Who Do You Trust for Nutrition Facts?

Everywhere and almost every day, we overhear misinformation and confusion about diet and nutrition…

  • The healthiness of various dietary fats and processed oils invites controversy
  • In Starbucks, a customer inquires about which breakfast is healthiest
  • Others worry whether: Japanese seaweed is safe from radiation pollution, microwaves ovens can damage our health, or flouridated water is beneficial for us?

If you shun pharmaceutical remedies and look to nutrition to prevent, treat and cure illnesses, you may often disagree with your doctor–and rightly so–when most are minimally schooled in nutrition and have little interest in preventative medicine.

While you can’t always rely on your doctor, the FDA, USDA, the ADA, the American Heart Association, the New York Times, you can count on Dr. Michael Greger to make sense of nutritional science.

I could listen to Dr. Greger’s entertaining nutritionfacts.org videos–he produces a new one every day–all day long. While other doctors treat illness with pharmaceutical medicine and surgery, Dr. Greger believes that nutrition is the cornerstone of proper health care.

Dr. Greger (Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the U.S. Humane Society), decided to pursue medicine after his grandmother reversed her “terminal” heart disease and lived 31 years longer than expected–till the age of 96–with a change in diet.

I was thrilled to meet Dr. Greger and have a chance to ask him my own nutrition questions, when he visited Honolulu in April to speak to the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii.

Considering attending a raw culinary school, I wanted to know whether enzymes in raw foods are really beneficial…

Dr. Greger replied that the theories of enzyme benefits in raw food are mostly a myth, and recommended Davis and Melina’s “Becoming Raw–The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Nutrition”.

Indeed “Becoming Raw” does an excellent and suprisingly impartial job summarizing the history of the raw food movement, explaining different kinds of enzymes (metabolic, digestive, and food), theories and available evidence both for and against a raw diet.

Why Raw?

Davis and Melina state “there is no question that cooking (heating above 113 Fahrenheit or 45 Celsius) denatures enzymes” however admits there is almost no scientific evidence that food enzymes are vital for human digestion and health, or that a raw diet is superior to a whole foods plant-based diet of combined cooked and raw foods.

All of the reasons the book gives for going raw…

  • General health and well-being
  • Disease prevention and reversal
  • Weight loss and maintenance

as well as  most of the doubts raised over nutritional viability of a raw diet:

  • Obtaining adequate protein from plants and vegetables
  • Getting enough calcium without dairy
  • Plant sources of vitamin B12
  • Required fats available only in fish, iron from meat, etc…

…hold equally well for a cooked whole foods plant-based diet, too.

On the other hand, Davis and Melina discuss the limitations of science saying “if a theory or hypotheses cannot be proved scientifically (that is, cannot be demonstrated to be false) this does not mean that it is not true, merely that it is not science based.” There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence in support of the benefits of eating an entirely or mostly raw diet.

Dr. Greger points out that raw vegetables are not always healthier than cooked, citing the fact that cooked tomatoes have 4 times the amount of lycopene (a cancer-fighting phytochemical) vs raw tomatoes. Therefore, Dr. Greger simply advises

We should prepare vegetables in whichever manner entices us to eat the greatest quantity.

Nonetheless, if you are considering a whole foods plant-based diet (including a raw one), Becoming Raw is an excellent resource, filled with nutritional data, menus and a variety of recipes, from basic to more complex. If any readers have experience with a raw diet, I’d greatly appreciate your feedback and comments.

This post is also available in: Japanese