Cooking Friend or Foe?

Posted on by Denny Waxman

Food is a touchy and personal subject. It affects us in so many ways and we often feel threatened by changes in our food choices and preparation. I hope to express these ideas with openness, curiosity and respect, as food is at the very core of our health and life.

We have grown up with so many mythologies surrounding food. Thanks to T. Collin Campbell and his ground breaking book, The China Study, it is finally becoming more widely known that plant protein is superior to animal and dairy protein in every way. I was so happy to find The China Study as it confirmed everything that I wrote in my book, The Great Life Diet.

Modern education about the importance of animal and dairy proteins has created far more harm than good throughout the world. Yet, most people still ask, “Where’s the protein?” The correct answer is that it is in all plant-based foods including grains, beans, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits, and not just animal and dairy foods.

At the same time we have been brought up to think that cooking destroys nutrition. That idea is also not completely accurate. It is far more accurate to say that cooking has the ability change nutrition for better or worse. Cooking can increase or decrease nutrients and their digestibility depending on the food, cooking style and length of cooking. Cooking also increases the taste and enjoyment of our food as well as giving us the ability to preserve it for long periods of time.

I have the greatest respect and appreciation for all plant based ways of eating and living. There is no doubt that these are all the way to a healthier future. At the same time I find Richard Wrangham’s research about the effects of cooking on nutrition compelling as it confirms my many years of macrobiotic practice, study and personal experience. Through my macrobiotic counseling practice, I have seen repeatedly that learning how to cook well is of central importance to creating long-lasting health and fulfillment.

The relationship between food choices, cooking and health has become my lifelong study since living in London from 1981 to 1983. At that time I was the director and main instructor of the Kushi Institute and had the experience of meeting so many people from all over eastern and western Europe that came to study there. The more that I talked with these people about their food traditions the more I began to realize that their food choices and cooking were the key to not only health but the uniqueness of the varying cultures and environments that they were from.

I like to refer to all methods of food preparation including raw, pickling and fermentation as cooking since they are all done with a specific purpose in mind. Skillful cooking has a number of advantages. It makes food more delicious and digestible. Cooking actually increases the bio-available nutrition in our foods. It also increases the energetic level of the food and provides more physical and mental energy. Think about eating a raw salad, steamed greens or a stir fry. The raw salad is the most relaxing, the steamed greens more soothing or settling and the stir fry is the most energizing.
Cooking also increases our ability to adapt to our environment by increasing our ability to disperse or maintain heat. Think about the differences of the cuisine from different parts of the world. Just compare Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean, British and German cuisine. It is easy to see that the cuisine of India is much more cooling than the cuisine of a colder climate such as Germany.

I find it interesting that most plant based approaches to eating and living are separating and polarizing rather than aligning these days. To me, the way to a healthier future personally, socially and environmentally will be fostered by combining raw foods, sprouting and juicing with a wide variety of cooked foods according our environment, desires and individual needs.

I will expand on this topic in my next blog including the use of oil in our foods.

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