Is Cooked Food Toxic? A Reply to Roger Haeske

Monday Oct 19 | BY |
| Comments (9)

Roger Haeske, in 2008, at 41. Hasn’t aged too much since then.

Roger Haeske is one of the best examples of a successful long-term raw foodist. At 48, he looks a good 12-15 years younger than his age.

For anyone considering a raw vegan diet, I think his information is great and he’s truly found a great way to make the raw food diet work in the real world.

Recently, Roger sent a series of articles where he goes a bit berserk on the importance of going 100% raw. So I felt compelled to reply to those articles.

Before I get into that, let me first say that I really admire the determination that Roger has for sticking to a 100% raw diet. I cannot claim the same the same thing.

Although I ate a raw food diet for many years, I don’t eat 100% raw. However, I stick by health principles that have made the biggest difference for me, and have been shown by science to be extremely successful. Namely:

  • Eat a plant-based diet — no animal foods.
  • Avoid oil, sugar, and salt (the “SOS-Free Diet, as coined by Dr. Goldhammer)
  • Get over 80% of total calories from carbohydrates, and less than 20% from fats and protein.
  • Eat whole foods

In terms of health, I am convinced that 80 to 90% of the benefits of a raw vegan diet actually come from implementing some of these principles, and not necessarily because the food is raw.

In other words, the reason people get heart disease, strokes and colon cancer is not because they eat cooked food. It’s because they eat a diet full of animal products, salt and oil. The proof? Cultures around the world who eat a traditional plant-based diet don’t suffer from any of these diseases. And yet, their diet is largely cooked.

For example, Nathan Pritikin wrote a very insightful article, first published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition, entitled “High Carbohydrate Diets: Maligned and Misunderstood.”

In it, he lists a number of cultures around the world that are free from degenerative diseases, such as angina, hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.

 – The coronary heart disease rate of Bantus in Africa who live on a 10% fat diet is almost zero. (…) In autopsies performed on 42 Bantus and 22 Europeans who died suddenly for any reason, only one Bantu had atherosclerosis; whereas 100% of the Europeans, even a youth of 15, had extensive artery damage.

– “Whyte observed natives of New Guinea whose diet contained 10% fat and only 7% protein. Autopsies performed on 600 natives revealed only one case of death attributable to coronary heart disease. Blood pressure in New Guinea natives was found only not to rise with age, but diastolic pressure dropped 10 mm. when in their 60s.
– Leaf studied a population in Ecuador with an unusual number of aged people. Of the 800 villagers, a number were over 100 years old and one was 121 (…). Cardiovascular disease was found to be virtually non-existent. The diet was mainly complex carbohydrate: corn, brown rice, beans, various other vegetables and fruits, and one weekly portion of animal food.

All the current research also reveals the same thing: populations who live on largely plant-based diet with very little added fat avoid most of the major degenerative diseases of civilization. They not only live longer live,s but also are healthy until the very end.

Roger Haeske writes:

There are many people who live to old age and are in miserable pain, have no energy and really aren’t living much of life. Age is not an important factor because there are many factors besides diet contributing to how old one lives including being gifted with certain genetics to live longer than the average bear.

And then there’s the very important question if there really are indeed cultures with a life expectancy over 100 – there are no such cultures that I’m currently aware of actually. But there are people in certain cultures who can live to over 100. Turns out that the supposed long lived Hunzas may be a total lie from the research I’ve seen. So beware of believing in the idea that there are modern day cultures of people regularly living past 100 years of age as the average. That is a bunch of nonsense.

Yes I have seen some people who eat a crappy diet live to past 100. But could they have lived happier, healthier and even longer lives had they eaten 100% raw? Just because someone lives to 100 doesn’t prove a thing. Maybe they should have lived to 120 and not gotten all of the diseases they did get. There’s no way to really know.

Here, Roger is replying to a reader who pointed out that many cultures who eat cooked food make it to 100 years of age. Roger is right in pointing out that there’s no “centenarian” culture that we know of (where most people reach the age of 100), but there are cultures where a larger percentage of the population lives to be 100. Those are the so-called “Blue Zones.”

