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Top 7 Bad Arguments in Favor of a Raw Food Diet

Lately, some people have recently decided to engage in a sort of “war of arguments” to try to prove to me that a 100% raw diet is the best diet for everybody, no matter what, in every and all circumstances.

I’m talking about the fanatical raw foodists who are so convinced that their point of view is right, that they can’t seem to stop arguing and pushing their philosophy down other people’s throats.

Even though, all they are doing is rehashing arguments they have read in other raw food books basically word for word.

Some people seem to think that I’ve suddenly become “anti raw foods,” when in fact I’m very pro raw foods.

But, I want people to eat raw food for the RIGHT reasons, and dispel the non-sense that’s been spread over the years on the subject.

So in this two-part article I want to present what I think are the REAL reasons to eat raw, and also discuss the WRONG arguments people use in favor of a raw diet. Let’s start with the bad ones…

Don’t see this as a negative article. Once I’m done exposing the misinformation, I’ll tell you why I still think raw foods are so beneficial.

Top Bad Arguments to Eat a Raw Food Diet

1) Enzymes

This one is easy. Plant enzymes are produced by the plant for its own purposes. For example, a green banana is full of starch and amylase. As the banana ripens, the enzymes in bananas called amylase breaks down the starch into simple sugars and it becomes sweeter.

We produce our own digestive enzymes, like amylase. We don’t need the enzymes in raw foods to help our digestion. In fact, most those enzymes are destroyed when they reach our stomach acid. We also do not have a “limited supply of enzymes” like a few people once thought. Ask any medical professional or true scientist and they will concur.

2) It’s the diet of our “species”, the human species

I admit that for a long time, I used to believe that one and even taught it.

The idea is that every animal has a natural diet. For examples, carnivores, like cats, must eat meat. Omnivores, like pigs, eat a bit of everything.

If we look at nature, we’ll find that the closest relatives to human beings are the chimpanzees. If we compare their anatomy to ours, we’ll find that it’s remarkably similar. And surprise, surprise, they live on fruits and greens! Therefore, we must do the same. Right?

The truth is that humans and chimps have some serious differences. Chimpanzees can eat certain astringent and fibrous types of wild fruits that humans could never digest.

Richard Wrangham, professor at Harvard University, writes compellingly on the topic in his book “Catching Fire”:

“Evolutionary adaptation to cooking might likewise explain why humans seem less prepared to tolerate toxins than do other apes. In my experience of sampling many wild foods eaten by primates, items eaten by chimpanzees in the wild taste better than foods eaten by monkeys. Even so, some of the fruits, seeds, and leaves that chimpanzees select taste so foul that I can barely swallow them. The tastes are strong and rich, excellent indicators of the presence of non-nutritional compounds, many of which are likely to be toxic to humans—but presumably much less so to chimpanzees. Consider the plum-size fruit of Warburgia ugandensis, a tree famous for its medicinal bark. Warburgia fruits contain a spicy compound reminiscent of a mustard oil. The hot taste renders even a single fruit impossibly unpleasant for humans to ingest. But chimpanzees can eat a pile of these fruits and then look eagerly for more. Many other fruits in the chimpanzee diet are almost equally unpleasant to the human palate. Astringency, the drying sensation produced by tannins and a few other compounds, is common in fruits eaten by chimpanzees.”

(…) Astringency is caused by the presence of tannins, which bind to proteins and cause them to precipitate. Our mouths are normally lubricated by mucoproteins in our saliva, but because a high density of tannins precipitates those proteins, it leaves our tongues and mouths dry: hence the “furry” sensation in our mouths after eating an unripe apple or drinking a tannin-rich wine. One has the same experience when tasting chimpanzee fruits such as Mimusops bagshawei or the widespread Pseudospondias microcarpa. Though chimpanzees can eat more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of such fruits during an hour or more of continuous chewing, we cannot.

(…) The shifts in food preference between chimpanzees and humans suggest that our species has a reduced physiological tolerance for foods high in toxins or tannins. Since cooking predictably destroys many toxins, we may have evolved a relatively sensitive palate.”

If modern-day raw foodists tried to live on what chimpanzees eat in the wild, they would live in a more or less permanent state of indigestion and would likely not be able to survive.

The ultimate proof of this? Look at the foods that raw foodists eat. People love the sweetest mangoes, the sweetest melons, the least acidic oranges, and would cringe at eating very acrid fruit like the “quince.”

Chimps in zoos fed bananas and kale are NOT fed their natural diet. And even so they still prefer hybridized human food, even cooked food compared to their natural food.

Humans produce in their saliva up to 12 times more amylase (an enzymes that digests starch) than chimpanzees do. That’s an evolutionary adaptation to eating cooked starches. We develop this enzyme from the age of 2 and up. (New borns cannot digest starch and should only be fed human breast milk and non starchy fruits up to the age of 2)

The main thing to keep in mind is that over 4 to 7 million years of evolution separate chimpanzees from humans. They may be our closest relatives, but they are very distant ones indeed.

3) We never “adapted” to cooked foods.

The human being has adapted to eating cooked foods, to some degree. This is evidenced by our smaller digestive system, which is 25% shorter than that of chimpanzees (by body size). The idea behind this adaptation is that we are used to eating more concentrated nutrition than they do. We also produce more starch-splitting enzymes, among many other changes.

Richard Wrangham writes:

“All great apes have a prominent snout and a wide grin: chimpanzees can open their mouths twice as far as humans, as they regularly do when eating. If a playful chimpanzee ever kisses you, you will never forget this point. To find a primate with as relatively small an aperture as that of humans, you have to go to a diminutive species, such as a squirrel monkey, weighing less than 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds).” 

