Monday, June 9, 2014

Growing Up on Raw Foods

What are the benefits of feeding your children raw foods?
June 2, 2014 (The New York Times)

Meals for Levi Bowland are pretty much the same every day. For breakfast, it’s melon. For lunch, a heaping bowl of coleslaw and three bananas. Dinner involves more fruit, and a salad. (Photo by elachica)

Levi is 10 years old. Since birth, he has eaten almost exclusively raw and vegan, meaning no animal products or food heated over 118 degrees.

The Bowlands are among a growing cadre of families who are raising their children on entirely uncooked fare: fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and sprouted grains. While most of these diets tend to be vegan, some do include raw meat or fish, as well as raw or unpasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese.

But many doctors are cautioning against the trend. A child’s digestive system may not be able “to pull the nutrients out of raw foods as effectively as an adult’s,” said Dr. Benjamin Kligler, a family practitioner with the Center for Health and Healing in Manhattan.

Over the last year, Dr. TJ Gold, a pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a strong focus on nutrition, has seen about five families who are feeding their children, including toddlers, raw diets. Some of the children were severely anemic, she said, and the parents were supplementing the diets with vitamin B12. “If you have to supplement something for children in order to do it, is that really the right diet for them? Dr. Gold said.

Dr. Anupama Chawla, director of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, points out that although fruits and vegetables are very good sources of vitamins and fiber, “they do lack protein.” Legumes, lentils, chickpeas and red beans, which have protein, she said, “can’t be eaten uncooked.”

Others fear that the rigidity involved in such strict diets may border on pathology. In many instances, a raw diet could be “an extension of the parents’ eating obsessions, and maybe even a clinical eating disorder that they have sort of packaged in this raw diet mentality.” Said Dr. Margo Maine, a specialist in eating disorders in West Hartford, Conn., and author of the “The Body Myth.”

Raw enthusiasts insist they are raising vibrant, energetic children who have never had a sick day in their lives.

Julie Rodrigues, 31, mother of two, credit a raw diet with clearing up her eczema and acne, and helping her and her husband, shed a combined 150 pounds. Like others who eat on raw, or “live,” food, Ms. Rodrigues believes that cooking destroys immune-boosting minerals, enzymes and vitamins.

Andrea Giancoli, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agreed that cooking may diminish some nutrients. “Enzymes are proteins, and proteins unravel when they are cooked, to a degree.” But, she said, enzymes are also naturally rendered inactive by the acidity in our stomachs. And several studies have shown that levels of some nutrients, like lycopene, are enhanced by cooking.

How far to you have to go back in history to find a time when humans did not cook their food? The answer – every archaeological record of early man shows evidence of cooking our food. Fire appears to be one of our earliest tools and the home cooked meal quickly followed.

Raw food has its’ place and most of us don’t eat enough of it. However, it is unhealthy to eat 100% raw. Cooking is a form of pre-digestion. We can not adequately digest complex proteins with the aid of cooking to break some of the chemical bonds and allow the proteins to unravel. This allows HCl and pepsin to further break the bonds holding the amino acids together.

Just think about the toughness of a raw piece of meat, fish, or even beans prior to cooking. Then compare that with how tender, easy to cut and chew these proteins become once cooked.

Yes, cooking does destroy some nutrients, especially vitamins and enzymes, but it makes others much more available. The key is a mix of both raw and cooked foods. That assures the broadest spectrum of nutrients in the diet.

The comment by Dr. Gold about the need to supplement indicating the diet is inadequate is, in my opinion, naive. It is virtually impossible today to meet all the nutritional requirements of the body with the food that is available. Virtually all of us need to supplement omega 3 fatty acids and calcium. Those anemic children needed vitamin B12 supplementation because their diets lacked any real source. However, the lack of complete protein also means they are not secreting enough HCl to absorb the B12 in their food. They need a bio-available form.

Work toward a diet that is 50% raw fruits and vegetables. Eat a big salad for lunch and dinner, and have two fresh fruit servings as snacks everyday. Add a cooked vegetable at dinner and some cooked protein at all three meals to balance the diet. A vegan diet can work but it is really hard to get enough protein and you will have to supplement vitamin B12. I think it is just a lot easier to add some lean meats. Supplement omega 3 fatty acids and calcium as a minimum.