Cooking food has a alchemical power, sometimes negative, to remove properties from foods, but sometimes positive to bring benefits. So there are pros and cons and we will try to know them to get the most out of what each food can represent in terms of health.
Cooking food is believed to have played a fundamental role in human evolution. Indeed, with the discovery of fire, as well as the possibility of warming up and defending themselves against animal attacks, man was able to experiment with a new way of eating. Cooking gave food flavors and odors previously unknown, made food almost inedible from raw foods such as digestible grains and legumes, greatly reduced the risk of infections from bacteria, fungi and viruses.
The kitchen pays off more digestible many foods, because heat breaks down proteins and starches into smaller units, predigests them and makes them more accessible to digestive enzymes which otherwise would have to do it entirely, with greater expenditure of energy and calories from our body, among other things. This is why cooked starchy cereals and legumes, being more digestible, they provide more calories raw starches. This is also the reason why infants and sick or deceased people should eat soft foods that have already been cooked: they will spend less energy and less effort extracting the food. And it’s also why the current diet, based mostly on ultra-processed foods created to melt in your mouth, is associated with a veritable obesity epidemic.
The kitchen seems to have had a fundamental role for survival of the human species: by increasing the availability of calories from cereals, legumes and potatoes, it has provided man with the energy necessary for his growth and his subsistence. According to evolutionary theories, cooking food has helped to increase the volume of the human brain and therefore improve the social status of human beings.Homo sapiens sapiens compared to other primates that did not have access to cooked food. A raw diet with unprocessed foods – given that in the past there were no blenders and juicers – could therefore not have supported the evolution of the human brain if the advent of the kitchen had not gave our cave ancestors the opportunity to increase the number of its neurons (86 billion), thus managing to detach other less evolved species by a few lengths. Think that the brain of gorillas has 33 billion neurons and that of chimpanzees 28 billion. Neurons that have many benefits but require a lot of calories to function. It is no coincidence that the human brain alone consumes 20% of the daily energy needs of the whole body. According to this theory, therefore, we humans owe our neuronal richness to cooking, which would have freed us from the condemnation of having to spend a good part of our life in trees chewing raw food. By being able to spend more time on the ground in front of the fire, man would have been introduced to socialization, to speaking out, to the development of progressively more complex social structures. All tasks for which it is necessary to have more complex brains and supported by the energy available thanks to cooked food. A raw diet would therefore be perfect for losing weight (chewing requires the expenditure of calories by our body), but absolutely deleterious to grow a child and allow him to have adequate brain development and need to save more calories than these. .. who consumes.
The benefits of raw foods
Cooking has played an important role in human evolution, but that doesn’t mean there’s no benefit to consuming some of our food in raw form. Although cooking food gives us more calories and energy and improves the taste of various foods, there is also a downside because it destroys many food nutrients, mainly enzymes and vitamins. Enzymes they are very important for health because they multiply up to millions of times the speed of all the chemical reactions that occur in our body. Those who do not produce or take in enough enzymes are “slowed down” in all bodily functions. In fact, enzymes are necessary for metabolic and digestive functions, cell repair and immune system activity. Without enzymes, hormones, vitamins, minerals and cells do not work. All raw foods contain within them the wealth of enzymes necessary for their digestion, but cooking above 45 degrees destroys these substances almost completely. Raw food is therefore a real concentrate of enzymes and vitality. Raw foods are lighter and do not burden the chemical processes of our body, on the contrary they help them by promoting cell regeneration, detoxification, anti-aging.
Another advantage of raw foods is that, unlike cooked foods, they do not induce digestive leukocytosis, that is, it does not increase the number of immune system cells that activate against “foreign” substances in ingested foods (especially cooked foods because they create new substances, including toxic, in food, such as furosin, acrylamide, etc.). The term leukocytosis refers to leukocytes (or white blood cells) which are cells of immune defense against external agents of all kinds such as bacteria, viruses, and even foreign substances contained in food, which before being neutralized by the body are attacked and controlled by immune cells such as leukocytes. In this process of digestive leukocytosis, a large number of white blood cells are recruited and all this only “distracts” the immune system from the intestine, which accounts for 4/5 of our immunity. In an attempt to combat these food “pathogens”, it does, however, remove the immunological monitoring of cancer cells. White blood cells, alerted when cooked food enters the intestine, increase in number 15 minutes after ingestion, remain elevated for a few hours and then return to baseline levels. In summary, it is an inflammatory phenomenon that occurs every time we eat cooked food, but does not occur with raw food. Since inflammations in the body are different in nature and additive, one way to reduce total inflammation is to reduce partial inflammatory stresses such as the one described above as much as possible.
Raw before cooked
An effective solution to limit the phenomenon of leukocytosis is to consume raw food (a fruit or vegetable) before cooking. By consuming a raw food, for example an apple, before the cooked one, the phenomenon of digestive leukocytosis can be managed. Indeed, raw foods contain a series of substances (panallergens) that prepare our immune system to avoid all those immune defense reactions that are activated with cooked foods. In simpler terms, we have to bypass our immune system. To avoid the activation of digestive leukocytosis and with it all those “danger” signals that predispose our body to obesity, overweight and inflammation, it is enough to eat a carrot, a fennel or a fruit, because they are recognized as “friendly” foods, before eating a cooked food, so that the white blood cells do not increase and do not activate with them all the inflammatory processes harmful to our body.
Healthy cooked foods
Some might mistakenly infer, from the information we have just illustrated on digestive leukocytosis, that cooked foods are to be limited as enemies of health. Not at all. It is true that cooking foods lose many nutrients such as chlorophyll, vitamins and enzymes, however it can also make certain antioxidant substances more abundant and more available for intestinal absorption. the tomato, for example, when cooked, it releases lycopene, a powerful antioxidant from the carotenoid family, which protects cells from free radical damage and premature aging. With cooking, lycopene becomes more easily assimilated. Since lycopene is a fat-soluble substance in the same way as fat-soluble vitamins (i.e. it dissolves in fat), adding oil to the tomato will further promote the absorption of this substance: its blood concentration will be much higher after eating a good cooked tomato sauce rather than a raw tomato salad, perhaps without oil. What has been said for tomatoes also applies to carrots, whose carotenoids are better released if we throw them in a pan with the addition of oil. THE broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (which include cauliflower, cabbage, savoy sprouts, Brussels sprouts, black cabbage, arugula, radish and mustard) are considered among the most important vegetables to eat regularly thanks to the wealth not only in vitamins, minerals and antioxidant compounds, but also in substances with antitumor action such as sulforaphane. In this case, however, it is necessary to set up a particular preparation and cooking strategy, otherwise it will not be possible to exploit its properties. Sulforaphane is not present in the whole vegetable but is only formed as a result of the breakdown of cell walls through the action of an enzyme called myrosinase, as occurs when we cut or chew vegetables. However, the enzyme is destroyed by cooking and so to get the benefits of sulforaphane you must first let the enzyme do its job. You have to crush the cells of the vegetable in 2 ways: by eating the crucifers raw (as in the case of arugula, red cabbage and radish), or by cutting them up and letting them rest for 10-20 minutes before cooking them. , to give the enzyme time to work. So, if you prepare a soup or a minestrone based on cauliflower or broccoli, to obtain the formation of sulforaphane you must first mix the raw vegetables, let them rest for 10-20 minutes then cook them: the opposite of what we normally do.
[di Gianpaolo Usai]