Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The Raw Facts - Part 1
by Sandra Tuszynska
There are 700,000 species of animals on earth yet humans are the only species that cooks its food. We started cooking food about 10,000 years ago, which is relatively recent considering that we have lived on raw foods since our evolution between 5-8 million years ago. We began to apply heat to our food because we were forced to move away from the tropics, our natural home, because of over-population. The tropics provided us with natural foods (mainly tropical fruit) which were eaten raw. Once forced into cooler climates we had to substitute our natural diet of fruits with tubers - and other complex carbohydrates - and meat, all of which require cooking.
Even then foods that did not need to be cooked were eaten raw until 1878 when Louis Pasteur published his highly influential book, The Germ Theory of Disease which proposed that microorganisms are the main cause of disease. As a result, doctors recommended that people cook their food for safety, and so people began cooking everything (even apples). Fear of microbes became a phobia for many people and is still commonplace.
Cooking allows otherwise unappetising meats and grains to taste good and become digestible so we continue to set fire to products which we then call food. We have not actually adapted to eating cooked foods as it takes between 50,000 and 500,000 years for an evolutionary change to occur in mammals. While it is still possible to sustain ourselves on cooked food, we risk dire health consequences. Certainly fire helped us survive the ice age, but what are the consequences of the continued use of fire on our food and, inevitably, our health?
The Effects of Cooking on our Food and our Health
Different methods of cooking produce various toxins which the body must then eliminate. Consumption of cooked foods causes enlargement of the pancreas and damage to most other organs including the liver, heart, kidneys, the thyroid and adrenal glands. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are all associated with cooked food consumption and, while the body of scientific evidence to support this is already overwhelming, new evidence is still being found.
Cooked foods cause degenerative changes in most aspects of blood chemistry, a phenomenon called 'digestive leukocytosis'. Our immune system reacts to cooked food in the same way as it does to a pathogenic attack. The body actually attacks the food back by sending an army of white blood cells to deal with the onslaught in the digestive tract, leaving the rest of the body vulnerable and less protected by the immune system.
Effect of Cooking on Nutrients
Because heated foods are nutritionally compromised we are likely to overeat them. Our stomachs may feel full but our cells are still starving for nutrients which cooking damages and destroys. Foods can only withstand as much heat as you can. When you apply fire to your hand you quickly move it away because it kills your skin cells. The same happens to food.
Proteins are denatured by heat. Their molecular structure is irreversibly modified and they become biologically inactive. Take hair, for instance, which is predominantly protein. When you roll it into a hair ball and then pull it back it will revert to its original form. However, if you apply flame to that same ball of hair it will coagulate and not return to its original shape. The same happens with food. You can see coagulation of protein take place when you fry an egg. The clear protein gel surrounding the yolk whitens, thickens, and coagulates into a glue-like consistency.
This coagulation happens in meat, grain and any other proteins which are subjected to heat. Our digestive enzymes (peptones and proteases) cannot utilise coagulated protein molecules. They can only break these large molecules into polypeptides instead of the essential amino acids which we need for protein synthesis in our body. So cooked protein rich foods are actually not of any use to us. Polypeptides are recognised by our immune system as invaders that have to be attacked, contained and eliminated through the kidneys. These large coagulated molecules form kidney stones (and eventual kidney failure) as the cells of the kidneys cannot easily process and pass these toxins. Undigested proteins also cause allergies, arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.
Not only are heated proteins unavailable to your body, the indigestible, coagulated protein molecules putrefy and allow bacteria in the body to feed upon this dead organic matter. This forms faecal ammonia, phenols, indoles, amines, N-nitroso compounds and sulphides which have been shown to exert toxic effects on the bowel, leading to colorectal cancer. The natural population of beneficial intestinal flora becomes outnumbered by putrefactive bacteria, resulting in colonic dysfunction and absorption of toxins from the bowel. This phenomenon is called “dysbacteria”, “dysbiosis”, or “intestinal toxemia” (toxicosis).