(…) The difference in mouth size is even more obvious when we take the lips into account. The amount of food a chimpanzee can hold in its mouth far exceeds what humans can do because, in addition to their wide gape and big mouths, chimpanzees have enormous and very muscular lips. When eating juicy foods like fruits or meat, chimpanzees use their lips to hold a large wad of food in the outer part of their mouths and squeeze it hard against their teeth, which they may do repeatedly for many minutes before swallowing. The strong lips are probably an adaptation for eating fruits, because fruit bats have similarly large and muscular lips that they use in the same way to squeeze fruit wads against their teeth. Humans have relatively tiny lips, appropriate for a small amount of food in the mouth at one time.

(…) Human chewing teeth, or molars, also are small—the smallest of any primate species in relation to body size. Continuing farther into the body, our stomachs again are comparatively small. In humans the surface area of the stomach is less than one-third the size expected for a typical mammal of our body weight, and smaller than in 97 percent of other primates. The high caloric density of cooked food suggests that our stomachs can afford to be small. Great apes eat perhaps twice as much by weight per day as we do because their foods are packed with indigestible fiber (around 30 percent by weight, compared to 5 percent to 10 percent or less in human diets). Thanks to the high caloric density of cooked food, we have modest needs that are adequately served by our small stomachs.

(…) The human small intestine is only a little smaller than expected from the size of our bodies, reflecting that this organ is the main site of digestion and absorption, and humans have the same basal metabolic rate as other primates in relation to body weight. But the large intestine, or colon, is less than 60 percent of the mass that would be expected for a primate of our body weight. The colon is where our intestinal flora ferment plant fiber, producing fatty acids that are absorbed into the body and used for energy. That the colon is relatively small in humans means we cannot retain as much fiber as the great apes can and therefore cannot utilize plant fiber as effectively for food. But that matters little. The high caloric density of cooked food means that normally we do not need the large fermenting potential that apes rely on.

(…) The weight of our guts is estimated at about 60 percent of what is expected for a primate of our size: the human digestive system as a whole is much smaller than would be predicted on the basis of size relations in primates.

Modern day raw foodists do not eat like wild animals. They blend foods, eat highly hybridized, extra sweet fruit, and have many ways to make vegetables easier to chew and digest. That’s because as human beings, we are adapted to eating highly nutritious and more concentrated foods of higher caloric density, as opposed to the low-calorie wild fruits eaten by chimpanzees and other apes.

The modern fruits loved and revered by raw foodists, like bananas, dates and durian, are extremely high in calories and low in fiber, compared to wild fruits eaten by chimpanzees.

There is a really interesting series called Becoming Human that has a wealth of information on how humans were NOT the first upright-walking ape to cook foods and how they helped in our successful domination over other races like Neandertals. It’s also available on iTunes.

4) We are the only animal on the planet who cooks food

I love that one.

“Have you ever seen a wild animal with pots and pans cooking up something? Well maybe that’s the reason they don’t get sick!”

No, I haven’t seen a deer roast some potatoes, but I’ve also never seen a wild chimpanzee blending up bananas in a Vita-Mix, for that matter.

There are a ton of things that wild animals don’t do — like wear clothes, make music and write books. But I have yet to see raw foodists give up those things to live like a wild animal.

By the way, wild animals DO get sick sometimes, mainly due to parasites and viruses. The sick animals also get eaten by predators, before they have time to die of those diseases.

Raw foodists tend to think that wild animals have an awesome life, living in harmony with nature. The truth is that it’s a ruthless world out there. We can learn thing or two from wild animals, but to just use wild animals as examples on what to do is a pretty weak argument.

5) All cooked food is “toxic”

It’s true that cooking changes the food at a molecular level. In some cases, cooking foods at high temperature can create toxins, But it doesn’t mean that all cooked food is toxic.

The biggest culprits seem to be carbohydrate foods that are fried (like potato chips or French fries), and meat that is broiled and browned.

There is no evidence that steaming vegetables or boiling some rice creates toxins that truly harm the human body. Thousands of people around the world switch to a plant based diet, avoid all meat, dairy products, other animal products, refined foods and added oils and eat most of their foods cooked, yet they are able to reverse a wide range of conditions such as:

– heart disease
– In some cases cancer
– obesity
– hypertension
– type-2 diabetes
– and many other diseases

Obviously, if cooking food was the primary reason why people get sick, you would not see these kinds of results on a whole foods, low fat, mostly-cooked, plant-based diet. The types of foods you eat make more of a difference than whether they are cooked or not.

6) There is lifeforce in raw foods that’s destroyed when you cook it

Foods are raw material. That lettuce may be alive when you pick it from your garden, but you can be certain that by the time you digest it, it is long past “dead.”

Don’t tell me that when you blend your vegetables, or chew them aggressively in your month, that you’re not destroying that “life force” that they supposedly have.

7) The Bible Says we should eat raw

A lot of Christians are using the Bible to make it say whatever they want. I was raised as a Christian, and I studied the Bible. To my knowledge, the Bible was not intended as a reference guide on nutrition!

You can take quotes from the Bible, out of context, to make almost any point you want. Some people use it to justify meat eating. Sure, there’s Genesis 1:29, but if you look at the Bible as a whole, you’ll find that the nutrition advice wasn’t too clear.

While I may appear critical of raw food diets here, my main goal is to dispel the myths that hurt people. In my next article, I will give you my REAL reasons to eat raw foods. Stay tuned for that!

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.