Aajonus Vonderplanitz, American actor, author and nutritionist who died in 2013, was famous for eating a diet consisting of raw and sometimes rotten animal foods which he called The Primal Diet. He claimed raw meat and other animal foods eaten raw were healthier than when cooked and he even credited this diet for curing him of multiple terminal cancers.
For decades, a number of movie stars and bodybuilders have been eating raw eggs as part of their diets, based on the belief that raw eggs are healthier and easier to digest.
It’s time to settle the debate by using anthropological and scientific evidence to answer the question: Are meat, eggs and other animal proteins healthier when eaten raw or are they healthier when cooked?
Corn fed vs Pastured Meat
I must start by saying, since we’re talking about raw vs cooked meat, the only type of meat we’re talking about here is pastured meat. This is the only type of meat you should be eating by the way. I want to quickly go through the difference between the two types of meat and their impacts on your health and on the environment.
Corn-fed meat, most of the meat you get from the store destroys topsoil, pollutes waterways, is a highly toxic food, it’s cruel to animals and destroys the environment.
Pastured meat, on the other hand, is when animals are out on lush, green grass in their natural habitat. When they eat and excrete in the same plays, this builds topsoil, provides habitat for microbes, insects, rodents, grazing animals and birds, it provides a great life for the animals, it produces an extremely nutritious food and overall this method of livestock management improves the environment.
There’s a myth out there that human impact on the environment can only be negative. The truth is our impact on the environment can be just as positive as it is negative. The way we have a positive impact is by supporting, buying and eating pastured poultry, beef and lamb. If you don’t have a freezer full of pastured meat, visit EatWild.com. I have no affiliation with them, but they have an amazing directory of farmers near you who produce pastured meats and other foods. Find a farmer near you, email or phone them, then buy a half cow and load up on this stuff.
Raw meat or Cooked meat?
In this presentation we’re going to answer the age-old question: Is raw meat better than cooked meat? In this presentation we’re going to explore both anthropological and scientific evidence and see what we can determine.I
No Hunter Gatherer Cultures ate Raw Food diets
What we know from the study of anthropology is that no hunter gatherer societies ate 100% raw food diets. Plutarch and colonial sailors of the 19th century made claims there were cultures that didn’t cook their food. In 1870, anthropologist Edward Taylor examined these claims to determine if they were true or not and found no evidence of cultures eating purely raw food diets. Taylor concluded that cooking was practiced by every known human society.
Copper Inuit Ate Almost All Cooked Meat
In 1906, polar explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson conducted a series of expeditions in Canada’s Northwest Territories and found the Copper Inuit diet was virtually plant-free, dominated by seal and caribou meat and supplemented with large salmon-like fish and occasional whale meat. Stefansson found that for the Copper Inuit cooking was the nightly norm and that meat was always well cooked.I
“I have never seen Eskimo eat partly cooked meat so bloody as many steaks I have seen devoured in cities – when they cook, they usually cook well.”
– Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1910
Copper Inuit Foods Eaten Raw
That being said there were some foods that the Copper Inuit preferred to eat raw. Some they ate raw but didn’t prefer it and ate it raw instead out of convenience.
Soft animal foods were preferred raw by Copper Inuit.
- Whale blubber was preferred raw, because it was so soft it could be spread over meat like butter.
- They also ate raw seal and caribou livers and kidneys.
Inuit consumed raw food mostly as a snack while away from the camp hunting.
- Fresh raw fish
- Raw rotten “high” fish
Foods Eaten Raw by Other Cultures
A number of other cultures ate some of their foods raw, including Australian Aboriginees, Yahgan, Utes, Copper Inuit and the Maasai.
- Raw Mangrove Worms
- Raw Fruit
- Turtle eggs, oysters and witchetty grubs
- Raw Winkles (mollusks)
- Raw sea urchins
- Raw kidney
- Raw liver
- A mixture of raw milk and blood
“The Inuit probably ate more raw animal products than other societies, but like every culture the main meal of the day was taken in the evening, and it was cooked.”
– Richard Wrangham
Cultures that NEVER Ate Raw Animal Foods
There were some cultures that never ate raw meat or animal foods. These included the Siriono hunter gatherers of Bolivia are one example. In the 1940’s, anthropologist Allan Holmberg discovered that the Siriono had a taboo against eating raw meat, which they claimed not to eat under any circumstances. Three other cultures that never ate raw meat were the Andaman Islanders, the Mbuti and the Kalahari San.
In the past raw eggs were claimed to be the ideal source of calories.
“An egg should never be cooked. In its natural state it is easily dissolved and readily taken up by all the organs of digestion, but the cooked egg must be brought back to liquid form before it can be digested.”
– Molly and Eugene Christian, 1904
This concept persuaded many bodybuilders and actors to eat raw eggs.
These bodybuilders and actors ate raw eggs, but does that mean raw eggs are healthier? Not necessarily. Let’s take a look at some scientific evidence see what we can find out.
Egg Study: Effects of Cooking on Protein Absorption
In 1998, Bulgarian scientists conducted a study to find out how much protein is absorbed from eating raw eggs verses cooked eggs. Participants ate about 4 raw or cooked eggs, containing a total of about 25 grams of protein.
The results showed that participants who ate cooked eggs digested 91-94% of the protein, and participants who ate raw eggs digested about 65% of protein from the eggs. Just by cooking the eggs, therefore, participants digested an additional 30% more protein from eggs than participants who ate them raw.
1987 Study on Heated vs Raw Protein Digestion
Researchers tested the degradation of the protein bovine serum albumin by the enzyme trypsin with and without heat.
In cooked samples, digestion by the enzyme trypsin increased 4x compared to that of uncooked samples.
