The battle of choosing between raw or cooked vegetables produced no clear winner yet. People continue to dispute which is better, although there is still no easy answer when it comes to consuming raw or cooked vegetables. There is also no simple answer when it comes to preparing vegetables to maximise their nutritional content. Indeed, some vegetables are most nutritious raw, while others are enhanced by cooking. This is because certain nutrients are enhanced during the cooking process while other nutrients break down when heated.
Cooking your vegetables can destroy up to 30% of the nutrients. Cooking vegetables in water can destroy a further 20% of vitamins and up to 15% of water-soluble minerals. Some of the nutrients most sensitive to cooking include potassium, vitamin C, folate and thiamine. However, fewer nutrients will be lost when microwaving or steaming vegetables.
In some instances, cooking is crucial to our diets as it aids digestion and softens food. The heat from cooking also breaks down some vegetables’ thick cell walls, releasing nutrients which the body can then absorb. Cooking increases the availability of calcium, iron and the antioxidant lycopene, while fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are unaffected by heat.
Below we have a list that will help you understand whether raw or cooked vegetables are best and how to get the most out of them:
Asparagus – These green stalks are very high in vitamin A, C, and E, as well as folate, which are known to be cancer-fighting. Steaming asparagus breaks down its thick cell walls, making it easier for the body to absorb these nutrients and protective antioxidants.
Beetroot – This tuber is best eaten raw as they lose more than 25% of their folate when cooked. Eating them raw will preserve this brain compound.
Bell Peppers – They are a great source of vitamin C, carotenoids, polyphenols, and other phytochemicals. The vitamin C content of vegetables plummet when cooked above 190°C and, therefore bell peppers are best eaten raw to enjoy the benefits of this immune-boosting antioxidant. Yellow peppers contain the most vitamin C! However, other antioxidants like carotenoids and ferulic acid go up when bell peppers are cooked. Stir-frying and roasting preserves more antioxidants than steaming, whereas boiling loses the most nutrients and antioxidants.
Broccoli – Is best enjoyed raw as the heat from cooking damages one of broccoli’s enzymes, myrosinase. This enzyme is important because it contributes to the formation of sulforaphane, which may help fight cancer. Boiling broccoli destroys much of this enzyme. However, many cruciferous vegetables have more indole, which is also thought to protect against cancer. Steamed broccoli has also better potential to reduce cholesterol than raw broccoli. Stir-frying destroys the most vitamin C and nutrients.
Brussels Sprouts – These super sprouts contain large amounts of folate and vitamin C. Being a cruciferous vegetable it releases more indole when steamed which is an organic compound that can possibly kill precancerous cells before they turn malignant.
Carrots – Are full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth, and regulating the immune system. Cooking carrots increases the amount of beta-carotene your body is able to absorb.
Cauliflower – Raw, it has the most antioxidants overall, but cooking cauliflower increases indole levels. Boiling cauliflower in water loses the most antioxidants. Rather steam cauliflower to maintain most nutrients.
Corn – Cooked corn has higher levels of antioxidants like lutein, which combats blindness in older adults.
Mushrooms – Cooking mushrooms brings out more muscle-building potassium.
Pumpkin – Cooked pumpkin is incredibly more nutritious. Pumpkin is rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene, which are much easier to absorb once it has been heated.
Spinach – This leafy green is packed with folate (vitamin B9), a water-soluble vitamin which is destroyed during the cooking process. Folate is important for the body’s function on a cellular level and is especially critical for pregnant women. Therefore, spinach is at its best when eaten raw. However, have it cooked and you’ll absorb more calcium, iron, and magnesium. Steamed spinach wilts down to just a little bit, which means you eat more of it and consume more folate.
Tomatoes – Cooking tomatoes helps to break down the cell walls, making it easier for our bodies to access the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene may be helpful in preventing certain cancers, such as skin cancer and breast cancer. However, there is a trade-off. Cooking tomatoes for just two minutes decreases their vitamin C content by 10%. Raw tomatoes have less overall antioxidants, but have more vitamin C.
Cooking methods also matter!
How you cook your vegetables matters! Here are some guidelines to preserving the most nutrients possible:
– Boil vegetables in only 2 to 3 tablespoons of liquid, or steam and microwave produce.
– Cook vegetables whole to retain up to 25% more nutrients.
– Minimise the time you expose vegetables to heat, thereby reducing nutrient loss.
– Add a small amount of olive oil, avocado oil, or flaxseed oil to absorb more nutrients.
Raw or Cooked Vegetables: Which is better?
Comparing which is better, raw or cooked vegetables, remains complicated. Nevertheless, vegetables are full of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help sustain your health. What is most important is to actually eat them, regardless of whether you enjoy your vegetables raw or cooked.