Danger in the Raw

There has been a lot of information in the popular press about the benefits of a raw diet. According to WebMD, those who eat their food raw believe that cooking destroys the nutrients and natural enzymes present in our food. Eating raw foods ensures that we get the full benefit of all the intact nutrients in the food items, which results in a more nutritious diet and healthier bodies among the humans who consume raw food.

The overall benefits of a raw diet are debatable. What is not debatable is that certain fruits and vegetables should never be eaten raw, as doing so can cause illness or even death. These particular vegetables either have harmful microbes or contain compounds that can cause digestive upset. Cooking inactivates the compounds and kills the microbes, rendering the foods safe to eat.

So which fruits and vegetables should never be eaten raw?

Brassicas (e.g. cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard, etc.) — While most people can eat these vegetables raw, others may experience gas and bloating from the complex, difficult-to-digest sugars present. Those who have thyroid conditions should definitely cook these vegetables, as they also contain thyroid inhibitor compounds that can worsen these conditions.


Beans — Raw beans contain lectin, a glycoprotein, which, when consumed, can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within three hours of consumption. Eating five uncooked kidney beans is enough to cause illness. Boiling beans, however, inactivates the protein and renders the beans safe to eat.

Beans 2
Potatoes — Uncooked potatoes, especially those that have a greenish color to them, contain high levels of the toxin solanine, a very dangerous toxin. And if the solanine doesn’t get you, the uncooked starch will — with the gift of gas and bloating. And if that isn’t enough, the hemagglutinins present can disrupt red blood cell function.

Mushrooms — Though not a vegetable, I’m including them here because we often consume them along with vegetables. Raw mushrooms contain agaritine, a suspected carcinogen. Cooking, however, inactivates agaritine and renders it harmless.

So go ahead and eat that raw diet if you think it will benefit you. But if you want to really want to live a little longer, and you plan on eating the vegetables mentioned above, then cook them. The life you save may be your own.

2 thoughts on “Danger in the Raw

  1. Wow! Who knew? Thanks, Mark. Good info.

    You might also be interested in Peter Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. In that book, he shows how cooking led to brain growth by making more energy/calories available from the food. Studies show that it’s highly unlikely you’ll get enough calories on an all-raw diet. That makes a raw diet great for weight loss but not for sustained human development.


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