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

4 thoughts on “Who Do You Trust for Nutrition Facts?

  1. william Post author

    Thank you so much for the wonderful education, and look forward to meeting you again, Dr. Greger.

  2. Jim Dunlop

    When discussing “going raw” with others, I’ve been told to be very careful, as it’s not as easy as simply shunning the stove and oven… This may be good advice.

    It’s my understanding that certain foods do not lend themselves to being eaten raw, and unless you know which ones, you could be exposing yourself to some health risks.

    When I was young, my mother told me never to eat raw potatoes. I asked her why, and she said they were toxic. Being the questioning sort, I asked her how she knew this. She said that my uncle had written his university thesis on the topic of potatoes and told her so. He also mentioned something about the toxins not being completely destroyed by heat so it was advisable to cook them with a bit of caraway seed, which would either absorb or neutralize the substance. I don’t know… It all sounds a bit like an old wives’ remedy to me… But years later, with the rise of the Internet, I looked it up and apparently there’s something to it… It has something to do with an alkaloid named solanine or something like that.

    In addition, I’ve read that bitter almonds contain an unusually high level of cyanide, (not to be confused with sweet almonds) and the nuts must be processed before they are safe for consumption. I’ve also read that the sale of raw bitter almonds is forbidden in the United States and several other countries.

    Also, remember Dr. Campbell of The China Study? His work on aflatoxin is related to the source of this substance, which tends to be raw peanuts. But when peanuts are roasted, aflatoxin concentration diminishes significantly.

    Somewhere I also read that raw kidney beans are deadly!

    I’ve also heard stories from people who have had nasty encounters with cashew trees. I guess you can’t just eat raw cashews as they are poisonous too. The “raw” ones they sell for cooking have actually been steamed (just not roasted) to remove the toxic compounds…

    So while I occasionally make a “raw” recipe, (I love raw vegan cheesecake), and the raw marinara I made for supper a few nights ago was divine, it probably pays to be pretty careful and to know what you’re doing first.

  3. william Post author

    Recently, I began eating corn on the cob raw–because I think it tastes better than cooked–and eating raw potatoes had never occurred to me. “High raw” vegans don’t eat legumes (including peanuts) grains and unless sprouted (to increase enzymes concentration and reduce anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors). According to UK Vegan Society, raw vegan diets comprise three key food groups: sweet fruit, high-fat plants (including olives, avocados, nuts, seeds) and green leafy vegetables. Not to cause alarm, but checking safety before eating something not typically eaten raw is highly advised.

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