In recent years a raw food approach to diet has become more and more widely embraced. This shift towards a predominantly raw regime may well be suitable for some but I think that food choices need to be contextualised and assessed on a person-to-person basis.
I was into raw foods, and juices myself, back in the 70s. Since that time, I have encountered Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and been influenced by its attitudes to foods and their energetic effects upon the body. It took me a long time to surrender some staunch beliefs around raw foods (at least in terms of my own personal needs) and embrace a different approach.
I understand that the prevailing idea is that raw is best because all the nurtrients are undisturbed (by processing) and therefore available. This makes sense for sure. However availability and assimilation potential are different things. What is crucial is a nutrient’s ‘post-digestive absorption’ and the key lies in the overall process of ‘transformation’.
For the purposes of this article I am going to keep things brief and simple.
TCM places importance on energy (Qi) efficiency. The digestive process is likened to a pot over a fire. Foods enter the pot and are cooked into a ‘soup’ as it were. Raw foods are going to require a larger expenditure of qi in order to be warmed and transformed into this soup than cooked foods. This is because cooking is akin to ‘predigestion’ on the outside of the body. It is important to stress that cooking refers to light cooking, not over-cooking.
This idea rests upon an understanding that no one ever absorbs 100% of a food’s inherent nutrients. Nutrients are bound to substances like fibre for example and these bonds require separation, a process more efficiently achieved via cooking, outside the body. The transformation (from food to fuel) of a cooked food will undoubtedly entail some loss of nutrient. However, the net gain from cooking is greater than the overall process of transformation of a raw-state food. The raw food is going to demand a high energy expenditure as all of its transformation is taking place internally.
This digestive model is vitally important in practice because most people live with some degree of impairment to their digestive system. So the system they are putting food into is already an inefficient one. The more measures we take to assist our gastrointestinal systems in the process of digestion and assimilation, the more net energy we will have available for overall bodily functioning.
A clue as to how much energy there is to go around, is how one feels after a meal. Are there any meals after which you feel sleepy, tired, nauseous or bloated, thick in the throat or have a headache? These are all possible signs of low energy or energy/food stagnation.
I frequently explain these ideas regarding digestion to clients, especially those who come in, not only with digestive conditions, but often with the complaint of poor immune responses, i.e., they catch every viral infection that’s going around and are locked into a vicious cycle of recurrent episodes. This, despite what they consider to be high quality food choices. Given that the immune system relies on optimal gastrointestinal integrity, the most efficient mode of breakdown of food to fuel is going to be advantageous and highly sustainable, over the course of a lifetime.
With warm regards,
(Website: www.michaelfinnhealthservices.com.au )
Flaws, B. Arisal of The Clear.
Flaws, B. The Tao of Healthy Eating.