Gas and unpleasantly smelling faeces are due to anaerobic putrefaction by bacteria which break down undigested proteins. Rotting proteins have been shown to be responsible for various colon diseases such as colitis and polyps, and especially cancer. Additionally nitrosamines are formed from nitrogen oxides present in gas flames. These compounds have mutagenic and carcinogenic potency and end up in meat and fish heated in gas ovens or on barbecues that expose the “food” to direct flames. Heterocyclic amines are formed from heating amino acids or proteins and polycyclic hydrocarbons are formed from charring meat. Both are carcinogenic.
Starchy carbohydrates must be heated in order for them to be broken down. However heating caramelises complex carbohydrates, fusing them into a sticky substance. It is no coincidence that dextrin and starch are vegetable-based adhesives used as glue for packaging and wallpaper. Only 70% of the energy potential of cooked starchy foods can be used by our body as fuel. Caramelised carbohydrates dramatically elevate our blood sugar levels. This is especially true for refined carbohydrates that had their fibre component removed. Further heating, which produces the “burnt bits” such as browned crust on the toast, is very carcinogenic.
Cooked complex carbohydrates are actually fermented when eaten in combination with fat and sugar. Gas, alcohol and acetic acid (vinegar) are produced by the fermentation process and these are very toxic poisons. Acrylamide, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen, is also produced by cooking carbohydrate rich foods.
Fats are very delicate and vulnerable compounds that become rancid on exposure to oxygen, light and (especially) heat. In fact plant fats are so sensitive that once a seed or a nut is cracked and the oil within exposed to the elements it should be consumed immediately or it becomes rancid. Rancid fats are very toxic to our cells and become carcinogenic. The longer they remain shelved or uneaten, the more toxic they become. High cooking temperatures such as used for deep frying, roasting and barbecuing induce fats to produce carcinogens such as acrolein, epoxides, hydroperoxides, hydrocarbons, nitrosamines and benzopyrene (one of the most carcinogenic substances on earth).
Unsaturated vegetable oils are naturally held together by “cis” bonds which are converted to “trans” bonds when the oils are heated. Unsaturated fatty acid with one double bond can exist in either of two forms - the “cis” conformation has the two parts of the carbon chain bent towards each other (like a boomerang) and the “trans” conformation has the two parts of the chain almost linear. This makes the “trans” fatty acids similar in conformation and behaviour to the saturated acids. Trans-fatty acids are considered one of the most dangerous dietary health hazards of our time.
Unsaturated oils are also made into trans-fats by the of process hydrogenation used to extend shelf life and to improve food texture by heating the oils and subjecting them to hydrogen while under pressure (this is essentially how margarine is made). Hydrogenated fats are similar to saturated ones in that they cannot be utilised by our body leading to cardiovascular disease. These trans-fats are incorporated into cell walls and interfere with cellular respiration. They reduce the amount of oxygen delivered to our cells which creates an environment for cancer growth.
Effects of Cooking on Water, Minerals and Vitamins
Second to oxygen, water is our greatest nutritional requirement. Cooking forces water out of food (dehydrating it) which causes oxidation of the nutrients in the food and so reducing their value. Once water is removed, the overall structure and composition of the food is permanently changed.
Vitamins and minerals need to be consumed in an organic, naturally chelated molecular form (such as is found in raw fruits and vegetables) in order to be absorbed, assimilated and utilised by our cells and tissues during normal metabolic processing. Cooking profoundly affects the absorption and utilisation of certain minerals because it cleaves complexes that minerals are associated with, rendering them less available. Heat also interferes with the molecular arrangement of vitamins and minerals. Carbon is liberated and they are returned to an inorganic, ash-like form like that found in soil. This makes them bio-unavailable and toxic to our cells.
The Effects of Cooking on Enzymes
Enzymes are proteins present in all living tissues. Once food is cooked, the enzymes are denatured and become inactive. Digestion is a process by which enzymes break down food compounds into smaller units. When we eat cooked foods our body has to produce its own enzymes in order to digest them. Even then, they are unable to work upon the coagulated proteins and carbohydrates. This leads to a vast amount of energy being wasted on digesting the food rather than fuelling our body with it, which is its principal purpose. This is precisely why we feel tired after eating a large cooked meal. By contrast, raw foods posses their own enzymes which are released when the food is chewed, saving our body from having to produce and waste its own enzyme supply. As a result we feel vitalised after a raw meal.
