Is eating raw vegetables nutritionally healthier than cooked vegetables?
You might have heard or read about this comparison. Most raw foodist and some nutrition experts will tell you it is healthier to eat raw vegetables because they believe that cooking vegetables destroys the vitamins, nutrients and enzymes in raw foods. Is that really true? Some recent nutrition studies say no.
One study published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that cooked vegetables can be just a nutritious as raw veggies and some are even more nutritious than uncooked ones, depending on how they are cooked. In the study the researchers cooked a variety of vegetables. They first steamed and stir fried the vegetables for 10-15 minutes and found there was no significant nutrient loss. Then the vegetables were boiled for 30 minutes and showed there was significant nutrient loss, most of nutrients were found in the water. So, boiling vegetables may not be the best option.
And in another study, researchers found that people eating an fully raw diet had low levels of lycopene. The study found that a group of 198 subjects who followed a strict (95%) raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene, but low levels of other nutrients, such as lycopene. Lycopene is a red pigment found predominantly in tomatoes and red bell peppers and other rosy fruits such as watermelon, pink guava, and papaya. Several studies conducted in recent years (at Harvard Medical School, among others) have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University who has researched lycopene, says that it may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C. Studies have also suggested that cooking actually boosts the antioxidant content of vegetables.
Its well established that cooking can increase beta-carotene levels, a nutrient which we use to make Vitamin A. Studies have also found that we only absorb 1-2% of the beta-carotene in vegetables like carrots, but cooking can raise the level we can absorb to over 75%. And while cooking Broccoli damages the enzyme myrosinase, which breaks down glucosinates (compounds derived from glucose and an amino acid) into a compound known assulforophane, a nutrient linked to anti-cancerous activity, that increases the folate availability. In this case broccoli is healthier raw rather than cooked.
Why is cooking vegetables good? Cooking breaks down compounds in plants our body has trouble digesting like cellulose, a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide). Cooking makes food easier to digest and makes nutrients more available to our digestive system. Despite the fact that humans can’t digest cellulose, because humans lack the digestive enzymes to digest them, it’s still an important part of a healthy diet. The cellulose fibers from vegetables and grains pass through our digestive system basically unchanged, called dietary fiber, which helps cleanse our intestines, keeps the intestines healthy and results in healthy bowel movements. Conclusion Its better to have a good mix of raw and cooked veggies in your diet. That way you get the best of both worlds. The key thing is not to presume that cooked vegetables are nutritionally poor, because they’re not. They’re also packed with vitamins and minerals, and some of them you cant get as easily by eating the uncooked versions. That is why it is important you eat lots of fruits and raw or cooked vegetables and greens to have a healthy balance. So if you don’t like to eat certain vegetables raw, cook them- it is better you eat them cooked than not eat them at all, no matter how many of the nutrients cooking might destroy. And it doesn’t really matter whether you cook them or not, as long as you’re eating your full servings of greens, reds, and yellows every day. You’ll get the nutrients you need either way!
FOODS BEST EATEN COOKED
Mushrooms It turns out that mushrooms, even the common button mushroom, contain carcinogenic compounds in raw form that are destroyed upon cooking. The same toxin is found in button and Portobello mushrooms- hydrazine- and shiitake mushrooms contain a naturally-occurring fomaldehyde. Both chemicals are heat sensitive and readily abolished upon exposure to heat. Some contain enzymes that inhibit protein uptake. We might think nothing of eating a few slices of button mushrooms raw, but to get the anti-cancer effects of mushrooms instead of the pro-cancer effects, cook these babies. As regular consumption of cooked mushrooms has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 60%, eat them with gusto ;).
Corn Cooking corn increases its anti-oxidant activity: when the ability to quench free-radicals was measured, cooked corn outperformed raw corn by between 25-50 percent! Cooking corn releases a phytochemical called ferulic acid, which is an anti-cancer superstar. Ferulic acid is present in tiny amounts in most fruits and vegetables, but found in very high amounts in corn. Absorption of ferulic acid can increase by a gargantuan 500 to 900 percent by cooking corn.
Tomatoes Cooked tomatoes exhibit some snazzy lycopene action. Tomatoes are known for housing high levels of lycopene, a potent antioxidant, but lycopene levels jump through the roof when we cook them. Cornell University, conducted a study in which our ability to absorb lycopene cooked at varying temperatures was measured: tomatoes were heated for two minutes, 15 minutes and 30 minutes. Levels of these disease-fighting warriors increased with each incremental increase in heating. Trans-lycopene rose by 54%, 171% and 164% during the three treatments. Cis-lycopene levels rose by 6%, 17% and 35% and antioxidants increased by 28%, 34% and 62%.
Beans All beans contain lectins, potentially toxic protein compounds that can damage the heart, kidneys and liver, destroy the lining of the intestines, and inhibit cell digestion, yet are destroyed upon cooking. Given that we are much better off eating beans cooked, raw foodies are loosen out big time by not enjoying a comforting bowl of three bean chili or sprinkling black beans and chick peas on top of a refreshing salad.
Steaming veggies and making vegetable soups changes the plants cell structures so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. When you steam or make vegetable soup, the temperature is fixed at 212 Fahrenheit- the temperature of boiling water. The browning of food and the formation of heat-created toxins, like acrylamides, are awesomely avoided by these cooking methods. The same cannot be said for roasting nuts or the baking of cereals- doing so does reduce the availability and absorbability of proteins and creates acrylamides.
Crunchy snacks like pretzel sticks, potato chips, French fries and breakfast cereals all have the presence of acrylamides, naturally cancer-causing miscreant and genetic mutation inflicting anathema in common. This is present in all fried, baked, roasted, grilled or barbequed foods, but not those that are steamed and boiled. The World Health Organization first began to examine the dangers of acrylamides in 2002 after the publication of a bunch of studies in Sweden linked acrylamide consumption with cancer. Since then, studies have been conducted in Norway, Switzerland, England and USA- all of them have found a correlation between acrylamide consumption and risk of developing cancer. A few months after the initial report out of Sweden, The Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. came out with it’s own study on the acrylamide content of the most common starchy foods. French fries and potato chips are two of the most deadly foods you can eat.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid burnt, overly cooked or browned foods as much as possible. If by accident, you’ve overcooked or browned your food, just discard it. Baking can be a sweet acrylamide-free experience, but it is best to heat cakes, cookies and muffins at very low heat to avoid burning or crisping.
So to get the best of both worlds, eat at least 60% raw foods and 40% cooked. Avoid cooking with oil and burning the food. As long as you are eating a plethora of both raw and cooked plant-based whole foods you getting all the vitamins and minerals you need for healthy life.