These are notes I started while listening to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham talks with host Jacki Lyden about his new book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human on NPR http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104755975.
In the talk Wrangham mentioned, 800,000 years ago is the first time period for which archeaologists have hard evidence of our using fire. Wrangham thinks we may have been using fire for cooking as far as 2 million years ago when our jaw and stomach size shrank. It was an evolutionary advantage for us to be able to also eat cooked food, partly because of time saved in gaining nutrients. Similarly some humans developed a mutant gene in order to be able to digest dairy as an adult.
When people ask what did our ancestors eat, I say it depends on where they lived and what they were able to get their hands on. And by the way plants don’t run or swim away from you. Today humans still of course, eat what they can find, which I understand is not always vegetables for many inner big city dwellers. Those among us who have access to fresh veggies can be extremely grateful for that. I am very grateful to all the people who grow and pick and deliver and sell these.
Wrangham notes that each day for chimpanzees involves an average of 6 hours of chewing. We can see how the chimps could easily be obtaining less nutrients than someone taking in both cooked and raw greens. If it takes you half an hour to thoroughly chew 5 ounces of raw spinach you could see by the end of that same half-hour a human could have easily eaten a couple pounds of steamed spinach. For example, I just steamed 5 ounces of spinach and topped it with marinated portabello mushrooms. The 5 ounces of leaves were gently steamed into a few tiny bites. I turned the heat off after about one minute. I think it took less than 5 minutes to eat this little bowl of spinach. A huge bowl of salad takes a much longer time to eat. While it is fun to eat a big salad because you get lots of bites and enjoy the view of a huge bowl of garden, I can see how in less time anyone could consume exponentially more greens by including steamed greens, greens in soups, smoothies and juices.
Obviously this is a huge advantage over animals with fewer options.
Someone recently asked me what is the advantage of juicing carrots, why not just eat them? Of course it is great to eat them, still you can drink 5 carrots in a minute. It is an option to increase the volume of nutrients. Ani Phyo once said she pours out the carrot juice and uses the fiber produced from the juicing. She has a great new desert recipe out by the way and you can always find her great recipe videos for free online – thanks Ani!
It is important to know some nutrients may not be digested if eaten sans processing of any kind. This is sometimes due to the work of chewing raw food thoroughly (humans lack the enzymes to break down the cell walls, the nutrients literally have to be chewed out). Still you lose some nutrients by cooking depending on the length of cook time, degree of heat, moisture in the heat, and the food being heated. More moisture, less cook time, lower heat, and containing the cooked fluids in a soup all reduce loss of nutrients. Apparently we are still discovering phytonutrients and therefore we are still discovering how particular nutrients get affected by varying degrees/methods of heating.
For me, the interest is about the effects of eating over half of my calories from raw veggies and fruits and as much as possible the rest from steamed veggies. For example think of having a goal of eating a pound of dark green leafy veggies a day.
A rawfood focus helps us discover new ways to increase the amount of raw greens in the diet (exquisitely delicious salads, marinades, smoothies, pates, cold soups, dressings, desserts, etc.). Using fruits as sweeteners and nuts and seeds as fats raw recipes transform your palate away from the American diet with ease. It really is true that your tastes change and you start to crave these foods.
What I want to say is go for the greens, however that works for you, if it means steamed or in a warm soup than go for it. If you can also drink a green smoothie – perfect! The point is developing a taste and habit of eating greens will transform your palate and feed your body which is craving these nutrients.