In this case, I’m thinking of Dr. Oz and Dr. Chopra, two of America’s favorite healthy lifestyle experts. They share a lot of good information, but they’re completely wrong about the raw food diet.
Recently, Deepak Chopra came on Dr. Oz’s show to promote his new book, Super Brain, which I plan to read and review later. The information he introduced was mostly new to me–all about preventing memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease as we age. Good stuff for sure.
The doctors also used a segment of the show to answer viewer questions. The viewer who caught my attention, of course, was an obese woman considering a raw food diet. There was no discussion of what a healthy raw food diet should look like. What if she’s planning to live off of a diet of raw fish? Maybe eat nothing but lettuce and cucumbers for the rest of her life? Probably not good plans. What if she plans to enjoy green smoothies and green juices along with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds–adding in cooked vegetables and beans to make the transition easier? Sounds great!
Dr. Chopra explained that he just doesn’t think a raw food eating-style is a good idea. Why not? Well, certain nutrients are more available in certain vegetables if those vegetables are cooked. The doctors then pointed out that the lycopene in tomatoes and the beta carotene in carrots are more available in cooked form. They also suggested eating certain foods like garlic and asparagus raw, since the health-promoting allicin (in garlic) and folic acid (in asparagus) are reduced or destroyed in the cooking process. Here’s what I would’ve told their guest.
Three Important Reasons Deepak Chopra and Dr. Oz Are Wrong About Raw Food
1. Their whole discussion is based on the assumption that a raw food diet can ONLY include raw fruits and vegetables. Where’s that rule written? Most raw food educators gave up pushing a 100% raw food diet years ago. 100% raw works for some people some of the time, but a variety of cooked vegetables can supplement a raw food diet quite nicely. Even so, there are people who’ve lived healthy lives for years on 100% raw food. They’ve educated themselves about nutrition, and they eat consciously, as we all should regardless of what eating-style we choose.
2. They emphasized the idea that some nutrients are more available in cooked form than raw. So what?
The go-to example of cooked winning over raw is usually lycopene, which is much more available in cooked tomatoes than it is in raw tomatoes. But studies have demonstrated that sun-dried tomatoes have as much lycopene as cooked tomatoes. If they’re truly sun-dried, or dehydrated at low temperatures, they’re still raw foods. Blend them in a raw soup or salad dressing, throw them on a salad or in a wrap. You’re golden. And if you prefer cooked tomatoes, pour on the tomato sauce or roast some tomatoes in the oven. You can do that on a raw food diet, you rebel. See point #1.
(I couldn’t find any info on how blending tomatoes affects the lycopene availability, but I’d be curious to know. Since cooking makes the lycopene more available by breaking down the cell walls, blending might have a similar effect.)
The doctors are right about one thing: when you cook vegetables, their nutritient profiles do change. You lose a lot of the nutrients, but in some cases specific nutrients are also made more available. You can also make more nutrients available in your veggies by juicing them or blending them in green smoothies. As much as Dr. Oz likes to promote those two options, neither was mentioned in their brief dismissal of a raw food diet.
3. Nobody mentioned the importance of choosing good cooking techniques. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat for Health, recommends cooking lots of vegetables in soups, so any nutrients lost to the water are still eaten in the final dish. Water sauteing, with minimal water, also works well. When you boil or steam vegetables you pour a lot of the nutrients down the drain with the cooking liquid. Any discussion of raw versus cooked has to address how the food is being prepared.
So . . .
I’m assuming the good doctors brought their best arguments to the table, but their brief analysis came across as a superficial look at something they consider trendy and unimportant. It would’ve been nice to see them examine the subject more seriously and include input from one of the many doctors who endorse a high raw food diet. Healthy debate is always welcome.
I don’t pretend to have more scientific knowledge than these two medical doctors. Not by a long shot. But they’ve both held themselves up as gurus, experts, people their audiences can trust. They can, and should, do better.
But, hey. Nobody’s perfect.
Live the difference!