Does It Matter For Gut Health?
We know that eating more veggies can boost the number of friendly bacteria in your gut. But what’s a mystery to most people is if how we prepare our veggies affects gut health in any way. “V” reveals if there’s a winner between raw veggies or cooked plant-based foods.
If you’re a nutrition research geek like me, you’ve probably come across lots of studies on intermittent fasting, vegetarian diets, keto diets and other types of eating protocols. But if there’s one type of food study that’s as rare as finding a perfectly round pearl in an oyster, it’s this subject…
Is there a difference between eating raw plants versus cooked veggies? As I’m writing this, it’s August, or as I like to call this time of year, Rawgust! Because it’s so hot out, it’s the best time of year to consume a raw, plant-based diet. All I know is that when it’s 100 degrees outside, the last thing I want to do is slave over a hot stove, cooking up a huge slab of meat. Nope, this time of year, it’s all smoothies, mocktails and salads (and maybe a gazpacho or two).
So I like to go with my gut and listen to what my body is craving—as long as the craving is for something healthy. But beyond my intuition, is there any research to back up my craving for raw food? Will going raw any time of year support the trillions of friendly bacteria in my gut microbiome?
Well, it got me wondering? So I did my best nutritional Sherlock Holmes investigating. Unfortunately, the trail went cold. But I persisted and eventually found what is believed to be the first study to bring up this nutritional debate.
Raw Vs Cooked Veggies For Gut Health
Before we get into the research, chew on this…
Horses don’t eat cooked food. Neither do chimps or gorillas. Yet they’re strong as bulls. In fact, humans are the only animals that cook their food. Many paleontologists believe our human ancestors developed bigger brains precisely when eating cooked food became the norm. In the hundreds of thousands of years since, our gut microbiomes have been influenced largely from cooking bones and meat.
It’s no wonder that there has hardly been any research looking into the effects of raw plants on the gut microbiome.
But finally, in 2019, researchers from Harvard University put that question to the test … at least in mice, not humans. And the results were not what I expected.
What the researchers discovered was that the mice who ate raw sweet potatoes essentially committed murder on several of their gut species.
But if there’s one thing that drives me a little nuts is when I hear people say that raw food is hard for the body to digest. That might be true if you’re trying to eat a raw, high-starch veggie like a potato or sweet potato. I’m definitely not suggesting eating raw potatoes.
Why the researchers didn’t give the mice lots of other raw veggies, like say, lettuce, I can’t explain. I also have no clue why more research hasn’t been done on the effects of raw veggies on the gut microbiome versus cooked veggies.
Eating Raw in Rawgust: Benefits
Now let me ask you something. If you’ve been partying in June and July like it’s 1999 and your digestion, energy and skin need a reboot, what do you think is better for you: cooked meat or salad?
Of course a diet high in raw veggies is much easier on your system than cooked meat. Now I admit, there are a few veggies that you may have a harder time digesting raw rather than cooked. This is especially true of the nightshade veggies:
Peppers (it doesn’t matter what kind or what color)
Potatoes (which we covered)
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of raw broccoli either. But when it comes to green, leafy veggies such as spinach, kale, collard greens, lettuce, parsley, chard and dandelion, the research doesn’t lie. There are so many health benefits of the 7 leafy greens that are featured in Organic Green Drink that I could write a book about it.
In fact, I sort of did: a cookbook, Making Cleansing Easier, which features an intro that talks about several of these health benefits.
The bottom line is that if you want a health makeover, let the sizzling summer months be the perfect time to boost your intake of raw veggies. Your gut microbiome will thank you for it.