Cooked Protein Vs. Raw Protein



This is a tricky one to tackle: the cooked versus raw debate. Even though I do love and eat mostly raw foods, I’m not really one of those “cooked foods are toxic” people. I do eat some cooked foods on occasion as well, mostly because there’s simply certain foods that I enjoy eating cooked. But I do still feel that in general, cooking foods tends to alter the food in a way that renders it less nutritional. I’m not a super scientific person, but I feel the effects of raw food, and how it’s changed my life.

This post is apart of a series about protein, answering all your questions about protein, and cooked protein versus raw protein is one of the questions I frequently get. I’ll answer it to the best of my capability and I know there’s a lot of controversy about this topic, so I’ll just present the information that I’ve found the most compelling, thought-provoking and interesting.

There is evidence that cooking food has an effect on its protein content in terms of its quality and availability to the cells of our body.

For those of you familiar with the numerous health benefits to eating a low fat raw vegan diet, then you already know that eating food in its raw, whole, organic state is possibly one of the very best ways that we can feed and nourish our body. We know that many essential nutrients are lost or damaged when we cook our food. Have you heard that the water you boil your vegetables in contains all the nutrients? There’s good reason why my grandmother would always reuse that water in a soup. Those nutrients came from the vegetables and wouldn’t have been “lost in the water” if we didn’t boil them.

As we’ve covered in this article series, one of the main conclusions I’ve drawn is that plant proteins and actually preferable to animal proteins. (Trust me, I was just as shocked as you were when I learned this!). Taking it one step further, I think it’s also quite possible that raw plant-based proteins might also just be preferable to cooked plant-based proteins. And whether we eat cooked proteins or raw proteins, we should aim to keep protein at maximum 10%, as a percentage of calories of our total caloric intake.

How Does Heat Effect Protein?

It never really occurred to me that cooking food can drastically change the chemical composition of those foods. This made intuitive sense to me after transitioning to a raw food diet but I didn’t know or have any “facts”, and honestly I didn’t really care, because all I knew was that I felt so darn good! But as it turns out, cooking can also cause a molecular change to protein. The fact that cooking food destroys protein is not news. In September of 2013, I spent time  with Dr. Douglas Graham, and I was looking for guidance on citing sources on this “cooked food debate”. He mentioned something that I found quite interesting – that this information about the detrimental effects of cooking food has been around for a long time – and is spelled out quite clearly in basic textbooks studied in Universities across the country. He mentioned that there are a lot of various raw food rumours that have no backing, but he gets his information through published textbooks and medical journals because they have to undergo quite a lot of scrutiny before accepted as ‘truth’. I studied Holistic Nutrition, and one of the courses I had to take was anatomy. After talking to Dr. Graham about this, when I returned home I looked it up to see what my textbook said about cooking proteins. Sure enough, there is was. In my textbook “Essentials to Human Anatomy & Physiology”, Elaine N. Marieb writes:

“The fibrous structural proteins are exceptionally stable; the globular functional proteins are quite the opposite. Hydrogen bonds are critically important in maintaining their structure, but hydrogen bonds are fragile and are easily broken by heat and excesses of pH. When their three-dimensional structure are destroyed, the proteins are said to be denatured and can no longer perform their physiological roles.”

According to the Marriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of denatured is:

To deprive of natural qualities : to change the nature of; to modify the molecular structure of (as a protein or DNA) especially by heat, acid, alkali, or ultraviolet radiation so as to destroy or diminish some of the original properties and especially the specific biological activity.”

Cooked Proteins May Become Less Useful to Our Body

From the way I understand it: when we apply high heat to food, over 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the hydrogen bonds are destroyed and the amino acids fuse together with enzyme-resistant bonds that preclude them from being fully broken down by the body, creating coagulated proteins. This changes the particular structure of proteins, which are three-dimensional. Their particular functions depend on their specific structure, rendering them unable to ‘fit’ and interact with other molecules of complementary shape, ultimately rendering them less useful to the body. For example, the protein molecule hemoglobin can then no longer fit with and transport oxygen and is incapable of performing its specific function.[i] According to the Max Planck Institute, cooking foods coagulates at least 50% of the protein[ii], making them less bio-available to the body.

Cooked Proteins & “Toxicity”

Now that we have these newly created molecules from cooked proteins, the body potentially may not be able to recognize as them as ‘food’. Now these partially broken down proteins, called polypeptides, are targeted as ‘foreign invaders’ that the body now needs to focus attention on removing. This causes the immune system to focus energy on protecting the body from something that was eaten, instead of focusing on other areas of the body that may need immune support, causing the entire system to work and perform less efficiently. This may also point to one of the reasons why there is such a dramatic increase in white blood cell count (the immune system’s army) after cooked foods are eaten.

Proteins, in order to be usable by the body need to be broken down into amino acids. Digestive enzymes can’t easily break down these ‘fused’ together proteins into simple amino acids because they’ve coagulated, putting extra strain on the digestive system and the pancreas.

