THE RAW VEG MYTH

Com­mon con­sen­sus is it’s the sure-fire way to get that well­ness glow, but does eat­ing veg raw ac­tu­ally leave you more nour­ished? WH adds heat to the de­bate

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words LAU­REN CLARK il­lus­tra­tions MDI DIG­I­TAL

Should you re­ally eat veg raw?

Some things are bet­ter en­joyed in their nat­u­ral state (cut­ting those jeans into shorts didn’t work, did it?). And we’ve been led to be­lieve that veg, too, is one of th­ese things. Fresh spinach in your green juice? Yep. Un­cooked cour­gette in your zoats? Sure. And with eater­ies all over the UK serv­ing pro­duce that’s not cooked, go­ing ‘raw’ has never been eas­ier. But is there re­ally any ben­e­fit to eat­ing your veg­eta­bles sans heat? In an ef­fort to in­gest as many feel-good vi­ta­mins and min­er­als as pos­si­ble by go­ing raw, you could be miss­ing a trick, say ex­perts. Suf­fer­ing spinach in your smoothie for all those years may have been point­less. ‘Eat­ing veg­eta­bles raw has a cool­ing ef­fect, which slows di­ges­tion and trig­gers your body to use more en­ergy to pass food through,’ says Me­lanie Wax­man, nu­tri­tion and health coun­sel­lor at SHA Well­ness Clinic. ‘It forces the body into sur­vival mode, which can weaken your gut over time, lead­ing to food in­tol­er­ances. Your me­tab­o­lism slows too, which ups the like­li­hood of weight gain.’ What many raw-veg devo­tees may not re­alise is that the cook­ing process ac­tu­ally works with your body. ‘Raw veg con­tains fi­brous com­po­nents that are ac­tu­ally in­di­gestible,’ ex­plains nu­tri­tion­ist Lily Sout­ter. ‘Adding heat helps break down some of the fi­bres and plant cell walls, which ul­ti­mately al­lows for eas­ier di­ges­tion and ab­sorp­tion of nu­tri­ents.’ In fact, the cook­ing process it­self re­leases more fuel. Har­vard re­searchers found that cooked sweet potato pro­vides more calo­ries than in its raw state be­cause it’s less re­sis­tant to be­ing di­gested. More calo­ries? That’s bad, right? No, ac­tu­ally. It just means you need smaller por­tions of cooked veg to feel sat­is­fied and get the same amount of en­ergy as you would from raw. The re­searchers sug­gest that’s why, over the cen­turies, we’ve de­vel­oped to in­stinc­tively pre­fer hot grub.

CELL OUT

In­creased di­gestibil­ity from cook­ing also ren­ders some veg­eta­bles more nu­tri­tious. ‘Of­ten, nu­tri­ents are bound to the cell walls,’ says Wax­man. ‘Heat breaks down th­ese struc­tures, so those nu­tri­ents are more eas­ily ab­sorbed. Fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins in par­tic­u­lar, such as A,D, E and K, are more bio-avail­able in this way.’ What’s more, in some veg, such as spinach, nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits aren’t re­leased at all un­less it’s cooked. ‘Raw spinach con­tains ox­alic acid, which pre­vents the body from ab­sorb­ing the veg­etable’s rich iron con­tent. How­ever, heat breaks down this ox­alic acid, mak­ing the iron avail­able to the body,’ ex­plains Wax­man. The nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits can be much greater in some cooked veg and this can have an ef­fect on long-term health. ‘Adding heat to toma­toes boosts the an­tiox­i­dants ly­copene, beta-carotene and lutein, rais­ing the to­tal an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity by 60%,’ says Sout­ter. In­deed, a study in The Bri­tish Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion found that those who fol­lowed a strict raw-food diet were de­fi­cient in ly­copene, which is cru­cial for low­er­ing risk of cancer and heart at­tacks. Cru­cif­er­ous veg such as cauliflower, Brus­sels sprouts, as­para­gus, kale and cab­bage also be­come health­ier with heat. ‘When eaten raw, they can sup­press the thy­roid gland’s pro­duc­tion of me­tab­o­lism-reg­u­lat­ing hor­mones,’ ex­plains Wax­man. So what? Well, with­out suf­fi­cient thy­roid hor­mones, you may find your­self gain­ing weight due to a slow­ing meta­bolic rate, plus you’ll feel tired and con­sti­pated. Cook­ing cru­cif­er­ous veg

us­ing any method helps those with ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome too. ‘It breaks down the com­pound raf­fi­nose, which can cause bloat­ing and gas,’ says Sout­ter.

