The Raw and the Cooked of It: Which Is Better?

May 1, 2015 Updated: June 25, 2015

Sometimes the nutrition world feels like a land of controversy.

I bet you know what I mean and often find yourself wondering just who to pay attention to.

My nutrition approach starts with one key principle . . . we are all unique.

There are hundreds of nutrition experts (all with conflicting advice), new books each week offering the best diet ever, and friends or family claiming they’ve found the holy grail (and you should try it too).

  • Three square meals only versus six snacks each day
  • Vegan versus paleo
  • Gluten-free versus grain-based
  • Low-carb versus low-fat
  • Raw versus cooked

And that’s just the tip of the nutritional iceberg!

There’s an abundance of healing protocols claiming to cure a long list of ailments. This one? That one? What’s an informed eater to do? How do you clear through the chaos and find what truly works for you? 

My nutrition approach starts with one key principle . . . we are all unique.

Your needs are different than mine. My 14-year-old son won’t benefit from eating the same way I do. The two nursing nutritionists on my staff can’t even eat the same as each other—just because they’re both in their early thirties and are nurturing 6-month-old babies—their diets are not the same.

One size fits all doesn’t work for nutrition. Your digestive system, your genetic profile, and your history are as unique to you as your fingerprint.

Pretty cool, huh?

My mission is to help you tap into the food and lifestyle that’s optimal for you (not your neighbor). It means getting to know yourself better than you ever thought you could. And that’s where the answers come from about who to pay attention to.

You pay attention to you!

Do I ignore the various dietary theories? Heck no. I take them in, look at the research, test them out, and pull out the pieces and parts that are appropriate for each client (or myself, or my kiddo).

How to Find What’s Right for You

Start to pay attention. Listen deeply to the signs and signals from your body and mind.

  •   Keep a journal.
  •   Be honest with yourself.
  •   Remain open to figuring out what foods really are best for you.
  •   Know that it’s always shifting and that’s OK.
  •   Enter into the beautiful dance with your very own body that’s communicating with you all the time.

Taking a timeout from your regular eating routine, no matter what it is, to do a focused cleanse is a lovely way to tune in to you.

Here is a quick Q-and-A on the topic of what’s best—raw or cooked. Let’s dig in!

Q: What’s the real scoop on raw foods? Is there science behind the claims that raw food cures what ails you?
A: Raw foods are key for good digestion, peristalsis, and elimination, but sometimes we need to slowly increase raw foods for more delicate digestive systems.

Raw foods are naturally lower in calories and typically higher in water content (most of us need more water).

The downside is people eating high raw diets often turn to large amounts of nuts and seeds and sometimes too much fruit, (which isn’t always ideal), to get enough calories and energy.

Q: Raw foodies swear that all raw is best, but are raw foods good for everybody?
A: No! Nothing is good for everybody. Remember . . . we’re all unique.

For some, eating more raw increases energy and has them singing from the rooftops. For others, it’s a one-way ticket to the bathroom or digestive distress.

Listening to your body is key. Taking a high-raw vacation can be a powerful healing protocol for many people (but again, not everyone).

 Q: Part of the magic of raw foods is the enzymes, right?
A: This is a point that’s often confused in the raw versus cooked debate.

When we eat raw foods, we actually have to create more enzymes to digest them. A more correct assessment would be to say that the raw foods trigger the body’s need and ability to create enzymes (if it’s well-functioning). This is one reason why someone with compromised digestive function may have a harder time breaking down raw foods—it can’t create the necessary enzymes to do so and may need a helping hand.

Remember, the enzymes within plant foods are for their purposes, not ours. They’re not metabolic or digestive enzymes for us.

To be clear, enzymes are proteins that work to speed up or catalyze chemical reactions. The enzymes in plant foods, like all chemical structures, will not make it much past the hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

Q: Some claim that cooking can actually be harmful. What gives?
A: In some cases, yes, it’s true. Food cooked at high temperatures can become toxic, but it’s a mistake to think that’s true of all cooked food.

We can lose nutrients and enzymes when food is overcooked, but only a small amount of nutrients and enzymes are lost in slow cooking (think soups, stews, and steams).

In fact, some nutrients are made more available to the system, especially a compromised system (digestive or otherwise), when heated.

Q: Clearly cooking helps when it comes to meat or beans (who wants to eat uncooked beans?), but what about other foods. Are some veggies better cooked?
A: Steaming, sweating, and softening some plant compounds actually helps with the digestion and absorption quite a bit—it also increases the plant proteins available from the foods. Research shows that some phytonutrients (like lycopene in tomatoes) can be better absorbed when slightly cooked.

In addition, heating can destroy some of the anti-nutrients in particular raw foods—like the goitrogens you may have heard about in the cruciferous veggies. Destroying the anti-nutrients helps with absorption of the nutrients of those good foods we don’t want to forsake.

Q:What’s the straight scoop on raw versus cooked for people with digestive distress?
A: Raw foods can be very challenging on a person with compromised digestive function—someone with irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

In these cases, to get some of the benefits of raw, I recommend blending and warming the food and eating it very slowly—like eating a smoothie with a spoon. I may also add other key ingredients to a smoothie to help with the healing of the digestive system’s mucosa (like aloe or gelatin).

Bottom Line

I’m not of the raw versus cooked debate, but instead part of the raw and cooked conversation.

Diversity is key for health. Determining what’s best for your unique ecosystem or physiology is where it stops being about the dogma of a food philosophy or theory and where it starts being all about you.

Ultimately, I’m a fan of some amount of raw foods for good digestion, peristalsis, and elimination for most people.