Just raw food and nuts

A new ‘health’ fad – eating only uncooked and unpasteurized food – may copy the eating habits of primitive man, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

By
February 27, 2011 03:11
Assorted bags of nuts.

nuts_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The first controlled use of fire – discovered by archeologists at Gesher Bnot Ya’acov in the north – has been dated at 790,000 years ago, led to generations of women laboriously cooking meals for their hunter/gatherer husbands and families. But perhaps preparing food in pots and pans was an error, and for the most effective use of nutrients and preserving health, people should be eating it all raw.

Proponents of “raw foodism” or “rawism” have been popping up all over the world in recent years, and numerous authors and researchers have written books urging households that don’t like the heat to get out of the kitchen. The rather extreme dogma has attracted followers even in Israel – the land of schnitzel, cholent, pizza and felafel – to “living foods” at the Mitzpe Alumot Health Farm and Dimona’s Kibbutz Shomrey Hashalom of former African Americans.

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The ideology runs the gamut from the more-moderate vegetarianism (abstaining from only fish or meat) to veganism (also rejecting dairy products and eggs), both of which allow cooking, and drastic rawism.

Now, Hebrew speakers can read a translation of 12 Steps to Raw Foods, written 11 years ago by US author Victoria Boutenko and now published by Focus Publishing (www.focus.co.il). Called Mazon Tzimhi Hai (Raw Food), the 244-page, NIS 84 softcover volume explains the philosophy behind rawism, offers practical advice on how to adopt and persist with the diet and provides numerous recipes.

While more liberal raw foodists are willing to heat or cook food at up to 40ºC , Boutenko has no oven or burners in her repertoire. Pasteurized milk products are not “allowed” because the raw milk was heated to kill germs. To make recipes for “special ‘chocolate’ cake” based on carobs or cranberry cookies, for example, one uses a special dehydrator rather than an oven. Other handy kitchen devices needed by rawists include blenders, juicers and food processors.

The medical argument behind rawism is that digestive juices are secreted in the upper stomach, while the enzymes in raw foods remain there intact for about half an hour before they are broken down in the lower stomach. Cooking destroys the enzymes, say rawism proponents. They argue that the diet prevents degenerative diseases, slow the effects of aging, provides enhanced energy, boosts emotional balance and is also beneficial to dental health. By the way, not everything should be eaten straight from the tree, bush or plant; many raw foodists suggest soaking seeds and nuts before eating them to “activate” their beneficial natural enzymes and “deactivate” inhibitors of those enzymes.

CAN YOU imagine a diet of “smoothies” made in the blender with raw lettuce, kale, mangold and lemon juice, or with a variety of fruits; sprouted beans and whole grains; unfried vegetarian burgers from onion, carrot, oil and seasonings; carpaccio and sashimi; doughless pizza; uncooked oatmeal; and nuts and seeds for dessert? Just the idea would send chills down the spines of many steak and schnitzel lovers.

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Boutenko is self described as an author, teacher, inventor and researcher with a master’s degree, artist and mother of three who teaches classes on healthy living and raw food all over the world. Her book, now translated into Hebrew, appears in 25 other languages and has become an international bestseller with over 250,000 copies sold worldwide.

The author relates that she, her husband and her two now-adult children all suffered from a variety of diseases, from obesity and juvenile diabetes to irregular heartbeat and asthma before they adopted the extreme raw food diet. Her husband Igor had undergone nine operations by the age of 38, she writes, and rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease had turned him into a broken man who was told by hospital doctors that he had about “two months to live.” But after a few weeks of raw food, she claims, their conditions improved and after months, they were able to run a marathon together.

A woman named Elizabeth told her she had “cured” her colorectal cancer with rawism, arguing that animals – “which don’t cook their meals” – are routinely blessed with good health and that “people are not born with ovens or burners attached to their bodies.” Despite the benefits sounding farfetched, Boutenko notes that a planted raw almond will produce a tree, while a toasted one is “dead material that won’t lead to life or cures.”

The preface to the Hebrew edition was written by Israeli physician and rawist Dr. Lilya Farin-Skivinsky from the north who claimed it brought her physical and emotional pleasure and made her feel bursting with energy – better than when she was young. “With rare humanity, the author takes the readers by the hand, helps them focus on the target and accompanies them through the roadblocks. That’s what makes this book so special. There is no doubt that the path Victoria Boutenko proposes enables the body to succeed and make the most of its potential.”

Observing the strict diet from a young age, writes Boutenko, makes it much easier to observe it lifelong. One of the chapters in her book includes listings of dozens of foods and their AGE (advanced glycation end products), which are dangerous compounds absorbed by the body during digestion. According to advocates of rawism, many cells and tissues in the body’s organs, such as the lungs, liver and kidneys, carry the receptor for AGE products, which contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis, renal failure, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration. A serving of freshly squeezed orange juice contains one unit of AGE, according to the chart, while a serving of grilled beef hot dogs has 10,243 units.