Roger seems to be operating under the assumption that raw food is the most important factor in health. But nothing in the research actually shows that.

If cooked food were truly toxic, then people wouldn’t be reversing heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and preventing (and sometimes reversing) cancer on plant-based diets that are largely cooked.

My point is that the reason most people suffer from diseases of civilization is because they eat a diet that is full of animal foods, sugar, oil and processed items.

A raw food diet, such as the excellent diet promoted by Roger, automatically eliminates all of those things. But so do cooked-plant based diets promoted by doctors such as Esselstyn, McDougall, Barnard, Ornish, and many others.

Roger writes:

And you can’t have ultimate health and happiness while still eating some cooked foods. As I mentioned in the previous email there are other health factors besides eating raw. For instance, some people experience improvements in their health by making sure to not eat any foods after the sun sets. I think it’s a great idea because digestion is strongest during the daytime and of course there are other factors involved. But for best results not only should you stop eating before sunset, the foods you should be eating are raw foods.

Again, I applaud Roger for his enthusiasm and for sticking to something he knows works. But it’s a bit far-fetched to say that “you can’t have ultimate health and happiness while still eating some cooked foods.”

Roger continues:

I could make way more sales if I encouraged people to only eat 70% raw. But since I know that is far inferior to eating 100% raw I don’t promote it. I encourage 70% raw if your striving for higher health. That is a VERY positive step in the right direction.

My point is not to believe that you have reached the end of the journey. Cooking your food in any amount damages it 100% of the time. I’ll stand by that at all times.

And so long as you regularly eat cooked food then you cannot overcome addiction to cooked food.

This does not mean that all people in all circumstances can and should be 100% raw. But what it does mean is that cooking of any kind does damage on multiple levels to the food. Yes even on a spiritual level it damages the food.

There are people who will find it much harder to be 100% raw due to certain food sensitivities. My daughter for one can’t even eat half the raw foods that I can because she’s sensitive to salicylates. My partner Karmyn can’t eat as many raw foods as I can either because she’s sensitive to oxalates and FODMAP foods.

So yes I understand that not everyone in all situations will be easily able to achieve 100% raw. But I can tell you that both Karmyn and my daughter Rainbow still eat a very high raw diet. At least 90 to 95%. And they can absolutely eat 100% raw even with those restrictions they have. But that is their choice.

(…)
Of course, one does not have to be fearful about eating cooked food. One simply needs the truth about cooked food to be brought to their attention. I never promote fear I simply promote the truth. The truth at least from my current perspective. And it’s working like gangbusters for me.

There are too many former 100% raw gurus out there who are tricking their followers into not being 100% raw anymore. Of course, the reason they’re not 100% raw anymore is because the methods they taught for staying 100% raw are nutrient deficient and cause all sorts of health problems.

(…)

I know most people will have hard time overcoming cooked food addiction. The pleasures they gain from cooked food seem to outweigh the benefits of going raw and so most people never even try it.

Unfortunately they’re missing something golden that would make their lives MUCH better. Not just from a health and happiness perspective but from a taste perspective as well.

(…)

There is a JOY and FREEDOM that one experiences when they have beaten cooked food addiction that can’t be explained but must be experienced. (…)

I know how it can contribute to being more electrically alive.

I know how it brings you happiness from the cellular level.

My COMMENTS:

My point here is not to put down a raw food diet. I think that a raw food diet, when properly planned, is one of the most powerful, life-changing tools you can use.

Raw food diets have gotten a bad press because the people who promote them have falsified the diet by making it it a raw version of a Standard American Diet. For example, the “raw” chocolate cakes and “cheesecakes” sold at many health food stores by raw vegan companies contain more saturated fat, more sodium and more concentrated calories in a tinier package than the foods they are supposed to replace!

This way of eating isn’t healthy. But a low-fat plant based diet, where one is making sure of getting enough calories and paying attention to all the nutritional factors, is amazing. And I must say that Roger promotes exactly this kind of diet.

My point was — and it’s been the same for over 10 years — cooked foods aren’t “poison.”