To top it all off, undigested proteins are one of the main culprits for allergies, arthritis, leaky gut and auto immune diseases. Eating proteins in their raw state does not have this same effect at all, and are actually more bio-available (usable) by the body.

Why Is This Not Common Knowledge?

Given this information is in common textbooks, why are people not connecting the dots? Why is this textbook not subsequently saying “Therefore, it’s best not to eat cooked protein and to simply eat food in its whole, raw state”?

I’m guessing there are numerous reasons for this, but it’s primarily because there’s just too much money at stake; too many lobby groups trying to make money off the meat, dairy and food industry at large. Also, most people don’t really want to know that what they’ve been doing for their entire lifetimes, especially when it comes to food and diet, hasn’t actually been in their best interest.

But with the rate of disease skyrocketing, it’s about time that more people start connecting the dots, for the sake of their health. I know that food, diet and nutrition can be a very emotionally charged and touchy subject for many people – it’s not my concern how other people choose to eat, I’m just focusing on helping the people who really want to get health and live the full, vibrant lifestyles that they want to be living. I only share this information because since I’ve discovered this and transitioned to a raw foods diet many years ago, my life has absolutely changed for the better, and I want to share the information that’s even spelled out in the very books they’re using in medical schools! It’s time, wouldn’t you say, that we start cutting through all the nutritional confusion that is so unnecessary. Personally, the more I know the clearer the answer becomes: fruits and vegetables. And luckily, fruits and vegetables on average have about 3-9% protein, and through a plant-based raw food diet, my protein needs are more than being met.

What’s your thoughts on this? Do you think it’s possible that eating cooked foods is “abnormal” and eating raw foods is actually the “normal” way to live?

Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,

Laura Dawn


[i] Reference: Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology Ninth Edition Elaine N Marieb page 51

[ii] Spiritual Nutrition Dr. Gabriel Coussens p. 291


5 responses to “Cooked Protein Vs. Raw Protein”

  1. Laura Dawn says:

    I think it’s just about finding that balance and trying your best to listen to your own body. Over the years, I have eaten fresh fish. We live in Hawaii and my husband does go spear fishing every once in a while. It’s not something that I would eat on a regular basis because my body doesn’t feel like it needs it. I think my main point is that we don’t need to eat meat to get our protein, that this whole thing around protein is mostly backed by people who have a monetary agenda. Thanks for reaching out!


    HI Laura,
    Thanks for a great, credible and quite scientific article, but what about meats including fish that can be loaded with bacteria. Are you implying that such ought to be eliminated from the diet? I believe that the real problem lies in the extent to which food is cooked. What do you think?
    Thanks for the sharing. Continue the good work.

  3. Jamie says:

    The thing what I don’t understand is why can’t people see the cooked food Cancer Connection. Cancer is caused by faulty dna, which common sense says that if you eat de-natured protein(chemically altered by heat)which is broken down into amino acids, it’s got to be one of the main causes. But instead of prevention they(the government’s)want to spend billions researching a pill that they can make money off that counters the effect ‘s of eating these de-natured proteins, when all people do is need to change there diet!. Obviously though if everyone started eating mainly raw, the food industry would collapse and everyone would probably live till there 90, disease free which they wouldn’t want. The pharmaceutical industry would probably collapse aswell.

  4. Laura Dawn says:

    Hi Laurie! Wow, that’s a bit of a loaded question! I haven’t been to fruit fest yet, but I did train with Dr. Graham and would love to go – but its a long way from Hawaii. I do eat some cooked foods, mostly because I love them and I still feel great when I eat them on occasion. The vast majority of my diet is raw, mostly fruit, but on colder rainy days I absolutely love a vegan cooked pumpkin soup, (no salt). I also love sautéed mushrooms and grilled eggplant. I don’t eat them often and I’ve found a great balance that works for me. You need to find out what works best for you. Some people might feel 100% is too strict, but for others incorporating small amounts of cooked foods can actually be more difficult – a slippery slope. So I totally understand where you’re at. I’m always adjusting what works for me as well. I spent many years “100% raw” but I felt like it was a little too strict for me, but I’m always fine tuning. Nothing is set in stone. I use every day as an opportunity to get to know myself better. It’s all one big experiment. Thanks for asking! I think I will be at the fruit fest in Hawaii. Much love!

  5. Laurie says:

    Hi Laura,
    Love this article. I have a question for you. Knowing this information, my question is why do you eat any cooked food. Is the only reason because you like the way some thing taste cooked? I have been 100 % raw vegan for almost two years and I’m afraid that if start eating cooked food I will one day soon be right back on the sad diet. The last thing I want to do is get addicted to cooked food again and undo the 100 pounds that I have lost. Just curious to your response. Have you been to the woodstock fruit festival? We were at the 2013 one in N.Y. And are considering going to the one in Hawaii next year. Do you feel the same when your eating cook as when eating only raw? What type of cooked foods do you eat and how often. I’m thinking that one day I may venture out and eat some cooked food when I feel comfortable to. Do you think you feel better with a more varied diet?
    Thanks for your patience.

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