The cooked versus raw food debate will never cease until there is conclusive evidence to support that either one is more beneficial. Your mother might scold you for having raw food, while a nutritionist might tell you to have raw food. Many implications come with eating both, cooked and raw food, and your gut processes food differently depending on whether it is raw or cooked. In this article we will examine which type of food is better for the gut, but before getting to that, let us look at some of the more general implications.
Raw food is eaten in its natural state, so it might contain dangerous microorganisms that are eliminated by cooking. Consuming these microorganisms may lead to food-borne illnesses that lead to symptoms like vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. Catching an illness is one of the major concerns of eating raw food. Cooked food on the other hand is safe to consume since most microorganisms cannot survive in high temperatures, thus eliminating the risk of contamination. It is also easier to chew and digest.
On the flipside, cooking food is said to destroy water soluble vitamins and enzymes. Vitamins like C and B are easily lost during the process of cooking by as much as 50-60%, while fat soluble vitamins like D, E, and K are unaffected. This leads some to believe that raw food might be richer in nutrients than cooked food. Digestive enzymes help in breaking down food into molecules so that it can be absorbed. Since enzymes are heat sensitive, they get deactivated easily when food is cooked, making it harder for your body to digest.
With the general implications out of the way, let us take a look at the effects of cooked and raw food on the gut. A research conducted by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco and Harvard University studied how our microbiome responds differently to the same foods depending on whether they are cooked or raw. The research was first analyzed on mice, who were initially fed meat and sweet potatoes. Both cooked and raw meat had little effect on the mice’s microbiome, but sweet potato brought out significant changes.
Cooked sweet potato offered greater carbohydrate metabolism, because starch becomes more digestible when heated. Raw sweet potato damaged certain gut microbes, and it was observed that certain antimicrobial compounds destroyed by the act of cooking, reached the stomach intact when eaten raw. More foods like potato, corn, beets, and carrots were fed to the mice in both states to observe their microbiome effects. The most notable difference between raw and cooked food was observed starchy vegetables, and beets and carrots did not cause too many raw vs cooked microbiome differences as compared to sweet potato.
A similar study was conducted on humans to examine a difference in microbiomes caused by cooked or raw food. Subjects ate comparable cooked and raw food for three days, with their feces being collected as samples, and the study showed noticeable changes in gut bacteria diversity. The study was small and largely inconclusive, and though differences were seen in the gut based on the nature of the food, longer and more in-depth studies are required to answer the question as to whether cooked food or raw food is better for the gut.