Most diseases of civilization are caused by diets loaded with animal foods, salt, sugar, oil, and processed foods.

If cooked food were truly toxic, then people wouldn’t be reversing disease on cooked plant-based diets. Yet, that is exactly what’s happening!

The real question is: what additional health benefits can you gain from eating a 100% raw, plant-based diet (with no added oil, sugar and salt) versus a similar diet that includes cooked foods?

There’s literally no study to show that difference. But I suspect that if it were done, we’d find that a lot of those added benefits would be from the caloric-restriction that naturally comes with a raw food diet. We know from all the research that caloric restriction is a major factor in longevity and health. And as was reported in the book “Catching Fire” by Primatologist Richard Wrangham, it’s been proven in studies that cooking increases the caloric availability of many foods. For example, eating a raw carrot yields fewer usable calories by the body than eating cooked carrots. That may actually be one reason why the raw food diet may provide additional health benefits. (At the same time, it can be the cause of nutritional problems if one is not consuming enough total calories).

There may be something else. Roger calls it the “Happiness Vibration” of raw foods. Who knows what is truly going on.

If you can make the necessary efforts and sacrifices to stick to a 100% raw diet as promoted by Roger, and get additional health or spiritual benefits, then more power to you. I certainly encourage you to do so!

But as I’ve said many times, I’m still convinced that eating “raw” is not the most important factor in health. First, you have to clean up your diet and get rid of all the oil-sugar-fat. A whole food, plant-based diet is still one of the best ways to experience dramatic health improvements, and it’s relatively easy to follow because starches are very filling and satisfying.

Then, if you seek additional benefits, a raw food diet may be the best next step.

NOTE: One of Roger’s best programs on the Raw Food Diet is the Savory Veggies Stews program, that you can check out at www.veggiestews.com

Frederic Patenaude

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. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. I agree that too much sugar can be bad for your health. But I have to disagree with the animal products and fats. I believe that the reasons people have the modern diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, is because of eating processed foods, vegetable oils and margarine, and because of trapped emotions in the subconscious (read the work of John E. Sarno, MD). I have see people who ate animal products and animal fats all their lives, and lived to be healthy in their 90’s and even over 100. In some of the studies you talk about above, one group of people who had none of the modern diseases were the intuit people (Eskimos). Their diet was about 80 to 90% fat. I have also seen studies of people who live to be over 100. Many ate whatever they wanted, smoked and drank alcohol IN MODERATION, but all were happy people with good lives, living mostly stress free. So personally even though I think eating healthy is good for you, food doesn’t seem to have as big an effect on disease and health and long life as does the mind. If we can get help to let go of the stress, both past and present in our lives, we will all live longer healthier lives.

    • Neil says:

      Spot on. The longevity project – good read. Longevity is much more than just what we eat, but the way most people talk in the business of health, you would think that nutrition is everything! Not true. The make up of a person can be complex, and many variables to determine happiness and longevity. I personally abstain from animal products, but doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that one can’t be healthy on some animal products – just not excess and processed like the USA culture.

  2. Kailasnatha says:

    As one who comes from a South Indian dietary context, I can assure you that there are plenty of elderly people in that population that are over the age of 80, have excellent brain and physical functions. I kew a yogi who lived to be 125 years old, he had no problem eating cooked food.

    Let’s take a “common man’s” meal idli and sambar.The old fashioned idli is made form 1/3 rice and 2/3 urad dal which is a small white split pea very high in protein and calcium/minerals. These are soaked over night, ground to a paste, fermented all day and then steamed into very light cakes. it is a *very* digestible food.

    Sambar might be made of another legume that is cooked to a thin soup along with vegetables and spices. Traditionally a very small amount of oil may be used to “temper” the spices (roast them) This meal is highly nutritious and still eaten by people well over 80 years of age. but it is a small amount, because in those cultures they don’t have gallons and gallons of oil freely available. it was a “controlled” substance by virtue of the limited production capacity of a non-industrialized food acquisition culture. A small amount of clarified butter “ghee” is even considered “medicinal”

    That being said, there are also Indian cooks who will lace their meals with high does of rancid oils, fried items and sugary sweets.

