When Bliss Raw Bar opened last month, it seemed to confirm that raw food had entered swirl of food trends considered acceptable by the mainstream. Although misinformation of the "anything raw is better than anything cooked" sort still exists, most raw foodists have settled on the idea that a diet heavy in unprocessed, raw or gently heated ingredients will yield tremendous health benefits, as well as keeping one's weight under control.
Maybe. A new book, Catching Fire by Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham (reviewed over the weekend by Fred Bortz in the Dallas Morning News), contends that cooking made possible modern humans and civilization as we know it. Wrangham's work also highlights health problems caused by a raw food diet.
Cooking achieves this "by transforming food into a form that the body digests more efficiently. The same amount of cooked food can supply not only the nutrition to support the same body that the raw food could, but it can also feed a larger brain." (Bortz summarizing Wrangham's thoughts).
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More directly to the point, again from Bortz' review): "For those readers who argue that we could survive on raw food alone, Wrangham describes the tribulations of people throughout history who have temporarily survived on uncooked or dried foods. Even today, when top-quality produce is readily available, 'raw-foodists' are chronically undernourished, he says. The most extensive research is the Giessen (Germany) Raw Food study of 513 individuals who ate between 70 percent and 100 percent raw diets. Wrangham writes: 'The scientists' conclusion was unambiguous: A strict raw food diet cannot guarantee an adequate energy supply.' The energy shortage 'is biologically significant. ... Among women eating totally raw diets, about 50 percent entirely ceased to menstruate.'"