For most people, flavor is the most important consideration in choosing how to prepare vegetables. In terms of nutrition, however, there are reasons to cook some foods and to eat others raw.
Cooking generally causes some nutritional loss, but certain vegetables’ nutrients are more readily absorbed when cooked.
Though there is merit to eating an abundance of raw vegetables, cooking vegetables is not necessarily a bad thing. Even Scientific American weighs in on the raw vs. cooked debate, saying that “cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy.”
Despite raw foodists’ claim that heating vegetables kills their vitamins and minerals, cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest—the cell walls of plants are tough, unlike animal cells. It is true that cooking vegetables may decrease certain nutrients, but it is generally not enough to make a difference.
As a matter of fact, in some cases, cooking vegetables actually makes them more nutritious.
- Asparagus : Cooking helps with the absorption of ferulic acid, an antioxidant.
- Cabbage: Cooking increases the amount of antioxidants we absorb.
- Carrots: Cooking makes it easier to absorb beneficial beta-carotene antioxidants.
- Kale: Better cooked although when raw it has more vitamin C.
- Mushrooms: Cooking increases the amount of available potassium.
- Spinach: Cooking increases absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron.
- Tomatoes: Cooking breaks down plant cell walls, increasing lycopene absorption.
- Winter squash: Full of vitamin A, cooking makes it more digestible.
Just keep in mind that the best methods for cooking veggies are generally boiling or, better yet, steaming—not deep-frying.
Eat It Raw
The nutrient that seems to suffer most from cooking is vitamin C. However, cooking can also affect other nutrients.
Broccoli, carrots and several other vegetables have sparked nutritional debate, because they show both benefits and detriments when cooked and when raw; for example, broccoli’s glucosinolate level is not affected when the broccoli is steamed, making it just as healthy as raw broccoli.
Before going on an all-raw diet (or throwing everything into a pot of boiling water), remember that we all need to eat more vegetables, regardless of their preparation. So just choose your favorites and prepare them as you prefer—cooked or raw!