CONWAY, Ark. - While proponents of a raw-food diet often speak of its health benefits, the raw truth is: Not everyone agrees.
"It's a bad diet, extremism," a fad, says Lisa Sasson, a registered dietitian and clinical assistant professor at New York University.
Sasson says it's not a healthy diet because it's "very restricted and limited." A healthy diet, she says, is based on eating a variety of foods. Compounding the problem, she says, many of the suggested raw foods and ingredients are not readily accessible.
Raw-food authors Roxanne Klein and Suzanne Alex Ferrara, however, talk of feeling better and having more energy since they embraced a raw diet.
Klein, writing in Raw, which she co-wrote with Charlie Trotter, takes a position held by many raw-food advocates - that most foods' natural enzymes are destroyed when heated above a certain temperature, forcing the body to generate the enzymes needed for digestion. She puts that temperature at 118 degrees. Raw-food experts vary slightly on the temperature.
In the recently published Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods, author Renee Loux Underkoffler writes: "Raw foods have more nutrition available in a simpler state than the diminished nutritional value of cooked and processed food."
But Sasson says it's a "fallacy that the enzymes in your food are better utilized, digested when the food is raw." She says the human body is well-equipped to make enzymes. In fact, she says the healthful properties of many vegetables, including tomatoes, are better absorbed by the body when they are cooked.
Sasson also thinks it is dangerous to put children on such a diet.
(Ferrara says she does not advocate putting children on a raw diet.)
Among Sasson's nutritional concerns is that people eating only raw food might not get enough calcium, protein, iron and vitamin B12.
Sasson also thinks food plays an important psychological role in people's lives. "Food should be something that's tied to our culture, our history, taste, ethnic values, perhaps religion, past memories," she said.
"When you start to lose that and you only eat for health reasons, something is getting lost."
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Raw food cuisine may be gaining mainstream acceptance these days, but the chemistry of simple cooking may add a nutritional boost to some vegetables.
Cooking helps to increase the availability of iron contained in vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and tomatoes, making it easier for your body to absorb, according to a study that was first presented at the 2000 meeting of the American Chemical Society.
- Information from the Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report.