Raw Versus Cooked
Contrary to the opinion of strict raw-food advocates, cooking certain foods, some of the time, can actually help you absorb more nutrients. However, there are MAJOR health benefits to consuming RAW vegetables as well.
Cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food, such as cellulose fiber and raw meat that our small teeth, weak jaws and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. While we might hear from raw “foodists” that cooking kills vitamins and minerals in food while also denaturing enzymes that aid digestion, it turns out raw vegetables are not always healthier.
Cooking can be beneficial.
In many cases, cooking destroys some of the harmful anti-nutrients that bind minerals in the gut and interfere with the utilization of nutrients. Destruction of these anti-nutrients increases absorption of the vegetables’ nutrients. Steaming vegetables breaks down cellulose (fiber) so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. Therefore, the “cooked food is dead food” enzyme argument is not accurate in all cases. Boiled or steamed carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw. A January 2008 report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry said that boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, though boiling was deemed the best. On the other hand, the roasting of nuts and the baking of cereals does reduce and sometimes destroys nutrient availability and absorbability of protein.
When food is steamed, essential digestive enzymes are released. This moisture-based cooking prevents food from browning and forming toxic compounds. Acrylamides, the most generally recognized of the heat-created toxins, are not formed with boiling or steaming. They are formed only with dry cooking. Recent studies confirm that the body absorbs much more of the beneficial anti-cancer compounds (carotenoids and phytochemicals—especially lutein and lycopene) from cooked vegetables compared with raw. Multiple studies have demonstrated that the beneficial antioxidant activity of cooked tomatoes is significantly higher than from uncooked tomatoes.
Benefits of raw food
The downside to cooking vegetables is it can destroy the vitamin C, folate and B vitamins in them. Certain minerals are water-soluble and can also be destroyed by cooking. It was found that vitamin C levels declined by 10 percent in tomatoes cooked for two minutes—and 29 percent in tomatoes that were cooked for half an hour at 190.4 degrees F (88 degrees C). The reason is that Vitamin C, which is highly unstable, is easily degraded through oxidation, exposure to heat and through cooking in water. As is obvious, both cooked tomatoes AND raw tomatoes have benefits as well as disadvantages.
Certainly, there are benefits to consuming plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. These foods supply us with high nutrient levels and the smallest number of calories. But the question we are looking at is this—Are there advantages to eating a diet of all raw foods and excluding
all cooked foods? Clearly, the answer is a resounding “no.” In fact, eating an exclusively raw-food diet is a disadvantage. To exclude all steamed vegetables and vegetable soups from your diet narrows the nutrient diversity of your diet and has a tendency to reduce the percentage of calories from vegetables, in favor of nuts and fruit, which are lower in nutrients per calorie.
To eat the most healthful diet on earth, include a sufficient quantity of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and add a glass of freshly squeezed raw vegetables to your diet. Try one of the following combinations:
Further, have a blended salad a few times a week AND try to consume an adequate amount of cooked and/or steamed food, especially vegetable soup.
Which food should you COOK vs. consuming RAW?
Carrots, Pumpkins, and Sweet Potatoes
Don’t be afraid to throw these orange edibles in the oven. These vegetables are high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that is converted into vitamin A in the body, and important for vision, bones, and immunity. Beta-carotene resides in vegetables’ cellular walls—cooking breaks down those walls and makes absorption easier. Studies have also shown that falcarinol, an anti-cancer property found in carrots, increases when cooked.
Broccoli, Kale, Collard Greens, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, and Cabbage
Raw is the right way to go with these members of the Brassicaceae family. All of these greens contain sulforaphane and glucosinolate, two cancer-preventative substances. Studies have shown that cooking broccoli reduces its sulforaphane by more than 90 percent, and other studies have found that up to 77 percent of glucosinolates are lost when boiling these vegetables for 30 minutes. Additionally, these greens are high in vitamins, folate, and potassium, which are lost during cooking. However, if you crave something cooked like kale enchiladas, you will still benefit from the green’s beta-carotene content.
Tomatoes and Red Bell Peppers
Lycopene, a carotenoid and antioxidant that makes these gems red, is thought to reduce cancer risk and promote heart health. A study revealed that cooking tomatoes leads to higher levels lycopene, which, like beta-carotene, is found in cell walls. However, the same research concluded that vitamin C levels declined in cooked tomatoes. Top your pizza with raw tomatoes and red bell peppers to have it all.
You can do no wrong with this superfood. Spinach contains oxalates and calcium, which can lead to kidney stones if too much is ingested. Cooking spinach, however, removes the risk by breaking oxalates down. Additionally, cooking will help the absorption of spinach’s supply of beta-carotene and lutein (a carotenoid necessary for eye health). If spinach is the base of your daily salad, never fear: spinach is full of vitamins, magnesium, potassium, folate, and more—all of which are depleted when the vegetable is cooked.
Onion, Leek, and Scallion
These bulbs boast vitamins B6, C, and K, as well as folate and potassium. They also contain the anti-inflammatory compound quercetin, which is reduced by boiling but is actually increased by baking and sautéing. Nevertheless, cooking will reduce these vegetables’ vitamin and mineral content, so make sure your next batch of salsa includes some raw onion and scallion.
Garlic has been known to fight cancer, enhance immunity, and lower cholesterol. Allicin, an anti-microbial compound found in garlic, is destroyed by heat: cook garlic no longer than five minutes to utilize allicin’s benefits. Cooked garlic still retains flavonoids, selenium, and other sulfur compounds, so not all is lost in the heat.
Quick-cooking methods such as steaming and stir-frying are great for cooking vegetables, but the best way to benefit from soups and salads is simple: mix it up! Why not have a spinach salad with your fish or some raw soup with a stir-fry? After all, variety is the spice of life. Now, go eat your veggies…RAW AND COOKED!!!