End of Cooking: Is a Raw Food Diet the Key to Health, Happiness
and a Long Life?
By Lynda Strahl
My new neighbors, Douglas
and Marcia, recently invited me to dinner. After assuring me that
the menu would accord with my vegan
they proceeded to dish up the most delicious—and unusual—meal
to pass my lips in a very long time.
For openers, they served a delectable chilled watercress soup. It was creamy
and flavorsome, and I can taste it still. Then came the main attraction, a mock
meat loaf, made of a gorgeous mixture of Portobello mushrooms and almonds. The
supporting cast consisted of some interesting looking vegetables, one of which
I took at first to be spaghetti but which turned out to be made of shreds of
butternut squash with a light garlic dressing. Believe me, it tasted a good deal
better than it sounds.
There was also a scrumptious salad that would have made a satisfying meal in
itself. And for dessert, my hosts served a grade A apple and walnut cobbler—vastly
superior to anything of that genre I have ever made myself.
It was only when I was sitting back, feeling replete from this splendid repast,
that the truth sank in. Everything we had eaten had been raw. Not a single item
had ever made the acquaintance of a skillet, saucepan, roasting tin or dutch
oven. What’s more, it emerged that my hosts only ate raw food. They eschewed
all forms of boiling, broiling, frying, roasting, baking, stewing and related
Douglas and Marcia were raw foodists—or, as they preferred to be known,
Why Would Anyone Want to Eat Like That?
It didn’t take much prompting to get Marcia to expound on the thinking
behind this unusual regime. “It’s quite simple,” she explained. “Cooking
destroys or degrades most of the nutrients in the food, especially protein. Most
of it is either completely destroyed or rendered useless by prolonged exposure
to heat. Cooking also robs your food of its enzymes, plus most of its vitamins.” Her
conclusion: “Going raw is the only way to get the full nutritional benefit
of what you eat.”
This gave me pause. What she said seemed to make sense. But how did she explain
all those folks like me, who take care to eat a sensible and balanced diet, manage
to get our full ration of nutrients, and do so without shunning the stove? If
a raw food diet is so wonderful, how come I, for one, manage to keep healthy
“It’s a matter of degree,” chipped in Douglas. “You’re
healthy because you are a vegan. Think how much healthier you would be if you
were a living food vegan.”
“And then there’s the enzyme question,” said Marcia, warming
to her thesis. “The fact is that every type of food naturally contains
exactly the right mix of enzymes needed for that food to be digested. Heating
food above a certain temperature kills the enzymes, which means that our bodies
have to generate the enzymes they need to digest the food in question.
“But the body is simply not equipped to produce the exact combination of
enzymes you need to digest every kind of food. So the stuff takes longer to break
down; it clogs up your intestinal tract and it takes longer to pass through your
“There’s also a belief that we only produce a finite amount of enzymes
in our lifetime, and the faster we run out of them, the more rapid the aging
process will be. So there you are: Avoiding cooked food will keep you young.”
She certainly scored a home run with that last point. I knew my hosts were both
approaching the swamplands of middle age, yet they looked no older than the average
college sophomore. If only the same could be said for this humble reporter.
In full flow now, Marcia went on to talk about how cooking also clobbers many
of the vitamins contained in our daily fare. About half of B vitamins are lost
as a result of heat, as is some 80 percent of vitamin C, she said. It’s
true that in most cases, you would need to cook the foods at high temperatures
or for long periods before you lose that much of the good stuff, but unfortunately
that happens rather often with the typical dishes most of us throw down our gullets.
But Wait, It Gets Worse
As if all this wasn’t depressing enough, Douglas went on to say that cooking
can actually make food toxic. “Heating fats is especially bad because it
generates free radicals, and you know how nasty they are.” (For those of
you who don’t, free radicals are unstable molecules believed to cause tissue
damage at the cellular level and thought to increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular
disease and age-related illnesses.) “Cooked food can also lead to a weakening
of the immune system and therefore an inability to fight infections,” he
“There’s another point Douglas forgot to mention,” said Marcia,
with the air of one poised to deliver the clinching argument. “Washing
the dishes is a heck of a lot easier with a living food diet. We never have to
contend with large oven dishes loaded with burnt-on grease.”
So What are We to do?
I came away from my neighbors’ house feeling good about the meal I had
eaten, but uncertain about the arguments they had expounded so fervently.
Ten years ago I struggled hard to become a vegetarian. It was a radical move
for me, and one which needed a lot of adjusting to. Six years later, I went through
a similar period of turmoil when I turned vegan. Douglas and Marcia were halfway
to convincing me of the justice of their cause. But I felt that becoming a living
foodist would be one lifestyle change too many for me.
Since that evening, I have read up on the subject and talked to people who know
more about these things than I do. But I’m still not fully convinced.
One friend, a professional nutritionist, told me that raw food regimes do tend
to be healthy, but mainly because they are generally low in fat and high in fiber.
But so is a balanced vegan diet like mine. My friend went on to say that the
benefits of going raw are partly offset by the fact that it limits the types
of foods you eat and deprives you of certain important nutrients. He singled
out iron and calcium as possibly being problematic in that regard.
And then there’s the question of variety. Douglas and Marcia are both excellent
cooks and could probably turn a clump of nettles into a tasty dish. (In fact,
I feel sure they have.) But what about mere culinary mortals like me? I doubt
that I could serve up appetizing lunches and dinners day after day in a stove-free
environment. And think how much harder it would be for a living food homemaker,
with a house full of hungry little living foodists to keep fed and happy.
It’s true that there are some excellent raw food recipe books on the market,
full of ideas for tasty uncooked meals. But I’m not sure they would provide
enough recipes to keep my taste buds happy in the longer term.
Meet Me Part Way
It seems to me that a sensible compromise is in order here. I’m not prepared
to go cold turkey and give up cooked food completely, but I have resolved to
increase the proportion of raw food in my diet. That seems like an easy thing
to do. After all, I have no problem in choosing a side salad in place of a cooked
vegetable to accompany my meal. Why not take that idea just a little further?
For example, how about continuing to eat soups and stews, but adding a sprinkling
of shredded carrot, chopped broccoli or sliced mushrooms just before serving
up? Or what about boiling and mashing your potatoes as you have always done,
but mashing in a handful of alfalfa sprouts before it reaches the table? And
of course you can add nuts and seeds to just about anything edible.
While most us might find it too difficult to go completely raw, we can surely
all benefit by finding ways of eating more raw foods whenever the opportunity
arises. Just remember to take it gradually and keep it balanced.
Lynda Strahl is a freelance journalist, based in Seattle. Two great resources
for exploring living foods are Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw
Foods by Renée Loux Underkoffler (Avery) and The Sunfood Diet
Success System by David Wolfe (Maul Brothers).