Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them: A History of the Raw Food Diet

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

There are endless diets, ways to prepare foods, and types of foods to eat in the world. One of these is the Raw Food Diet or Raw Foodism. While this may seem like a new age, trendy diet, it has been around for more than a hundred years. As defined in a 1923 American Raw Food, Health and Psychological Club publication, raw food has not “been subjected to the devastating heat of the flame and the consequent devitalizing changes which destroy its freshness and render it so much waste when taken into the human system.”1 Depending on whom you followed in the field, raw food diets could include eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Christian, authors of the 1904 book Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them, claimed to have cured all their stomach ailments with complete restoration to perfect health after following a raw food diet for a year. They held a seven-course banquet dinner in New York City to bring their theory to public attention—and it worked. They published this book after receiving many inquiries and hoped that it would emancipate women from the slavery of the cook stove and in turn allow her freedom to cultivate her higher faculties. (Not sure they met their goal there.)

The Christian’s dedication page from Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them, which they hoped would allow women to stop cooking by taking up a raw diet.

The Christian’s dedication page from Uncooked Foods and How to Use Them, which they hoped would allow women to stop cooking by taking up a raw diet.

The raw food diet’s most famous proponent was a Swiss nutritionist and physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner. He was also the creator of muesli and a contemporary of John Harvey Kellogg. The original muesli consisted of: “200 grams of apple (mashed) per helping with only a tablespoon of well soaked oats, some finely grated nuts for protein and fat, the juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk.”2 He believed that these foods contained all the energy the human body needed to sustain itself.

In Meyer-Renschhausen and Wirz’s 1999 article about Bircher-Benner they explained that:

“The core of Bircher-Benner’s therapeutic programme was his dietary plan, which promoted raw food and carbohydrates over cooked food and animal protein…He called this a revolutionary diet, and that it was because, first, it turned prevalent bourgeois culinary values upside down, and second it contradicted the medical thinking of the day, which stressed the value of animal protein above all else.”3

In his book, The Prevention of Incurable Disease, Bircher-Benner argued that faulty nutrition was the root cause of incurable diseases.4 He outlined the mistakes “civilised people” make in their diets. His three biggest arguments were: “Change in Quality of Food by Heat,” “The Excessive Consumption of Protein,” and “Disregard of the Foodstuffs as a Whole.” The following diet is included in his book:

From: Bircher-Benner, Max Oskar. The Prevention of Incurable Disease. London : John Miles; 1938.

From: Bircher-Benner, Max Oskar. The Prevention of Incurable Disease. London : John Miles; 1938.

Conservatively cooked vegetables are cooked at less than 145⁰ F. According to Stella McDermott, author of The Metaphysics of Raw Foods (1919), heating food at or above 145⁰ F destroys certain properties of plant life.5 When foods are heated, but not cooked, little, if any, chemical change takes place.6

In her book, McDermott includes this chart on the nutritive values of raw foods. She explains that the discovery of the vitamin revolutionized “man’s understanding of foods, and theory of diet. Heretofore the value of a food has been determined by its power to give heat and energy. Now it is being determined as essential or non-essential to man according to its richness in Vitamines.”7

From: McDermott, S. Metaphysics of Raw Foods. Kansas City, Mo. : Burton Pub. Co.; [c1919]. Click to enlarge.

From: McDermott, S. Metaphysics of Raw Foods. Kansas City, Mo. : Burton Pub. Co.; [c1919]. Click to enlarge.

Raw food diets may not have been the panacea for fixing incurable diseases or getting women out of the kitchen, but the benefits of including raw foods in your diet cannot be denied. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables lowers blood pressure (BP) and cholesterol levels. According to Chan et al., “Among commonly consumed individual raw vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, and scallions related significantly inversely to BP. Among commonly eaten cooked vegetables, tomatoes, peas, celery, and scallions related significantly inversely to BP.”8

A more recent study suggests that “consumption of a strict raw food diet lowers plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, but also lowers serum HDL cholesterol and increases tHcy concentrations (a protein associated with heart attack, stroke and blood clots) due to vitamin B-12 deficiency.”9

While it is necessary to eat your fruits and veggies, it’s also advisable to have a well-rounded diet that includes all the essential nutrients that sustain the body.

References

1. Estes SL. Raw Food and Health. Chicago: American Raw Food, Health and Psychological Club; [c1923].

2. Meyer-Renschhausen E, Wirz A. Dietetics, health reform and social order: vegetarianism as a moral physiology. The example of Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939). Med Hist. 1999;43(3):323-341.

3. Ibid.

4. Bircher-Benner Max Oskar. The Prevention of Incurable Disease. London: John Miles; 1938.

5. Christian E., Christian MG. Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them; New York: The Health-culture company; 1904.

6. McDermott S. Metaphysics of Raw Foods, Kansas City, Mo.: Burton Pub. Co.; [c1919].

7. McDermott S. Metaphysics of Raw Foods, Kansas City, Mo.: Burton Pub. Co.; [c1919].

8. Geleijnse JM. Relation of raw and cooked vegetable consumption to blood pressure: the INTERMAP study. J Hum Hypertens. 2014;28(6):343-344. doi:10.1038/jhh.2014.13.

9. Koebnick C, Garcia AL, Dagnelie PC, et al. Long-term consumption of a raw food diet is associated with favorable serum LDL cholesterol and triglycerides but also with elevated plasma homocysteine and low serum HDL cholesterol in humans. J Nutr. 2005;135(10):2372-2378.

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