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 Are Enzymes?

The biggest nutritional advantage of a raw food diet isn’t the enzymes or the extra nutrients you glean by not cooking your vegetables; it’s the fact that a raw food diet is devoid of virtually all junk and processed foods.

Not that enzymes aren’t exciting—they are! Enzymes are a special class of proteins that literally make life possible. cThroughout your body, in every cell, there are thousands of different types of enzymes, each with a very specific job to do. There are enzymes that break molecules apart and enzymes that put molecules together. There are enzymes that transfer things from one molecule to another and enzymes that simply rearrange a molecule into a different shape.

Even within those categories, the enzymes are very specific. Got two glucose molecules that need breaking up? There’s an enzyme for that. Got a lactose molecule that needs breaking up? There’s a different enzyme for that. Most of your entire DNA sequence is devoted to storing instructions for making various enzymes.

And it’s a good thing that your cells know how to make all the enzymes you need to function, because enzymes are relatively fragile. Not only are they destroyed by temperatures above 116 degrees, but they can also be destroyed or inactivated by very acidic environments—such as that of your stomach. 

The enzymes in raw vegetables no doubt served very important functions when those plants were living—but don’t have much functionality in your digestive tract. In fact, whether they’ve been denatured by cooking or by your stomach acid, the enzymes in your food function primarily as a source of amino acids (protein) that your body can use to produce its own enzymes, as needed.

Is a Raw Foods Diet Healthier?

In my opinion, the biggest nutritional advantage of a raw food diet isn’t the enzymes or the extra nutrients you glean by not cooking your vegetables. Rather, it’s the fact that a raw food diet contains no fried foods and no baked goods. No partially hydrogenated fats, refined flour, Twinkies, or potato chips. A raw food diet is rich in minimally processed fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and devoid of virtually all junk and processed foods

Sounds quite healthy to me. But I don’t think it’s necessary to give up cooking to have a healthy diet. If you want to improve the nutritional quality of your diet, start by cutting back on junk foods and eating more fresh vegetables. And, as I’ve said before, I think it’s an excellent idea to eat at least some of your vegetables each day raw. 

I’ve got links below to restaurants and websites that specialize in raw food if you’d like to try some out new raw food recipes. A raw food diet can be a fun—and healthy—place to visit…but, personally, I wouldn’t want to live there!

Feel free to share your thoughts about raw foods below or on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page

Check out these related episodes and tips:


Directory of Raw Foods Restaurants

Collection of Raw Recipes

Raw Quiche image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.