Raw Foods Start Out With More Essential Minerals and Vitamins Than Processed Foods

The most important health-promoting considerations after oxygen and water are adequate calories and protein . An estimated one billion people around the world, many of them children, do not consume enough calories and protein to maintain their health. Calories provide the energy to move, think, digest food, pump blood, and keep all other activities inside the body going when awake or asleep. Protein is needed to build muscle and to construct enzymes that perform most body activities. Next come vitamins and minerals which assist enzymes in doing their jobs. If an essential mineral or vitamin is unavailable, many enzymes are shut down. If this situation continues for an extended period of time, a disease like pellagra or osteoporosis occurs. We can obtain these nutrients from whole foods, processed foods, formulated foods, and dietary supplements. Whether amino acids, minerals, or vitamins are artificial or natural or whether nutrients come from plants or animals seems to matter less than their bioavailability during digestion.

The presence of a vitamin or mineral in a food does not guarantee that our body can use it. During graduate school I took the opportunity to take a nutrition course which took an hour a day, five days a week for eight weeks focusing on digestion. Digestion starts in the mouth and proceeds through the intestines breaking down large molecules into much smaller chemical compounds. To make a health impact on the body, vitamins, minerals, and protein components in the form of amino acids must be absorbed into the bloodstream by crossing the walls of the intestines. Then, these nutrients must be in the proper chemical form to be useful. The ability of a beneficial food chemical to function in our bodies is called bioavailability. The amount of a vitamin or mineral in a food or supplement means nothing unless it is released from the food, absorbed across the intestinal wall, and present in the bloodstream in a proper form for transport to the cells. Chemicals present in a food or other foods eaten at the same time can either help or hurt absorption of a nutrient and change its form either positively or negatively.

Heat can help improve the bioavailability of nutrients in the diet. As noted earlier, whole fruits and vegetables contain hundreds to thousands of different chemical compounds. Some of these compounds improve the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream and others interfere. For example, chemicals like oxalates and phytates in beans can prevent the absorption of calcium. Heating of raw fruits and vegetables generally improves the ability of digestion of needed nutrients by breaking down chemical compounds that interfere with absorption. Dietary fiber is a plus in the diet when it helps with digestion, prevention of intestinal disorders, and diversity of our gut microbes. Too much fiber, particularly from supplements, or excess consumption of high-fiber cereals, prevents proper absorption of minerals and can lead to bloating and diarrhea. Some authors advocate eating only raw food, but it is difficult to even maintain a healthy weight on a raw-food diet and to obtain the needed amounts of essential minerals and vitamins. Raw meats and milk can be unsafe.

The vitamins and minerals in plant parts are not as available to us as similar nutrients in animal products such as eggs, meat, and milk. Another view is that plants, by natural selection, evolved in their internal chemistry to adapt to specific environments. Animal-based foods are more similar chemically to human needs and requirements than food from plants. Food from animals is also less likely to contain compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption than food from plants. The strong emphasis on animal products in US history has been aimed at preventing undernutrition. The emphasis on increasing food from plants instead of food from animals is aimed, in part, at preventing overnutrition. The functional foods marketed by Big Food and mentioned by P.K. Newby in the opening quote are based on the belief that scientists know enough about nutrition to improve upon whole foods.

The situation becomes even more confusing when talking about antioxidants in food which are more plentiful in food from plants than food from animals. The free- radical theory of aging suggests that oxidation of fats in our bodies is the basis for aging, development of many diseases of civilization like cancer and heart disease, and the general deterioration of our minds and bodies. As described in Chap. 5, vitamins A, C, and E help protect us from oxidation of fats. Minerals, particularly iron, increase oxidation and can lead to problems if we get too much. The fats in the body of most concern are ones that make up the membranes that surround every cell and smaller components in these cells. Oxidation is a part of many important, naturally occurring, metabolic processes in humans, including one which converts nutrients in our foods into energy needed to perform any activity. Oxidation is also destructive when not properly controlled. As we age our ability to defend against the onslaught of oxidation decreases. Taking vitamin supplements does not appear to be enough in itself to defend and repair damaged cell membranes.

By eating fresh, whole foods we can obtain needed vitamins and minerals to help prevent undernutrition. Today, however, we seem to be more concerned about overnutrition. One molecule of particular concern is sodium chloride, found in table salt and frequently in processed foods .

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