Cooked Vs. Raw Vegetables: Which is Healthier?

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You have to add vegetables to your diet if you want to enjoy long-term, holistic health. But there’s another big question: should you eat your vegetables cooked or raw?

In truth, it depends on the vegetables you plan to eat and how sensitive your digestive system is. Let’s take a closer look at how cooking can benefit certain vegetables and why it can be a destructive process for other vegetables.

What Cooking Does to Food

Put simply, cooking raises the temperature of food items significantly. 

This does a few major things over time:

  • It eliminates most microorganisms that might be on or inside the food, including potentially harmful germs or parasites
  • It assists with digestibility, assisting our bodies in absorbing all of the accessible nutrients from food. When you cook food, you break down hard fibers and other materials so your digestive system can absorb the food more quickly
  • Lastly, cooking food makes it more pleasurable by changing its texture and flavor 

Humans invented cooking millennia ago. It’s thought that this achievement helped our ancient, Paleolithic ancestors to access more nutritional value in their food, which in turn allowed them to gradually evolve larger brains and more intelligence. In short: cooking is vital for most human nutritional needs.

So, Why Eat Raw Food at All?

Even with these facts, it’s also true that raw foods, and especially raw vegetables, are vulnerable to having various digestive or nutritious enzymes broken down or eliminated after exposure to intense heat.

This can counterintuitively make certain vegetables a little harder to digest or make their nutrient content less accessible by your digestive system.

Some nutrients (only with specific vegetables) can be lost if they are exposed to high heat. So the longer you cook certain vegetable types, the less nutritious they will be when your body finally digests them.

Therefore, if you want to get the maximum nutrient content from your vegetables, you’ll want to cook some of them and eat others raw or only slightly cooked.

Benefits of Eating Cooked Veggies

When you eat cooked vegetables, you benefit from several major nutritional boosts.

Higher Mineral Content

It’s no secret that vegetables are key sources of many vital minerals, like iron, calcium, and potassium. But lots of these minerals are trapped within tough vegetable fibers unless they are cooked. As you break down the fibers with heat, these minerals become more accessible and absorbable by your body.

Better Flavor

It’s also well known that cooking vegetables gives them far superior flavor in most cases. The best way to get kids or anyone who doesn’t like vegetables to eat them more regularly is to cook them in tasty spices.

Easier Digestion

Cooking your vegetables breaks down tough fibers, making them easier to digest. This can be beneficial if you have a sensitive digestive system, although your doctor may also recommend you eat more raw vegetables from time to time as some fiber content can be beneficial for your gut microbiome.

Why You Might Consider Raw Vegetables

Cooking definitely brings benefits, but so does eating certain veggies raw.

More Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Nutrients

Fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients are meant to be stored in fat deposits throughout your body, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are vulnerable to being destroyed during the cooking process.

More Water-Soluble Vitamins and Nutrients

Similarly, water-soluble vitamins and nutrients are supposed to be diffused throughout your bloodstream and absorbed by individual cells. These include vitamins B and C and various antioxidants, and they can also be destroyed by heat damage.

Example Veggies – Cooked and Raw

Let’s check out some examples of vegetables that are best eaten either cooked or raw based on their taste, vitamin/mineral content, and ease of digestion.

Furthermore, any vegetables you do cook should generally be cooked quickly. The less time vegetables are exposed to heat, the more nutrients they will retain until they are digested. Vegetables should generally be prepared in chunks or slices, cooked quickly and eaten while they are still slightly crunchy or al dente rather than mushy.

If you cook vegetables correctly, you’ll avoid destroying many of the fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins and nutrients mentioned above.

  • Asparagus – is a tasty vegetable that has plenty of antioxidants. Cook it to gain access to these antioxidants more quickly, particularly when you cook the vegetable in fat.
  • Broccoli – is also a nutritious vegetable (it has tons of Vitamin C), but especially if you eat it raw. If you are sensitive to broccoli’s indigestion effects, including gas and bloating, steam broccoli to cook it thoroughly without damaging most of its vitamins and nutrients.
  • Zucchini – is best enjoyed cooked, and it will provide you with vitamin A, fiber, and more
  • Spinach – is a quality cooked vegetable, especially if you want to enjoy the minerals it contains, like calcium and iron.
  • Mushrooms – we’d recommend eating mushrooms as cooked vegetables to make its various nutrients more bioavailable, like potassium and magnesium.
  • Sweet potatoes – are delicious when cooked, especially since they have fiber-rich skin that can be difficult to digest.
  • Kale – most people can eat kale raw and enjoy a higher content of B vitamins and minerals.
  • Onions – can be cooked or raw, but you’ll get more nutritional benefits if you eat them raw.
  • Carrots – carrots are delicious raw, but you get more vitamin and mineral content when you cook them.
  • Cauliflower – provides more vitamins and minerals when you eat it as a raw vegetable.

Summary

As you can see, it’s healthier to eat certain vegetables cooked and certain vegetables raw. Which is which depends on the vegetable in question and your digestive system. 

Speak to your dietitian or doctor if you have more questions, or check out our other health guides to find out which vegetables might be right for your holistic health journey.

Sources

Why Do We Cook Our Food and What Happens When We Do? | EUFIC

Does How You Cook Veggies Change How Good They Are For You? | Health.qld

Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies are Healthier than Cooked Ones | Scientific American

Effect of Different Cooking Methods – Vitamins and True Retention In Selected Vegetables | NCBI 

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