    There is also the issue of over-eating. One cup of cooked rice will turn into X amount of glucose in the system 4 cups of cooked right will obviously quadruple the glycemic load. That old Yogi I spoke of above, while he did eat cooked food, he ate *very* small portions. (in fact he has a special tali (plate) made for him that was only ten inches across and to his devotees that any food he ate had to fit on that… it was his way of preventing people from over feeding him.)

    So the “slandar” that “cook foods are toxic” is kind of like saying “all politicians are corrupt.”

    Ayurveda actually advocates cooking food. Scientifically, for some food items, e.g. mature (= tough) green beans, if you steam them, the cellulose cells “explode” and release their nutrients and make that vegetable much more assailable.

    With all due respect for raw foodists, to lump together as “cooked foods”

    1) broccoli that has been steamed for 4 minutes (usually adequate to break the cellulose open, and still be al-dente)
    2) deep fried cheese balls (while flour with ground cheese, lots of salt, dropped into hot oil)
    3) plain cooked millet (a highly nutrition grain that has a more alkaline reaction in the system, unlike wheat)

    Seems to me to be at the height of intellectual laziness.

    especially for those who may have compromised Hydrochloric acid production in the gut ( a high percentage of those over 50 years of age) 1 and 3 above nurture their health while of course #2 (fried cheese balls) is indeed very toxic

    So to the raw foodlsts

    I have ask “Cooked Food is toxic” ? What exactly are you talking about? And how much? Steam brassicas? or fried food? 2 slices of multi-grain bread? or half a loaf? Even a raw foodist who overdoses on tropical fruits is going to end up with sugar issues in the long run (it has already happened to some, and one reason they abandoned the raw diet)
    Ayurveda, for example, treats fruits as somewhat “toxic” in the sense that it advocates limited consumption because of the sugar “sweet” aspect leading to accumulated wastes in the system. it would recommend eating more bitter vegetables (kale)

    So does that mean that pineapples, bananas, sweet oranges are toxic? From there do we go to generalized statements (silly of course) “All fruit is toxic” is to me an equivalent statement to “All cooked food is toxic.”

    That said, I have started including a lot more raw food in my diet and even present day ayurvedic physicians are recommending this as well.

    • Kathryn says:

      Very good points here! Would you mind sharing- are the rice/dal patties fermented by inoculation of some sort?

      • Kailasnatha says:

        @ Kathryn Typically the ladies may add a tablespoon of Yogurt or nothing at all, to the ground up batter… clean grains that have not been pasteurized, already come with a lot of Lacto bacillus and “good bugs” ready to go…let it ferment over night… you will see lovely bubbles as the bacteria break down the grain and make it very digestible. If the grains were pasturized then you definintely need to add a little yogurt.

        The challenge for a western style kitchen is you may not have the “idli” maker which is steamer thing with trays inside. You can “cheat” by letting the batter ferment over night and make then, just before you are ready to eat.. pop in some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate is actually not bad for you… it is an alkalizer…) whip in thoroughly and then do them like drop biscuits in the oven on a cookie sheet. If you use that baking paper they won’t stick. If it is too wet I will thrown in a handful of dry oat bran or ground up raw flax seeds or chia seeds to soak up some the moisture. (add nutritional value too). bake at 400 for 20 minutes or more… high protein gluten free!

        another similar recipe I do is 1/2 oats 1/2 buckwheat (based on how many biscuits you want: 2 cups + 2 cups) soak over night, blend thoroughly in the am, let ferment, then before dinner: add ground flax seed and ground pumpkin seed meal and some baking soda… super high protein, wheat free (make it dry for biscuits and wetter if you have a waffle iron…you can make waffles with this batter) This is vegan body builder food!

        search “idli” on the web… you fill find out all about it,.

  3. Do eat salt but ONLY Himalayan or raw sea-salt, NOT the cheap kitchen salt.
    Do eat fats and oils, your brain is high in fats but NO margarine, or animal fat from cattle who are fed grow-hormones. Grow-hormones breaks the fat molecules and causes then cholesterol problems. NO hot pressed oils like cheap sunflower oils, the good oils are COLD pressed. Do use coconut or palm oil for baking Eskimos do NOT get cancer jet they eat a LOT of fatty fish!!! Do eat spelt and less wheat, wheat is cultivated from spelt. eat the food as nature gives this to us, not treated by the industry!!!

