Sarah Turnbull asked:
Hi Chris et al.,
I love the show and have been meaning to write in for a while to ask you a question.
I heard a scientist make a comment that human beings could not survive for more than three months on raw food alone (I'm pretty sure it was Steve Jones). He made an off-hand remark about us evolving an external stomach for digestion - the frying pan!
So, I would like to ask if this is true, and if so, why.
Kat - This is an interesting one, because human beings have evolved to digest food as we’ve evolved the use of cookery. So from the development of fire, we humans have evolved, and we’ve evolved cooking skills along with that.
It is possible to survive on a raw food diet, but there are some health risks associated with it. Some of the studies that have been done on people who have lived on raw food diets for a long time have shown that they tend to be underweight, so there’s a risk of just not getting enough calories in you. Particularly for women, there’s also a risk of osteoporosis, and not getting enough minerals and vitamins to make healthy bones. Again, with women, they can have no periods or irregular periods, so that can be a problem. There’s a big risk, actually, of food poisoning. One of the most important things that cooking something does is gets rid of the bacteria in it, so there is an increased risk of things like gastroenteritis and food poisoning from eating a lot of raw foods, particularly things like raw milk. But even salad vegetables, we know that things like E.coli outbreaks can be on salad vegetables.
Chris - But what about – I went to Leon and had steak tartare a few years back, and very nice it was too, that’s just raw meat, but it’s still meat. I don’t think there’s any benefit from cooking that apart from the one you mentioned about the fact that you’re going to kill any bugs in it. And what about people from Japan, for instance, who eat enormous amounts of raw fish?
Kat - Well there are certainly a lot of raw foods that you can eat that will be perfectly good for you. Some of the people who go for raw food diets are also vegetarian, so they’ll say “I don’t want to eat anything from animals”, or even vegans, which is really tough, I should imagine...
Chris - They don’t want to eat a vegan?
Kat - No! They don’t want to eat anything from animals at all, so they would be vegans themselves. Eating vegans, if they’re raw, would be part of a raw food diet, I’m sure. You can eat some raw meats, you can certainly eat some raw fish and fruits, nuts, grains, vegetables, and all of these kinds of things, if you eat them raw, would be part of a raw food diet. So there are some health risks attached to it, but people can certainly survive on it, yes.
Dave - I don’t know whether the original quote might have meant that if people lived on a normal diet, but didn’t cook it, they wouldn’t last for three months, because you need higher quality food and you’ve got to eat more of it.
Kat - I think you do have to think quite hard about it if you’re going to take up a diet like that.
Chris - So we’re giving it the official “thumbs down”, are we? Are we saying it probably is more myth than fact?
Kat - Yes, I think you can definitely survive on a raw food diet, as long as it’s the right kind of raw food diet.
I think a 3 month time limit would be a gross oversimplification.
It depends what you mean by 'raw'.
Well, "How and when to wean a human infant is a subject of much controversy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding a baby only breast milk for the first 6 months of its life, "
So what did early humans eat before they accidentally dropped some meat/food on a fire and cook it ? neilep, Mon, 17th Sep 2012
Probably the same kinds of things other primates do; we would have had a much longer gut to digest it; we've had fire for about half a million years or more, plenty of time to evolve a shorter gut. wolfekeeper, Mon, 17th Sep 2012
Nuts are good apparently:
there is an 'ism ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_foodism#Research RD, Tue, 18th Sep 2012
In some post-apocalyptic scenario he could well be right. It's all very well saying you can eat vegetables, nuts or what have you, but the problem is finding these things in sufficient quantities, and being able to cultivate them all year round.
Just to add to my original question:
I think the answer is that there is nothing inherently bad about uncooked food, and our bodies can gain nutrients from both cooked and uncooked food.
Although they did boil somethings, the Inuit traditionally ate most food including meat raw or frozen, so it must be possible to survive on it. cheryl j, Wed, 26th Sep 2012
People the question was ..''CAN WE SURVIVE ON A DIET OF ONLY RAW MEAT...NOT ANY FRUIT OR VEGIES ...I think not , you will get scurvey and die ... Albert Mag, Tue, 1st Oct 2013
Plenty of people already survive on raw food. It was quite a fad in the Seventies. "Extreme juicers" seem very healthy, if slightly bored. I like to supplement a juice diet with the occasional assiette de fruits de mer, though crabs and prawns really need to be cooked if only to stop them walking off the plate. alancalverd, Tue, 1st Oct 2013
Come on folks ! Eskimo people in Arctic leaves happy on entirety raw meat diet for ages. They do not cook- there is almost no wood to burn. There is no greens as well. And no salt used. Snow is a sours of distilled water. alex, Wed, 9th Apr 2014