RAW FIT­NESS

But don’t chuck out your salad spin­ner just yet – those who swear by raw veg still have a case. There’s some ev­i­dence that sug­gests eat­ing raw lets you in­gest more nu­tri­ents, be­cause heat can de­plete or de­stroy them. ‘Cooked veg is lower in wa­ter-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins, which have un­sta­ble struc­tures, such as B vi­ta­mins, vi­ta­min C, cal­cium and mag­ne­sium,’ says Sout­ter. ‘Boil­ing can ac­tu­ally lead to an over­all vi­ta­min loss of as much as 60%.’ The longer you cook veg, the more nu­tri­ents will be lost, she adds. A study in The Jour­nal of Agri­cul­ture and Food Chem­istry found that toma­toes cooked for two min­utes con­tained 10% less vi­ta­min C than raw, and as much as 29% less if heated for 30 min­utes. ‘It causes the molec­u­lar struc­ture of the veg­etable to com­pletely change,’ says Tanya Ma­her, well­ness coach and founder of Tanya’s Cafe, a raw-food restau­rant and de­liv­ery busi­ness in London. There are some, like Ma­her, who be­lieve that raw veg is more, not less, di­gestible for this rea­son. ‘When tem­per­a­tures go above 47ºc, you lose the en­zymes in the veg­eta­bles that help to break down food,’ she says. And th­ese en­zymes aren’t just needed for help­ing out your gut. For ex­am­ple, my­rosi­nase breaks down glu­cosi­nates in broc­coli into a com­pound called sul­foraphane, which can kill can­cer­ous cells and fight ul­cer-caus­ing bac­te­ria*. But when you add heat, the cru­cial com­pound is de­stroyed. Sim­i­larly, raw car­rots con­tain cancer-re­duc­ing and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease-fight­ing polyphe­nols, while raw cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles have higher amounts of vi­ta­min C*.

SLIM PICK­INGS

From the point of view of main­tain­ing a healthy weight, again raw might be the bet­ter op­tion. ‘Some veg­eta­bles, par­tic­u­larly car­rots, beet­root and sweet potato, nat­u­rally con­tain a lot of starch be­cause they don’t get much ex­po­sure to sun­light,’ says Ma­her. ‘When they’re cooked, the starch is bro­ken down and turned into sugar. Where pos­si­ble, eat them raw by grat­ing or spi­ral­is­ing them. With the ex­cep­tion of those with a com­pro­mised di­ges­tive sys­tem – due to a leaky gut or ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome – the av­er­age per­son will ben­e­fit from raw, as op­posed to cooked, veg­eta­bles.’ And Sout­ter stresses that raw veg and ‘in­di­gestible’ fi­bres aren’t bad for your di­ges­tion, and can even help keep it in good con­di­tion. ‘Your body can process it,’ she says. ‘Chew­ing al­ters the struc­ture of di­etary fi­bres, which are then fer­mented and bro­ken down by gut bac­te­ria. Dur­ing this process, bu­tyrate is pro­duced as a byprod­uct, es­sen­tial for keep­ing the gut wall healthy, and “in­di­gestible” fi­bre can also help healthy gut bac­te­ria to grow.’

CRUNCH TIME

For those who still strug­gle to eat raw, Ma­her sug­gests fer­ment­ing – al­low­ing nat­u­ral bac­te­ria to feed on the sugar and starch in food over sev­eral weeks. ‘It in­tro­duces ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria to your di­ges­tive sys­tem, which helps break down the fi­bres so your stom­ach has very lit­tle work to do,’ she says. Wax­man agrees: ‘Fer­mented foods in­crease the num­ber of di­ges­tive en­zymes in your gut, help­ing you ab­sorb more nu­tri­ents. Some, such as sauer­kraut, have par­tic­u­larly high lev­els of vi­ta­min C, too.’ So, raw or cooked? It’s not clear cut. ‘It re­ally de­pends on the veg­etable,’ ex­plains Sout­ter. ‘There are pros and cons ei­ther way.’ But do we have our pri­or­i­ties all wrong? ‘More im­por­tant than whether your veg is cooked or raw, is that you eat enough – not to men­tion a va­ri­ety as wide as pos­si­ble,’ says Ma­her. Chal­lenge ac­cepted.

‘EAT­ING RAW VEG AC­TU­ALLY FORCES YOUR BODY INTO SUR­VIVAL MODE’

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