Just as there are only a finite number of heart beats so, too, the body's capacity to make enzymes is also finite. Dr James Sumner, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Emeritus professor at Cornell University, said:
“Living creatures are born with a fixed enzyme potential. This potential diminishes with time, subject to the conditions and pace of life. Animals eating dead, enzymeless food use up a tremendous amount of their enzyme potential in lavish secretions of the pancreas and other digestive organs. The result is reduced vitality, reduced longevity, and reduced resistance to all types of stress.”
Our 'enzymatic potential' is a bit like an enzyme bank account that we are all born with. While our individual genetics decide how much is in the account when we are born, what we eat and how we live determines how long it takes to deplete that account. Most of us go through life spending lavishly just to digest our cooked food meals. When the bank balance reads zero and we are repossessed - we die.
The Benefits of Eating Raw
The first effect of eating raw foods is to cleanse the accumulated toxins harboured by your body. As a result you may experience symptoms of detoxification, which will vary depending on how seriously the toxins have affected your body and how concentrated they are. Once you stop loading your body with any more toxins from the food you eat, the accumulated toxins will be expelled from cells and tissues into the bloodstream to be removed.
Most detoxification symptoms are mild. They can range from tiredness, runny nose, headaches, digestive challenges, skin conditions, drops in blood pressure and weight loss. More serious detoxification effects can include diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as the recurrence of past disease symptoms to complete a healing process that has been interrupted by medical drugs or any other treatment. These effects should be looked upon favourably as they indicate that the body is healing.
Since most of processed foods contain stimulants such as salt, sugar, spices, preservatives, sweeteners and caffeine, the body is essentially always on some sort of a high. Once the transition is made to a raw food diet the body goes from a state of excitation or stimulation to sedation. This means that many people experience tiredness as they are “coming down”.
Once the toxins are removed from your body, the vital energy is freed up for healing and cleansing. Cleaner blood and healthier red blood cells become more efficient at transporting oxygen around the body leading to increased tissue and organ healing as well as more efficient removal of waste from cellular respiration.
Eating raw foods allows maximum nutrition because your body is able to process the readily-available nutrients, absorb them and deliver them to all of your cells. Your digestion becomes more efficient with transit time decreased to a maximum of 24 hours. Because the colon recycles toxins it is essential to digest and eliminate as fast as possible. Cooked or processed foods transit on average 72 hours or more, literally rotting in your bowel and producing both toxins and flatulence. When you eat raw foods these digestive problems cease (as do bad breath and constipation).
When your body cleanses itself and starts eliminating properly all aspects of your life will improve - physical, mental and emotional. However you should also get enough sleep, sunshine and exercise. Additional benefits include weight loss, less mucous discharge, better sleep, clearer skin, increased energy and heightened mental clarity.
When you eliminate salt, sugar and other condiments, you will lose excess water - which is stored in your body to dilute toxins - and fat fairly quickly but you will not lose lean muscle tissue. If you want to gain muscle mass, eating mostly sweet fruit will supply the best possible fuel source.
In the next article I will discuss in detail the work of Dr Douglas Graham and the 80/10/10 diet plan, different caloronutrients, their form, sources, the percentage of each we require and the effects that each has on our health. I will be teaching an eight-week course on the effects of our food choices on our health and the environment with details on the principles of the raw diet at the Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai Community College in Sydney during July 2008 (www.hkcc.nsw.edu.au).
References and Further Reading
'Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases' (2003) WHO Technical Report Series 916 (www.who.int/hpr/NPH/docs/who_fao_expert_report.pdf)
Graham D.N., The 80/10/10 Diet, Balancing Your Health, Your Weight, and Your Life, One Luscious Bite at Time. FoodnSport Press 2006.
Hughes R., Magee E.A.M and Bingham S. (2000) 'Protein Degradation in the Large Intestine: Relevance to Colorectal Cancer', Current Issues in Intestinal Microbiology, 1:51-58
WHO Technical Report Series
Swirsky Gold L., et al. (1995) 'Sixth Plot of the Carcinogenic Potency Database: Results of Animal Bioassays Published in the General Literature 1989 to 1990 and by the National Toxicology Program 1990 to 1993', Environmental Health Perspective, 103:3-122, Supplement 8
The Raw Pleasure website and forum (www.raw-pleasure.com.au) allows you to contact and interact with other raw food eaters.