The raw food diet has gained a lot of attention over the past decade. Those who follow the diet believe that cooking foods, such as fruits and vegetables, destroys important vitamins and minerals and that eating them in their natural form is a far healthier approach.
But according to Sydney-based nutritionist Angela Emmerton, that’s not always the case.
The process of cooking actually breaks down tough outer layers and cellular structure of many vegetables, making it easier for your body to absorb their nutrients. In fact, studies suggest steaming is one of the best ways to cook most vegetables.
“Whilst eating raw food appears to be a healthy way to eat, it’s not for everyone,” she says. “Additionally, when you steam a vegetable, you’re less likely to add other filler ingredients which could remove the original integrity of the vegetable,” Angela adds.
That being said, Angela notes that some studies suggest boiling causes vegetables, particularly leafy greens, can cause them to lose nutrients. However, other veggies such as cauliflower, peas and zucchini have shown to maintain “the highest level of their antioxidants” when boiled.
But it can be tricky to know how you should prepare fresh foods to get the most nutrients, so with the help of Angela we’ve rounded up five foods that are better for you when cooked.
It is believe that carrots are healthier and more nutritious when eaten cooked rather than in their raw form. In fact, cooking carrots actually increases the amount of beta-carotene your body is able to absorb — beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, which is essential for things like good vision, bone growth and boosting the immune system.
However, Angela warns cooking carrots may destroy some of their polyphenols — plant-derived antioxidants that can’t withstand heat.
Grilled mushrooms provide more antioxidants to your body, particularly vitamin C, than their raw counterparts, Angela explains. That being said, boiling or frying mushrooms can remove some of their nutritional content.
“It’s highly likely you’d eat double the number of cooked mushrooms versus raw, and would therefore not miss out on too many of the nutrients available in mushrooms,” she adds.
Tomatoes are a fantastic source of lycopene — a powerful antioxidant that has a variety of health benefits, including sun protection, improved heart health and a lower risk of certain types of cancers.
And once they’re cooked, lycopene becomes much easier to absorb, although it also reduces the amount of vitamin C found in the vegetable.
“Studies indicate cooking tomatoes increases the lycopene in tomatoes by up to 35 per cent, because heat breaks down cell walls and makes it easier to extract,” Angela adds.
Spinach is packed with nutrients and vitamins, whether you eat it raw or cooked. Cooking, however, increases vitamins A and E, protein, fibre, zinc, thiamine, calcium and iron, Angela explains. Important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also become more absorbable.
However, boiling spinach may significantly reduce those nutrients, so steamed is often the way to go.
These green stalks pack a powerful nutritional punch, but the thick cell walls make it hard for our body to absorb these healthy nutrients. However, cooking asparagus breaks down its fibrous cells so that we can absorb more of the vitamins.
“Cooking also helps to improve the bio-availability of antioxidants, particularly ferulic acid,” she says.
However, Angela adds it’s important to not become too concerned about which vegetables need to be eaten raw or cooked.
“The key is to eat your veggies and by doing so, you’re likely to get a good share of the vitamins and minerals available… particularly if you choose to eat a wide variety of coloured vegetables,” she said.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.