There is a lot of interest in the benefits of eating raw foods these days, as well as some people advocating an entirely raw diet.
Though there's good reason to eat a number of raw foods daily — and even more during certain times of year, such as the warm months — there are many reasons to eat cooked foods, too.
Some nutrients are more absorbable from cooked foods, and people with digestive problems can more easily digest them. Moreover, some health practitioners, including those with backgrounds in traditional Chinese medicine, believe that eating only raw foods may weaken digestion over time.
Though all the raw-food advocates I've met are vegan or vegetarian, it's still worth pointing out that eating raw meat and eggs comes with considerable risk of microbial contamination that may lead to food poisoning. Maybe Rocky had an iron stomach, swallowing raw eggs each morning, but most of us don't. I mention this because meat and eggs from grass-fed cows and pastured hens, even cooked rare or over-easy, are highly nutritious and safe to eat.
Raw-food enthusiasts often are fond of fermented, nondairy foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. So am I. These foods provide a wide range of health-promoting bacteria acquired through food culturing. Because these probiotic bacteria are a great help to the digestive and immune systems, fighting off infection, reducing allergies, even helping with skin problems such as eczema, I highly recommend these types of uncooked — though cultured — foods.
I'm also a big fan of raw-food preparation techniques — which often are creative and delicious.
Depending entirely upon raw foods, however, can sometimes do more harm than good, especially for people with malnutrition, cancer, digestive disease and other health issues.
I became acquainted with the emerging "raw-food movement" back in the late 1990s when I started an organic, whole-foods catering company with a friend. During that time, we met a guy who was a pioneer of the raw-food movement who taught us many wonderful things you can do with a food processor and dehydrator.
We tasted amazing dressings made of avocados and sesame paste, vegan, raw sushi rolls and foods that mimicked the texture of meat. There are dozens of raw "cookbooks" and recipes in stores and online.
I hope those of us who pursue optimal health can find a healthy middle ground because while some people like it raw, others prefer medium-rare.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and the Centre for Natural Healing. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.