OK – Let’s have a look at the ‘raw vs cooked debate’ and see if we can shed some light on this!
In the grand scheme of things, if you’re eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole food diet, the ‘raw vs cooked debate’ isn’t of huge importance to most people.
Although, if you are suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, this is definitely worth considering as it could be down to an issue with digestion, absorption, or avoidance of certain foods (if you’re say allergic or intolerant to certain foods).
It’s not always as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.” As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb.
Here is the low down on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.
Foods to eat raw
As a general rule, water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw for two reasons…
- When these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade – this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.
I suppose the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in beautiful salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).
2. The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.” So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water? Yes, they’re dissolved right into the water; this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well. To prove this all you need to do is to boil some veggies and then take a look at the colour of the water left in the saucepan.
Of course, if you’re super savvy about your health, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve the nutrients that are left after cooking!! (Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep).
So… water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what’s left over after they’re heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.
Soaking nuts and seeds
Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them.
Soaking nuts and seeds for several hours at room temperature allows some of the minerals to become more absorbable.
(If you’re anything like me though, when I fancy snacking on nuts, I don’t have several hours to soak them prior to my ‘need’!! Even if you don’t soak your nuts, they are still a really healthy snack providing you don’t go over board with them!!)
Foods to eat cooked
Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.
One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!
Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked
And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen…unless you’re allergic, of course).
Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked.
Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.
Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.
(Oh, and just for the record, did you know that raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach?! )
The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you get plenty of the healthy little fella’s into your daily diet!