  4. Kenneth Koh says:

    Life and Civilization have its choices and risks.

    The advent of civilization coincides with the discovery of fire and cooked food.

    The specie that chose fire and cooked food advanced much more significantly than those specie that continued on their raw food diet.

    Does this co-relation indicates that cooked food releases nutrients that develop the higher cranial capabilities to allow civilization to progress?

    SIncerely.

    Ken

  5. Pamela Rae says:

    I followed Roger for about 2 years reading his information, watching his videos and the little no- no boy making the savory veggie stews. They looked so yummy! But then before I tried them Roger wrote about feeling less strong and having some discomfort in his back and other areas. He said the solution was a vitamin B supplement. From that time on I thought this raw vegan life is not possible for people that live in places that get cold. It is also beyond the reach of much of the earth’s population financially. Raw vegan is a great way to detox but not a great long term solution to health and longevity.

  6. Will says:

    I reckon horses for courses, coupled with common sense is the best bet.
    Excesses and deficiencies are not good; take everything in moderation (including occasional excesses, occasional fasting). Ayur Veda is an old and successful tradition; it is not alone in advising constant variation in diet, and getting the full variety of foods and tastes – as probably more important than any other factor. If you eat a single food every day for long enough, it will bite back.

    If meat upsets you, don’t eat it. If wheat upsets you don’t eat it. D’uh. If you have food fads, don’t have food fads.

    Your recent forebears almost certainly lived healthily on cooked food, or you wouldn’t be here.You probably inherited that trait, but like to experiment. It’s a pretty profound experiment. Cooked food has been regarded as a sign of civilisation however, and for good reason that cooking eliminates parasites and other nasties, cures some toxins, and enhances taste.

    Vegetarianism has a long tradition, particularly in India, Tibet, China. It is not necessarily weakening – ShaoLin monks are vegetarian. The main risk for unaware vegetarians is B12 deficiency, pernicious anaemia, but I suspect that unfermented soy products and the like are far from innocent. Soy is included now in all manner of products, and I happen to believe may lead to disease (look at the changing demographic of anorexia, for example.)

    Sugar per se is not a bad thing, despite modern ‘pop’ science. Is that heresy? Some old research showed that unrefined sugar cane, grown with jungle outflow water on equally highly mineralised soils led in fact to relative longevity, together with good teeth in at least one South American population.
    What is damaging is, again, excess, but moreso the refining and certainly the inversion process.
    I’m appalled that almost all ‘healthy’ supermarket fruit juices, and of course cakes, but also meat products and ready meals contain not only ridiculous amounts of sugar, but also something now officially called glucose-fructose syrup (GFS), which should be avoided like the plague. The “fructose ” in this is not even fructose (“from fruit”), but is a synthetic derived from corn, and has been known to have a strong link to diabetes for decades. I believe it’s banned in some countries, but here in UK, it gets officially renamed, which looks like a thoroughly corrupt decision.

    Equally, oil per se is no bad thing, unless it has been converted to butter substitute. Some organic oils are better than others. Oils appear to be necessary.

    Avoidance of salt is also new-fangled nonsense. It’s as well to avoid refined salt, since we benefit from the trace minerals in rock and sea salt (so long as toxic amounts are avoided). A lot of commercial table salts contain excipients which are for convenience of packaging and marketing, not for health, and I’d suggest that no-one actually knows what they do in the long term. Once more, regular excess will cause problems. Sodium in salt will indeed increase bp, not necessarily detrimentally, and that will suit some people and not others.

    Interesting thing about Bantu arterial health. There would be many cultural factors apart from what would have equivalently been a mediaeval European peasant diet, for example Bantu would typically take more exercise than their Western counterparts, drink different beverages, accept fewer OTC medicines and so on. But these things are not one-dimensional.
    The age expectancy of Bantu is approximately 60 years.

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