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Raw versus “Processed” Veganism

October 20, 2021

In July, we discussed three different diets and how they peacefully coexist with a vegan lifestyle. This month, we’re reviving that discussion to cover a similar topic: raw or processed food. What does each look like, and which is better; questions with answers that may surprise you! While this topic is usually coined as “raw vs. cooked”, it’s better to frame cooking as a form of processing, as many of the chemical processes involved overlap. Most people have a negative view of processed food products, and the term itself has a bad connotation. However, most vegan companies are health-conscious, and there are plenty of foods that are actually healthier post-process! There’s plenty to go over here, so let’s dive right in.

So, what makes something Raw?

The question may sound ridiculous, but let’s pin down what’s technically raw and what’s processed here, because it’s important to understand what chemical processes alter your food. Colloquially, the term “raw” refers to any foodstuff that has yet to be cooked, simple as that. However, as previously mentioned, cooking is just one form of altering your food. There’s actually an excellent bit of history that perfectly depicts this!

In 1747, a Dr. James Lind was bent on discovering why sailors who had been long-away at sea were becoming sick. He correctly assumed it was a side-effect of their restricted diet (not many foods were ship-stable back then), so he performed an experiment and discovered that sick sailors weren’t getting enough Vitamin C in their diet. Tasked with finding a way to preserve citrus fruit over long voyages, Lind tried boiling the fruit, and unfortunately this destroyed its Vitamin C. Unperturbed, Lind also tried preserving the fruits in salt (as many things were back then) and found that the Vitamin C had also been destroyed using this method. Fortunately for Lind, the third time was the charm, and a lime extract-alcohol mixture had done the trick.

What this shows us though, is that you can chemically alter food with or without cooking it. In this particular example, the outcome happened to be the same: cooked or salted, Vitamin C is rendered useless. What this means for us, is that we have a clear definition of what makes something processed and what makes it raw from a scientific perspective. Intentionally altering the chemical composition, and therefore the nutrients, of a foodstuff is what we will use to define a processed item.

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Should I Avoid Processed Foods Then?

After that example, you may have the impression that processing your food is bad, “it clearly removes necessary nutrients!” That may be the case sometimes, but it’s not necessarily true. Take carrots, for instance. Vitamin-rich just like limes, and when you cook them, you are most certainly destroying some of those vitamins. However, the antioxidant count in those carrots just increased threefold. While some of those nutrients are inevitably cooked away, heat often renders nutrients that are in otherwise inaccessible forms to be easily digested. Beans are a great example for foods that can be totally inedible raw. Depending on the type of bean (red kidneys especially), just a few of them can cause horrible illness. Beans aren’t alone in this regard, rhubarb leaves, yuca stems, and almonds are all foodstuffs that can turn you very sick if you ingest them raw in high enough quantity. Of course, this isn’t to say that you should avoid any of these, just that you should research what you eat raw, especially if it is typically eaten in some processed form.

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Pick up Something Good for You at the NU Food Shop

While we can’t call our snacks raw, they are highly nutritious! Our Queso is a wonderfully creamy mix of several plants and plant-based ingredients, with a bit of nutritional yeast thrown in that makes it savory and nutty. It’s got nutrition in the name; it has to be good for you! Not to mention each of our flavored popcorn flavors, all of which are infused with pea protein to make a healthy snack even better! Get your spice fix with zesty Curry-flavor, taste the umami explosion in Nooch-flavor, or satisfy your sweet tooth with Churro-flavor. Come take a look at what we have to offer at the store, and rest assured, you’ll see that our snacks are good either way.