Certain diets can change a person’s lifestyle. For examples, vegans live by a moral code that they will not have any animal product in or on their body. A popular diet that has made headlines in the past years is the raw food diet, which is the process of eating only raw fruits, vegetables, and some meats. Raw food dieters can cook the fruits, vegetables, and meats but at temperatures below 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
The raw food diet has received praise for being an effective weight-loss diet. It is not very hard to understand why the raw food diet is an effective diet. Dieters are eating foods with few calories yet they are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. But, sometimes cooking raw food can boost the number of nutrients in foods.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that those on a raw food diet could be starving their brain from much needed calories. Our resident dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD, shared her opinion on the study, saying it “was done to add support to the theory that speculates that the shift to cooked foods was responsible for the evolution of primitive creatures into modern humans.”
The study was conducted in Brazil, where the researchers measured the number of neurons in 13 species of primates and more than 30 species of other mammals. According to the study, humans have an estimated 86 billion neurons in their brains, while gorillas and chimps have about 33 billion to 28 billion neurons in their brain. The human brain uses a lot of its body’s energy; for instance when you are sitting down your brain is using 20% of your body’s energy.
Researchers discovered that a brain with more neurons needed more calories to function to its full potential versus a brain with less neurons. Mary agreed with the researchers saying, “A brain with more neurons needs more calories to sustain itself, and so a raw diet would not be adequate for evolution of the species.”
The researchers also concluded that gorillas would have to eat uncooked food for 8.8 hours to sustain their brains. Orangutans would have to eat for 7.8 hours and chimps would have to eat for 7.3 hours for their brains to function properly. Gorillas, chimps, and orangutans have fewer neurons in their brains and eat raw foods throughout their lifetime. When you apply the findings of the study to humans who are on the raw food diet, you can conclude that human dieters are not getting enough energy from raw foods to sustain their brains. Mary added that, “Humans would have to spend more than 9 hours a day eating to get enough energy from unprocessed raw food to support their large brains.”
Although those who are on the raw food diet do not cook their food, it may benefit them. According to Mary, “By cooking, we managed to circumvent the limitation of how much we can eat in a day. Cooked foods provided easily extracted calories and nutrients, which meant that humans could spend smaller fraction of their days gathering food and chewing.”
The last thing Mary mentioned was, “The study is a small attempt to explain the evolution of the species, but, in no way does it touch upon the suitability of a raw diet for an individual today.”