Why Not All Green Veggies Should be Eaten Raw

KaleJill Ruttenberg, Contributor
Waking Times

Yes, there are Greens that should NOT be eaten raw!

Recent trends in nutrition promote eating mostly raw foods. As a nutritionist I feel it’s necessary to qualify a few things about this popular new eating practice.

First off, although fresh raw foods do retain more of a food’s life force, it is not true that all nutrients and enzymes are lost when plant-based foods are cooked, and it is not true that all vegetables and fruits are best for you when eaten raw.

Some vegetables actually release beneficial nutrients when cooked as in the case of cooked tomatoes producing more lycopene (a powerful antioxidant which prevents cancer- causing free radical damage and helps prostate problems, night blindness and asthma) than when eaten raw. Other vegetables such as cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw. And when it comes to energy, cooked foods are easier to digest because your body does not have to do as much work to break down the undigestable cellulose from the cell walls of the plants.

Another important issue is the fairly new increase in young, otherwise healthy people who regularly consume green juices developing hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). Naturopathic doctors are seeing more and more of this anomaly. The problem is with juicing raw cruciferous vegetables which have an enzyme that blocks the production of thyroid. Kale, which has become very popular for its nutrients and ALA (alpha lipoic acid) content helpful in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as its high potassium level which helps the heart, is a member of the cruciferous family. It has become popular to juice kale every day, which can negatively affect the thyroid.

  • While recent studies show that these vegetables do not block thyroid production in everyone who eats them, and that it may take a large quantity to actually negatively affect thyroid function, I believe it is wise to lightly steam these vegetables rather than eating them raw in anything but small quantities, and to completely avoid them raw if you have low thyroid. Steaming them eliminates the enzyme that blocks your production of thyroid and still retains their beneficial properties.

    Other cruciferous vegetables include: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, mustard greens and radishes (including Daikon radish). Contrary to some lists, swiss chard and beet greens are NOT cruciferous as they do not belong to the Brassica family. Chard and Spinach, however, contain Oxalic acid which can interfere with calcium absorption. Again, cooking these foods eliminates the mineral-blocking effects. Dr. Andrew Weil had this to say about spinach:

    “Concentrations of oxalic acid are pretty low in most plants and plant-based foods, but there’s enough in spinach, chard and beet greens to interfere with the absorption of the calcium these plants also contain. For example, although the calcium content of spinach is 115 mg per half cup cooked, because of the interference of oxalic acid, you would have to eat more than 16 cups of raw or more than eight cups of cooked spinach to get the amount of calcium available in one cup of yogurt.”

    Dr Weil goes on to say he certainly would not avoid eating these foods because they give so much folic acid, potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamin K, carotenes, vitamin C and lutein, however, he recommends if you want to eat these foods raw to make sure you are getting calcium from other sources throughout the day, a recommended amount of 1200 mg for women and 500 mg for men from all sources (men should not use Calcium supplements, as too much calcium may contribute to prostate problems).

    What do Leafy Greens give us? For one, Chlorophyll, which helps the body’s detoxification systems, curbs food cravings, controls body odor and is a powerful antioxidant. A study at the Linus Pauling Institute at the U of Oregon showed that, “In the developed world, a diet high in natural chlorophyll from vegetable consumption could offer substantial protection against food- and air- borne carcinogens, in addition to all the other known benefits of a vegetable-rich diet.” Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and prevents many age-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, bone fragility, and calcification of the arteries and kidneys is another benefit to leafy green veggies. One cup of leafy greens, especially kale, chard or dandelion leaves gives us all the Vit. K we need for one day. Greens also lower blood cholesterol and give us important B vitamins, calcium and other minerals.

    What about Wheat Grass? Of all the nutritional claims I have seen over the years (the acai berry craze, mangosteen, noni etc) I do believe Wheat Grass or Barley Grass Juice have very good benefits and are good additions to one’s daily diet especially since these greens do not possess the problems mentioned above and gives us many useful nutrients in concentrated form. B vitamins (except B12 & folic acid), vitamins A&E and many of the essential amino acids and minerals our bodies need are abundant in wheat grass.

    Nevertheless, scientific studies are surprisingly lacking and many claims of the benefits of wheat grass are unsubstantiated. I say this with respect, however, as empirical evidence (practitioners and patients reporting good results) is important to consider as I know from my own herbal medicine practice. Clinical studies are expensive and often profit-driven and there is no financial gain in performing these studies on something people can grow in their back yards for pennies.

    Still, when analyzed, the nutrient value of wheat grass, though concentrated, is the same as eating broccoli or spinach, but the power of drinking wheatgrass may lie in its ability to detoxify the digestive system and reduce inflammation. It is my hope that with the popularity of this su-called “superfood” some of the companies that are making money selling wheatgrass juicers, powder or growing kits will begin to fund studies to prove their claims.

    Wheat grass is sprouted from seeds, “wheat berries”, and is easy to grow. In one animal study, it did reduce cholesterol levels, and in another small study it seemed to reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Claims that because of its high chlorophyll content (70%) and chlorophyll’s structural similarity to human red blood cells wheat grass helps build hemoglobin or red blood cells are unfortunately not true. The reality is that chlorophyll can do two things:

    1. It blocks dietary iron-induced metabolites from creating havoc in our system. In other words, it can help balance an iron-heavy diet such as heavy meat eaters have. Chlorophyll also binds to certain carcinogens, carrying them out of the body.

    2. It is a dietary source of magnesium which can also be found in green leafy vegetables, young cereal grasses, and chlorella. These are all alkaline-forming foods which promote healthy pH levels in the body, and particularly in the gut, which in turn helps good bacteria to thrive.

    People with gluten sensitivities can safely drink wheat grass juice, but if you have an actual ALLERGY to wheat, the juice is not recommended (you may notice immediate sore throat or swelling of mouth/lips if you are allergic, but this is rare.) Wheat grass gives you B vitamins (except B12 & folic acid), vitamins A&E and most of the essential amino acids and minerals our bodies need.

    Recommended dose is 2 oz per day, more if you are combatting a serious illness and need both more alkalinity and antioxidants. Wheat grass is easy to grow. There are many u-tube presentations on the internet to learn how. In our garden here at AmaTierra we grow the seeds in a medium of coconut fiber and our hydroponic nutrients, with very good results. The grass is ready to juice (we put ours in the Vitamix) in 6-8 days.

    It is my hope that this information is helpful to you in making healthy food choices. Detoxing the body from time to time is important, and fresh greens do help in this endeavor as do herbal teas and supplements. Feel free to write to me with your comments or to schedule an individual consultation with me at amatierra@gmail.com.

    About the Author

    Jill Ruttenberg, Reg. Herbalist (AHG) is a healer, herbalist and the owner of AmaTierra Wellness Center in Costa Rica, a wellness and yoga retreat and wellness center. Visit AmaTierra online, www.AmaTierra.com, contact Jill at amatierra@gmail.com or Costa Rica Telephone:(506) 2419-0110Fax: (506) 2419-0094.

    This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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