Mechanisms of action
The Belgian scientists in the previous study concluded the major reason for the dramatic increase in nutritional absorption caused by cooking was the denaturation of proteins induced by heat. The same phenomenon occurred in the 1987 study.
- Cooking denatures proteins
- Cooking softens connective tissues
1. Cooking Denatures Proteins
Denaturing protein exposes it to the action of enzymes. Heat weakens the molecular bonds of a protein, causing it to open up so enzymes can break the rest down into smaller fragments.
Four other ways to denature protein include heat, acidity, salt and drying. For those who still aren’t convinced that denaturing is a good thing, just think of your stomach. Your stomach produces hydrochloric acid specifically to digest and denature meat. If you can denature your protein outside your body before you eat it, you can make digestion even easier by saving yourself the hassle of having to use acid to do it.
2.Cooking Softens Connective Tissues
The material in meat most responsible for its toughness is connective tissue. Composed of a fibrous protein called collagen and a stretchy protein called elastin, connective tissue wraps meat in three layers.
Endyomysium: Surrounds each individual muscle fiber.
Perimysium: Bundles of endomysium enclosed muscle fibers are jointly sheathed within the perimysium.
Epimysium: Those bundles are held together by the outer wrapping called the epimysium, which encloses the entire muscle. At the end of the muscle, the epimysium turns into the tendon.
Tendons Make Good Bowstrings
Tendons are indeed engineering marvels. They are so strong that traditional bow-and-arrows and crossbows use tendons as their bowstrings.
But collagen has an achilles’ heel or kryptonite if you will. Heat turns it to jelly! Imagine how much easier it is for your body to digest something as soft as jelly, which you can literally push your baby finger through with ease, compared to something with half the tensile strength of aluminum.
Cooking Decreases Energy Cost of Digestion
Physiological ecologist Stephen Secor conducted a study using Burmese Pythons. Burmese pythons are the ideal subjects for testing the effects of cooking on the cost of digestion, because after they’re done swallowing a meal, snakes lie in a cage and do almost nothing but digest and breathe.
For the study, 8 Burmese pythons were fed 5 different kinds of experimental diets containing lean beef steak. The diets included raw and intact, raw and ground, cooked and intact, cooked and ground and whole live rat.
The results were as follows:
- In snakes eating raw and intact and whole intact rats, the cost of digestion was the same
- Cooking reduced the cost of digestion by 12.7%
- Grinding reduced the cost of digestion by 12.3%
- Cooking and grinding reduced the cost of digestion by 23.4%
The Alexis St. Martin Story
On June 6, 1822, twenty-eight-year-old Alexis St. Martin was accidentally shot from a distance of about three feet inside a store of the American Fur Company at Fort Mackinac, Michigan in the United States. Surgeon William Beaumont arrived on the bloody scene and said the following when describing what he saw,
“A large portion of his side was blown off, the ribs fractured, and openings made into the cavities of the chest and abdomen, through which protruded portions of the lung and stomach, much lacerated and burnt, exhibiting altogether an appalling and hopeless case. The diaphragm was lacerated and perforation made directly into the cavity of the stomach, through which food was escaping at the time your memorialist was called to his relief.”
Beaumont took St. Martin to his home and he survived to go on and resume a vigorous life, which included paddling his family in a canoe from Mississippi to Montreal. Although the fist-sized wound mostly filled in, it never completely closed. For the rest of his life, St. Martin’s insides were visible from the outside. For St. Martin, this was a horrendous thing to have to live with, but for Beaumont, this meant an extraordinary study opportunity; for the first time in history it was possible to watch digestion taking place.
For the next 8 years, Beaumont experimented by inserting foods into St. Martin’s stomach through the opening attached to a string and observed its effects on digestion. He recorded how long it took foods to be digested by the stomach and emptied into the duodenum and from these observations he drew conclusions in relation to the effects of cooking. When Beaumont introduced boiled beef and raw beef at noon, the boiled beef was gone by 2pm and the piece of raw, salted, lean beef of the same size was only slightly digested on the surface, while the rest remained firm and intact.
- The more tender the food, and the more finely divided, the more rapidly and completely it was digested.
“Fibrine and gelatine [muscle fibers and collagen in meat] are affected in the same way. If tender and finely divided, they are disposed of readily; if in large and solid masses, digestion is proportionately retarded… minuteness of division and tenderness of fibre are the two grand essentials for speedy and easy digestion.”
– Dr. William Beaumont
Sadly, by the time St. Martin died in 1880 at eighty-five-years-old, he felt mistreated and was resentful of being the subject of all this experimentation. Neither he nor his family wanted anything to do with Beaumont. After St. Martin’s death, Dr. William Osler, described as the father of modern medicine, offered to buy his stomach for further study but the family refused. The family kept the body privately for a number of days to ensure it rotted then buried it in an unusually deep grave to ensure nobody could get to it.
I think we owe it to St. Martin and can justify his lifetime of suffering by learning from the experiments done on him after his unfortunate accident and by applying the knowledge to our lives.
Avoid burning meat
Before we draw our conclusions and the final verdict, it’s important to note the dangers of overcooking or burning meat. When you burn or char meat, a number of toxic substances are formed called maillard compounds, such as acrylamide and heterocyclic amines. They are formed essentially by the union of sugars and protein in the meat, mainly the amino acid lysine. In his book, Richard Wrangham stated “Their presence is easily recognized in the brown colors found in pork crackling or bread crust.”
As long as overcooking is avoided, we can draw the following conclusions about cooking.
Cooking meat makes it more digestable by both reducing the amount of time and energy your body spends on digestion, and by increasing the amount of energy you obtain from meat.
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