There’s a lot of buzz these days about the health benefits of eating a raw diet. But is the diet healthy because it eliminates unhealthy cooked, processed foods, or is food healthiest when eaten raw?
According to health and nutrition experts, cooking releases some of the trapped nutrients. Eating some cooked vegetables can provide a higher level of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Cooking Some Foods Releases Nutrient Value
While it’s true that some vegetables are healthier raw, cooking vegetables increase the nutrient level in others. In scientific research studies, there are many inconsistencies as to whether cooked or raw vegetables have more nutrition value. One study paper, published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reports that antioxidants are increased in some vegetables when they are cooked.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances–such as vitamin C or vitamin E–that are thought to reduce free radicals in the body. Free radicals were initially identified in 1956 as unstable atoms that can damage cells–causing illness and aging. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals (as a natural result of metabolism) and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify the harmful effects of free radicals. The body uses antioxidants to neutralize the effects of free radicals.
Which Vegetables are Healthier Cooked?
The good news is that we don’t have to eat an all raw diet to get rid of free radicals. Some foods trap nutrients in the cell wall during the cooking process. Also, vegetables, such as spinach, provide different nutrients raw than when cooked. Here is a list of veggies that are more nutritious when cooked:
- Tomatoes – cooking reduces vitamin C levels, but, increases lycopene. Lycopene has been studied for its benefits in many health conditions, including prevention of heart disease, prevention of “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), prostate and many other types of cancer.
- Broccoli – this super food is rich in nutrients such as carotenoids, phytonutrients and vitamin E. Broccoli is thought to lower inflammation and help detox the body. In a research study, cooked broccoli was found to have a much higher level of carotenoids than raw broccoli. A recent research study discovered that cooking broccoli results in the release in carotenoids-compounds with numerous health benefits.
- Carrots – are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. A recent research study, published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that boiling carrots was the best method for enhancing nutrient value of carrots. In fact, the study revealed that carrots had 14% more nutrients when boiled in water.
- Pumpkin (and winter squash) – this heart healthy fruit (yes, pumpkin and squash are in the fruit category) is related to cucumbers, and cantaloupes. A recent research study discovered that cooking released carotenoids and lycopene—making these nutrients easier to absorb.
- Asparagus – contains vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants. Cooking helps to break down the tough outer lining of asparagus, making its nutrients easier to absorb. Like pumpkin, asparagus is a heart healthy food.
- Mushrooms – although mushrooms are commonly classified as a vegetable, they are actually in the fungi category. Fungi are organisms similar to yeast and mold. Research has found that the nutrients in cooked and raw mushrooms are equal; but cooking shrinks mushrooms in size—allowing for more consumption per serving. Mushrooms are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and are thought to help detoxify the body. Mushrooms are also thought to help reduce the risk of many age related diseases—including cancer.
- Spinach – When you ingest spinach that has been cooked, higher levels of some nutrients are absorbed by the body–such as vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. However, eating spinach raw will provide more folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium. Both raw and cooked spinach are loaded with iron, which helps build red blood cells. Spinach is thought to promote eye health, prevent anemia, promote high energy levels, and more.
- Red Peppers – Red peppers are a great source of carotenoids and as with carrots, cooking enhances the availability of this powerful antioxidant. Roasting (instead of boiling or frying) seems to be the magic spot when it comes to better nutrient value, and adds flavor to red peppers as well.
Regardless of whether you prefer your vegetables raw, or cooked, eating a wide variety of veggies every day provides a vital source of nutrients that promote anyone’s goal to live past 100 well!