Another chapter suggests eating insects such as ants, grasshoppers and locusts, which have provided necessary proteins to some societies for hundreds of years.

Boutenko argues that raw foods contain protective bacteria and other micro-organisms that strengthen the immune system and digestion by populating the stomach and intestines; these flora are usually destroyed by cooking, which also kills off vitamins. Heating meat and other flesh produces toxins that can be carcinogenic, they argue, while raw foods are high in antioxidants that fight aging and help prevent chronic illnesses.

It has been proven scientifically that eating a significant amount of dietary fiber reduces disease and mortality. A retrospective study of 400,000 Americans was just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers from the US National Cancer Institute sent questionnaires asking how much dietary fiber they ate over the previous nine years and what medical conditions they had. It was found that men and women who ate the most fiber daily were significantly less likely to die than those consuming the least. Those who ate optimal levels of vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains had a third to half the risk of major diseases than the others. But the study did not investigate whether the fiber was raw, boiled, baked, grilled or fried.

Boutenko doesn’t really go deeply into the arguments of rawism critics, who say a raw food diet can be dangerous, especially for children. Eating only raw foods and no cooked eggs, meat, chicken and fish could result in a lack of vitamin D and B12 or even a lack of calories. In addition, a diet of raw food may increase the risk of contracting foodborne illness as it could be contaminated with microorganisms or contain natural toxins. A raw food diet could also lead to the bone disease of osteoporosis. Drinking unpasteurized milk or eating cheeses and other products that have not been heated can lead to potentially dangerous infections such as brucellosis. As for whether man was meant to eat meat, human teeth include not only molars for grinding and mashing but incisors for cutting and chewing flesh.

THE GREAT medieval Jewish rabbi, philosopher and physician Maimonides (the Rambam) probably wouldn’t have approved of the extreme diet, as he always stressed the idea of the “Golden Mean” in his writings. Living more than 800 years ago, he advocated eating (cooked) fish several times a week for good health, and proposed many ideas that today have been proven scientifically.

Asked to comment on rawism, Prof. Elliot Berry – an expert in clinical nutrition at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem – told The Jerusalem Post that he has not studied the effects of rawism. But he stated that the most important thing in disease prevention besides regular exercise and not smoking is eating a healthful diet including a lot of unprocessed food, which constitutes most of the food products sold in supermarkets. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be uncooked, said Berry, who is also director of the department of human nutrition and metabolism at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and a Health Ministry adviser on nutrition.

Fruits and vegetables not exposed to heat should be carefully washed with soap and water, he said. Amount, variety and balance are the main things to remember, and fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors – each representing different nutrients – should be consumed, said Berry. In addition, the social aspects of eating, including whom you eat with – also promote health. One doesn’t need eggs to live, said the nutrition expert, as protein can be obtained from legumes and other foods, but cooked fish is also recommended. “I’m not into faddism and extremes.”

Olga Raz, director of the clinical dietitians unit at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center commented: “Raw foodists can be divided between those that advocate raw veganism or vegetarianism, those that advocate a raw omnivorous diet, and those that advocate a 100% raw carnivorous diet. Food poisoning is a risk for all people eating raw foods, and increased demand for raw food is associated with greater incidence of foodborne illness, especially for raw meat, fish and shellfish. Outbreaks of gastroenteritis among consumers of raw and undercooked animal products are well-documented, and include raw meat, raw organ meat, raw fish (whether ocean-going or freshwater), shellfish, raw milk and products made from raw milk and raw eggs. Food poisoning attributed to contaminated raw produce has risen tenfold since the 1970s. Many raw plant foods have been contaminated by dangerous and even deadly microorganisms, including alfalfa sprouts and other sprouted seeds, green onions, spinach, lettuce, orange juice, apple juice and other unpasteurized fruit juices.”

She insisted that children should never be fed only uncooked food.

It is true, said Raz, that before fire was discovered, prehistoric man ate only uncooked food, “but this was due to lack of choice. Can it be said that they were healthy or had fewer diseases? Maybe, but they also lived very short lives. Human evolution was advanced by the ability (among other things) to make fire and cook food, especially meats and fish, and to pasteurize milk to avoid food poisoning. It’s less important to cook vegetables and fruits but more important to heat grains, barley and pulses.”

The veteran clinical dietitian concluded that she had “no problem with raw foodists unless their inspiration is only cleanliness and purity. They should move to a far-off island, stop using electricity, gasoline and such things and spark fire using two stones. They can also stop breathing the air because it contains many contaminants. Modernization has many advantages and disadvantages. People who want the advantages have to pay the price. We are all free to choose.”

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