Blog # 70 Andrew Siegel, M.D.
There are numerous health advantages to eating raw produce. As a general premise, the less our food is processed, the healthier it is—and cooking is certainly a form of processing. There is often some degree of nutrient loss as a vegetable or fruit is cooked. If weight loss is a concern, raw is particularly good because one expends more calories just to break down raw food as opposed to cooked food, which is essentially “pre-digested.” Also, since raw foods are less calorie-dense because of increased water content, they not only are more filling, but also require more energy to heat the increased water content to body temperature. The need to use additional calories to burn calories is called the thermogenic effect. For example, eating raw broccoli has a strong thermogenic effect; drinking soda has very little thermogenic effect.
Clearly, raw food is less digestible and more bulky and filling than its cooked brethren. Raw foods require more chewing and thus more exercise of our masseter muscles of the jaw—hence more calories burned. This increased requirement for chewing—think raw carrots vs. cooked—forces us to eat more slowly and increases our satiety. The high fiber content of raw fruit and vegetables slows digestion and minimizes glucose fluctuations, modulating insulin spikes and thus helping to prevent fat deposition and weight gain, in addition to its beneficial effect on bowel regularity.
Forget about all of the potential benefits for health and vitality for a moment. On a more primal level, there is nothing like the delight derived from a piece of ripe, juicy, aromatic summer fruit bursting with sweetness and intense flavor. The vibrant color appeals to our vision, the sweet scent is alluring, the feel in our hands and mouth is pleasing, in addition to being downright delicious and a reminder of the beauty of the simple and natural things that life has to offer.
By no means am I recommending a totally raw produce diet, but it is reasonable to shake it up and consume some vegetables and fruits in their natural state. Most people eat some raw vegetables in the form of salads, and raw fruit is often the norm for most of us. But many of us would be well served to increase the amount and variety of raw veggies in our diet. Think of a nice crudité platter as opposed to mushy cooked vegetables. Keep in mind a beautiful red delicious apple vs. a baked apple or applesauce.
Advice of the day: Eat a salad with crunchy vegetables before a meal to help decrease caloric consumption during the meal. Throw in some strong flavored veggies like radicchio, scallions, radishes or arugula because their intensity is so stimulating that they can induce satiety, allowing us to eat less. Alternatively, a piece of fruit before a meal will achieve the same endpoint. Experiment with how you use raw fruits and vegetables—the results can be a delightful change for your palate, and a slimmer waistline.
Andrew L. Siegel, M.D.
Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food
Available on Amazon Kindle