Let’s understand this raw vs. cooked vegetables debate, shall we?
Have you ever gotten those free Kindle downloads on Amazon? You know once in a while they offer a totally free “book” with no subscription.
One of those books I once downloaded was a raw food cookbook. It advocated for eating everything and I do mean EVERYTHING raw. It made me wonder….. should I be? Well, here’s the down low on what to eat raw and what to cook.
Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn’t that critical for most people. Although those who struggle to absorb nutrients or have allergies may find this is critical for them. I want to help y’all understand how to get the most nutrition out of your food.
The answer isn’t as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.” As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more “bioavailable”). So let’s dive a little deeper and look at some of those foods.
Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods vs. cooked foods!
Foods to eat raw
As a general rule, water-soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw.
The reason why is two-fold.
First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade from the heat of your chosen cooking method. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients. So, cook the food, lose the vitamins.
Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form. So sit down for an awesome salad for lunch or cook them for as short a time as possible like blanching or quick steaming!
FUN FACT: Did you know raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach? So enjoy it on that sandwich or salad! But don’t be scared to cook it either, we’ll talk about that more in a minute.
The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.” So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water? You guessed it! All those vitamins get left behind in your cooking water. This is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but it’s even the case for foods that are steamed.
Can I use that?
Many people save that poaching water to use for a soup so they get all those nutrients. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.
Goodbye vitamins, the heat took away what you wanted to save.
Wondering how much loss that could mean? It’s a range, but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.
In short, the water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what’s left over after they’re heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.
Soaking nuts and seeds
Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become “unlocked” from their chemical structure, so they’re more absorbable. So soak those almonds for a bit, then enjoy them on your salad!
Foods to eat cooked
Cooking red and orange vegetables that are considered “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable. One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots! Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked? Spinach!
Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked. And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible. Of course, I would if I had to do it to help you. Because I care about your health. Thankfully, I don’t have to, the truth is that awesome!
Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.
Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach. And it’s a little easier to hide cooked spinach in things so the kids don’t know they are getting all those amazing bioavailable nutrients. #MOMHACK
So, what’s the take-home message? The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them!
Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables!
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