Raw or Cooked Vegetables
Which is Healthier?
There are so many benefits to raw food diets. But, there are some foods that can actually be more nutritious for us to eat in a cooked form. So how do you know if raw or cooked vegetables are better for you?
It really comes down to nutrition science. Some nutrients are very delicate and degrade quickly when exposed to heat. Others, when cooked, can become easier for our digestive systems to absorb. And then there is the more complex nutrition science of combining specific nutrients to enhance absorption.
The great thing about this time of year is finding the best selection of both raw or cooked vegetables at your local farmers market.
Figuring out whether to go with raw or cooked vegetables can be easy if you understand a bit about nutrition. So here are some really simple points to consider when deciding.
And I’ve included a tasty recipe which combines just the right ingredients to naturally enhance nutrient absorption.
Fruits and Vegetables Best Eaten Raw
As a general rule, fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and B vitamins are best eaten raw. The reason why is two-fold.
First, these nutrients are very delicate and break down quickly when exposed to heat. Steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying foods rich in Vitamin C and B vitamins will break down the nutrients and make them less beneficial.
The simplest way around this is to eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form like in a salad. Or, cook them quickly by steaming or blanching. Some examples of these would be any of your leafy greens like lettuces, kale, or spinach along with red peppers and all berries.
Secondly, foods high in vitamin C and B vitamins are best eaten raw because these nutrients are water soluble. So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water? They dissolve right into the water. This is particularly true for boiled or poached vegetables. And even steamed vegetables will lose some nutrients in the steam.
Here’s an extra tip for you if you’re going use a water-based method of cooking. Keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients left after cooking. But be cautious not to overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.
Fruits and Vegetables Best Eaten Cooked
Cooking beta-carotene-rich vegetables make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable. Orange and red veggies like tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes are most nutritious when they are cooked. In fact, one study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!
Nutrients in these foods are also considered fat soluble. So for even greater nutrient absorption, eat your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked – Spinach!
Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that its great eaten both raw and cooked.
Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C and B vitamins. Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.
Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. And it’s easier to eat a larger serving of cooked spinach because cooked spinach reduces in size, so you can consume more nutrition without feeling stuffed.
As you can see by the spinach example, knowing if either raw or cooked vegetables are more nutritious can depend on the vegetable itself.
Here’s a great spinach recipe for you that also incorporates the idea of combining nutrients to enhance absorption. Spinach is rich in the essential mineral iron. The lemon in this recipe is high in vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron when consumed together. Enjoy!
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bag baby spinach leaves
dash of salt
dash of black pepper
1 Fresh lemon
In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes. Sauté spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and squeeze fresh lemon juice on top. Serve & enjoy!
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