Nutrition Fundamental #2: Eat Raw Food for Maximum Nutrition
All real food starts out raw. In its raw state, food contains all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes needed for digestion. Foods eaten in their raw state not only place minimal strain on the digestive system, they also provide essential nutrients needed for energy, growth and repair.
Cooking, exposure to oxygen, water and light all deplete the nutritional content of your food. The hotter your food has been cooked, the longer your food has been stored, and the more surface area exposed to air and light, the greater the loss of vitamins and minerals. Britain’s leading nutritionist, Patrick Holford, estimates that more than half of all nutrients are destroyed before they reach your plate. (1) Historically, foods have been grown in the countryside, brought to a local market and purchased fresh daily. Prior to refrigerators and mass storage, families bought what they could eat that day (this is still the case in many undeveloped countries). Compare this to the typical American fare: food is grown, picked, stored, cooked, frozen, shipped, stored in the grocery store, partially defrosted on the way home, refrozen, heated and then finally eaten. No wonder little nutrition is left!
There are many ways to minimize nutrient loss:
1. Buy locally grown food. During the summer months, we frequent farmers markets for locally grown produce. Pay attention to labels at the grocery store. Our local grocery store, a major chain, carries a lot of produce clearly labeled “Colorado Grown”. In this day and age, I’d consider produce local if it’s grown within your state – much better than coming from Mexico or South America.
2. Buy fruits and vegetables often – every 3-5 days is ideal, but not always practical. Make an effort to eat your produce within a few days of purchase. If you have extra produce, wash, dry and freeze it right away. Frozen foods will retain their nutritional content much better than being stored in the refrigerator. For example, Spinach stored in an open container will lose 10% of its vitamin C every day. (1) Whenever I find local or organic produce at a great price, I buy extra to freeze. This becomes especially helpful when I can’t make it to the grocery store in time to replenish our fresh foods.
3. Eat a variety of raw and steamed fruits and vegetables. Generally speaking, raw foods are more nutritious than cooked, though there are a few instances where cooking increases the availability of antioxidants such as carrots, spinach and tomatoes. (2)
4. Lightly cook your food. Any form of heating destroys nutrients. The best forms of cooking are steaming, pressure cooking and lightly baking.
- According to the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, cooked foods lose 35% of fat soluble vitamins, 75% of vitamin C, 45-75% of the B vitamins and 25-75% of minerals. Slightly more nutrients are retained if you consume the liquid the food was cooked in. (3) Some nutrient loss can be minimized by boiling foods in less water and boiling the food whole or in large pieces. This cuts down on the surface area exposed to water and heat. (1)
- The Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture published a study showing the effects of cooking on the antioxidants compared to raw broccoli. Microwaving caused 97% loss of antioxidant flavonoids; boiling resulted in a 66% loss of flavonoids; high-pressure boiling lost 47% of antioxidant compounds into the cooking water, but retained nearly 50% in the broccoli; steaming had less than 10% of antioxidant losses. (4)
5. Do NOT fry, overcook, or burn your foods. These high-heat cooking methods not only severely damage nutrients, they alter the chemical structure of the foods creating cancer-causing and artery-clogging compounds. (1,3)
6. Try something new every week! If you’re not used to raw food, you’ll need to retrain your taste buds. Give yourself time and don’t give up. It took me years to appreciate the tastes of whole, raw foods.
1. Holford. P, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, 2004, The Crossing Press.
2. Lipman, M., Editors of Consumer Reports on Health, Consumer Reports, The Best of Health, 2006, Consumers Union of the United States Inc.