I’ve had to convince so many of my patients to switch from a raw foods diet to a cooked foods diet that I figured I should write about why I don’t support a raw foods diet.
The raw foods movement has been going on for quite awhile. Many raw food advocates believe that food is best eaten in its natural unprepared state, with all the enzymes intact. As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, I always tell my patients to AVOID raw foods, especially if they have a weak digestive system, or suffer from allergies or infertility.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we believe that raw foods are too ‘cold’ — or yin — in nature and require too much energy from the body to digest. The cold, hard-to-digest nature of raw foods puts a damper on the body’s digestive fires. Overtime, this can weaken the body’s digestive system causing bloating, glassiness and poor absorption of the nutrients in foods. The body’s energy becomes depleted from having to support the weakened digestive system which results in less energy for other bodily functions such as reproductive organs. I often tell my patients to lightly cook their vegetables by steaming, sautéing, or baking.
Aside from the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view on raw foods, here are three reasons why I don’t recommend the raw foods diet:
1. Thyroid Health
Many vegetables in the cruciferous family such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens and brussel sprouts contain what are known as goitrogens. Goitrogens are naturally occurring compounds in some foods that may block thyroid function and can eventually lead to goiter and hypothyroidism. For people with an already weakened thyroid function, or for those who have a propensity to thyroid disorders, goitrogens can worsen the ability of your thyroid to produce important hormones. Goitrogens can be deactivated by heat. So, cooking your vegetables can deactivate a good amount of goitrogens.
2. Digestive Health
As I described, and as Chinese Medicine believes, raw vegetables tend to be hard on your digestion. Plants and vegetables have cellulose and other fibrous structures that our stomachs have a hard time breaking down. Our stomachs are not like other vegetarian animals such as cows. Many of these animals have extra stomachs to help break down and digest the tough plants and grasses they eat. Humans, unfortunately, don’t have these extra stomachs to break down all the fibrous cellulose contained in plants. This makes it especially difficult to digest vegetable fibers. When we’re constantly eating foods that our bodies cannot digest, our ability to digest foods in general is weakened. A weakened digestive system can cause bloating, indigestion, constipation or loose stools, weight gain, malnutrition, food allergies and a lowered immune system. Our digestive system is a key element to good health, so it’s important to ensure it is healthy and functioning properly.
3. Nutrient Absorption
If we are unable to digest our foods, there's a good chance that we're not absorbing many of the nutrients in the foods we eat. A lot of the nutrients in vegetables are stored in its tough fibers. Unless we break down these vegetable fibers, our bodies will not be able to use these nutrients. Cooking with low to medium heat is usually enough to help break down or ‘predigest’ these fibers so that we can access the minerals and nutrients.
The occasional salad here and there probably won’t do much harm. If you’re eating raw foods on a daily basis, you might want to take a look at whether they could be contributing to any health issues you might be having. I don’t advocate cooking all foods. Some foods should be eaten raw or cooked minimally such as raw milk, cheese, and eggs. Happy eating!