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Some raw food can be dangerous

August 2019

A smoothie with straw
Fresh veggie smoothies are very popular now

Healthy eating, don’t over cook, fresh and raw food have maximum nutrients….we are inundated with advice now on what we should eat to keep healthy and fit. Amongst all this information some of us have gained a perception that raw food is best; add fresh broccoli and spinach with orange juice in your juice maker for a really healthy drink and so on.

But there are quite a few foods which really should not be eaten raw. Some simply need to be cooked for a better taste or to release key nutrients; others can upset your digestive system. In some cases, raw food can actually be poisonous although after cooking it is fine and nutritious.

When cooking is best

Tomatoes taste great raw but take a little extra time and cook them first, and you will find they offer much better nutrition. We can absorb far more of the tomatoes’ healthy cancer fighting lycopene from cooked tomatoes than fresh ones. Raw asparagus isn’t particularly easy to eat anyway, but cooking this vegetable first again helps the body to absorb more of its nutrients. Spinach is another example of the benefits of cooking. Often we add spinach leaves to salad and of course this is very healthy; but when you cook or wilt the spinach first, it will provide higher levels of calcium, iron and magnesium than when eaten in its raw state.

Mushrooms come into this category; they can be eaten raw but cook them first and they will provide higher levels of their valuable potassium.

Sometimes food is best cooked simply to aid digestion rather than provide better nutrients. Brussels sprouts can cause a lot of gas and bloating if eaten raw and cooking makes them much easier and tastier to eat anyway.

Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, are best avoided in their raw state for the same reasons. They can be very hard to digest and for people with digestive problems, they definitely should be avoided in their uncooked state.

Some foods, if consumed raw, are downright poisonous! South American yucca root vegetable is now growing in popularity over here, but it needs to be treated properly. While the vegetable itself is packed with vitamins and minerals, its leaves and roots contain cyanogenic glycosides. These are chemicals that release the very poisonous cyanide of Agatha Christie stories, so definitely something to be avoided! Yucca needs to be washed, rinsed, peeled and properly cooked before it is eaten.

Today it is common to buy kidney beans, that favourite ingredient of chilli, in tins, already prepared and ready for use. Red kidney beans are packed with protein, fibre and antioxidants, but raw kidney beans also contain phytohemagglutinin, a toxin which discomfort and symptoms similar to food poisoning. If you are cooking your own kidney beans, make sure they are boiled vigorously for at least ten minutes before serving.

Lima beans, like the yukka, also contain cyanogenic glycosides, so cooking is essential here too.

Potatoes are not something you would want to eat raw, and a good thing too…potatoes contain a number of toxins and also items called anti-nutrients that can cause harm. The starch is potatoes can also cause severe digestive discomfort, a problem eliminated with cooking. Interestingly potatoes also contain low levels of solanine. This protects the potatoes from insects and bacteria but is toxic to humans. When potatoes are exposed to sunlight they can produce much more solanine, turning them green. This is why people can be warned against buying or eating green potatoes.

Uncooked aubergines also contain solanine, but frankly the idea eating raw aubergine isn’t particularly appealing.

What could be better than fresh milk? Well, pasteurised milk! Milk that is fresh from a cow can contain E.coli and salmonella. This is the same reason that people are advised against eating raw eggs, although the risk is low and an uncooked egg is rich in high quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Licking around the mixing bowl once the cake is in the oven is often a treat for children although probably not the best idea, as along with the eggs there will be uncooked flour in the mix. Flour, in its long journey from the field to the supermarket, may have come into contact with pathogens such as E.coli which again will be destroyed by cooking. The risk is low but it is there.

Rhubarb leaves contain high levels of oxalic acids, a toxin that can cause kidney damage. In all fairness one would have to eat quite a lot of leaves to have a problem, but it is nevertheless interesting. Amazingly the seeds of apples, peaches, pears and apricots all contain a chemical that can turn into a cyanide toxin. This isn’t a cause of concern though, one would have to eat at least a cup full of ground seeds before there was any effect on the body.

Generally, today the food we can buy and eat is incredibly safe. However, while over cooking can definitely remove some key nutrients, eating certain foods raw is clearly not a good idea either.

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