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,