What are the Benefits of a Raw Food Diet?

Does cooking destroy the enzymes in your food?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #99

What is a Raw Food Diet?

The raw foods diet is a nutrition trend that has been picking up steam over the last couple of years. It involves eating a diet made up mostly or entirely of foods that are not cooked or heated past about 110 degrees or so. That doesn’t mean they’re not processed—on the contrary, raw foods may be dried, rolled, juiced, blended, frozen, soaked, sprouted, fermented, or ground. They’re just not heat-processed. Raw foods diets are usually composed primarily of fruits and vegetablesnuts and seeds, grains, and legumes.

What are the Benefits of a Raw Food Diet?

One big advantage of eating foods raw is that they retain more of their nutritional value. When you cook foods, some nutrients—especially water soluble vitamins and antioxidants—are destroyed by heat. Other nutrients, including minerals, may leach out into cooking water.   (See also How Cooking Affects Nutrients.)  For example, cooking vegetables in water can reduce the amount of certain nutrients by half.

But according to the USDA, freshly harvested vegetables can lose up to half their original nutritional value simply by sitting on your counter for two days—or in your refrigerator for two weeks. Nutrients are also lost when foods are dehydrated, frozen, soaked, or juiced. So, when it comes to nutrient losses, unless you can arrange to eat every meal in the field where it was grown, it’s all sort of relative. And even though nutrients are lost, don’t worry. There are still plenty left! (See also Getting More Nutrition from your Vegetables)

Cooking actually makes some nutrients more absorbable. For example, the lycopene in cooked tomatoes is up to four times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes.   And, if you want to absorb more of the protein in eggs, you’d be better off cooking them than slurping them raw like Rocky. 

Enzymes in Raw Foods

Raw food advocates also frequently bring up the issue of enzymes. Heating foods deactivates any enzymes it may contain, you see. Eating foods raw preserves more of these food-based enzymes and that supposedly helps us digest and absorb our food better. Frankly, I wouldn’t get too excited about this.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.