We all know that eating vegetables is key to a healthy balanced diet. They’re low in calories, have high levels of vitamins and nutrients, and a plethora of antioxidants. But, the way vegetables are prepared can make a huge difference to how healthy they really are.
Many believe that eating vegetables raw maximizes their nutritional benefits, but in reality, some vegetables actually benefit from being cooked.
Let’s take a look at which is best, raw or cooked.
What are the benefits of raw vegetables?
Raw vegetables do contain more nutrients which is why many believe they are healthier. The phytonutrients in plants do have many health benefits such as reducing the risk of some chronic diseases including cancer, stroke and heart disease.
However, these nutrients can be destroyed by cooking and other types of food processing. Exposure to air and cooking can cause vegetables’ antioxidants to oxidize during cooking, making them useless.
Cooking some vegetables causes them to lose up to 50% of their water-soluble vitamins. For example, vitamin C tends to break down when cooked or diffuses into cooking water when boiled. For this reason, the best way to consume certain nutrients such as vitamin C and B is to eat them raw!
How can cooked vegetables be more beneficial?
Although raw vegetables contain more nutrients, some nutrients become more absorbable by the body when they are cooked. For example, a very important antioxidant called beta-carotene, which gives vegetables their yellow/orange color, tends to be more easily absorbed by the body after it’s been cooked.
Aside from aiding the absorption of some nutrients, cooking also provides some other benefits. Cooking makes vegetables easier to chew and digest, and it can also make them taste a lot better!
Remember, not all cooking methods are equal. Frying food creates carcinogens and increases trans-fats which can lead to cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Boiling vegetables tends to leach out all their minerals, so steaming is a much better alternative and retains more nutrients. Sautéing, roasting, steaming, grilling or braising are the healthiest ways to cook vegetables.
Which vegetables are healthier when eaten raw?
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables – Cruciferous vegetables contain many cancer-fighting compounds such as sulforaphane and myrosinase. Raw broccoli can provide you with three times more sulforaphane than cooked broccoli.
Beets – Cooked beets tend to lose around a quarter of their folate, a type of B vitamin which promotes tissue growth.
Onion – Onions are best eaten raw, as they contain higher amounts of allicin, a phytonutrient that decreases hunger.
Red Peppers – High in vitamin C, red peppers are best eaten raw to avoid the breakdown of their heat-sensitive nutrients.
Which vegetables are healthiest when cooked?
Carrots – When cooked, carrots supply more antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A by the body.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes release more lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant, when cooked with a small amount of oil.
Spinach – High in minerals and vitamins, spinach is one of the healthiest “superfoods” out there. When cooked, this leafy green shrinks and lets you eat it in large quantities.
Asparagus – When cooked, asparagus is shown to increase in cancer-fighting properties, as it becomes richer in antioxidants.
Potatoes – Potatoes are always best when cooked, as they are easier to digest. Raw potatoes have high amounts of resistant starch, which is broken down during the cooking process.
Legumes – It is recommended that legumes are always cooked or at least sprouted, as they contain a type of lectin that can cause digestion issues.
Balance is best
Realistically, vegetables are almost always healthy. Although some vegetables may benefit from cooking and others are better raw, as long as they are being eaten, they are going to be healthy!
Combining both raw and cooked vegetables can provide variety and a range of minerals and nutrients. A raw salad for lunch, and a cooked vegetable-based dish for dinner is a perfect way to eat a balanced diet.