall Program, a vegan-friendly, starch-based diet.