An acquaintance mentioned to me the other day that she first went vegan for ethical reasons and then a raw foods diet just seemed the “next logical step.” I can’t imagine why. To me, there is nothing especially logical or beneficial about eating only raw foods.
True, raw foods are packed with all kinds of things that are good for you—tons of fiber and all of the nutrients and phytochemicals that are found in plants. Although nuts and dried fruits are calorie-dense, a raw foods diet is usually much lower in calories than many other ways of eating and can be an effective route to weight loss.
But cooking has some important benefits. Although some foods taste great in the raw state, cooking improves the flavors of others. Even a quick 1-minute blanch in boiling water perks up the flavor of broccoli and other veggies for salads. Cooking also expands the food supply; some foods that are difficult to chew or digest in the raw state can be consumed if they are cooked.
Although excessive heat destroys nutrients, gentle cooking of vegetables can actually boost nutrient absorption. For example, some studies have shown that iron is better absorbed from cooked vegetables compared to raw. And leavening grains—which is what happens when flour is cooked with yeast to make bread—improves availability of minerals like iron and zinc.
Cancer-fighting antioxidants like lycopene in tomatoes (which reduces risk for prostate cancer) and beta carotene in carrots, are available to the body only if a food is cooked. Cooking can also neutralize toxic compounds or anti-nutrients that occur naturally in foods.
Just as important, including cooked foods in your diet makes it easier to plan practical and appealing meals. It makes it easier to adopt a vegan diet and stick with it.