Raw foods are regarded by many people as more nutritious than cooked because they are supposedly alive with enzymes that give our bodies the nutrients we need. However, cooking vegetables helps us get more nutrients from them because it breaks down starches and makes them more accessible for the body to digest.
Raw vegetables are sometimes called living foods because they’re still alive. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals and enzymes that help keep us healthy. These natural benefits are lost when you cook foods or add heat in other ways.
Are More Nutrients Always Better?
Many people assume vegetables that can be eaten raw are better for you than those cooked. But, like all foods, it depends on how you cook them. The longer and the more heat you use when cooking your veggies, the more nutrients you’ll lose. However, some veggies contain compounds that become more bioavailable when cooked — meaning they are easier for your body to absorb.
Raw tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, for example, contain an antioxidant called lycopene. Your body loves this nutrient and uses it to fight off damage-causing free radicals. Cooking tomatoes causes the lycopene to become more bioavailable (meaning it can better soak into your body’s cells). So as long as you eat enough cooked tomatoes, you don’t have to worry about losing out on any lycopene benefits by keeping them raw.
Raw vs Cooked: Some of the Benefits of Cooked Vegetables
Some vegetables are best eaten raw, and others are better cooked. Cooking has its benefits, too.
Cooking vegetables can make them more nutritious by increasing the availability of certain nutrients (especially minerals like calcium) and by boosting the amount of antioxidants in your meal.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Food Science, cooking carrots increases their beta-carotene content by up to 100%. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that’s converted into vitamin A after it enters your body. It helps maintain healthy eyesight, skin and joints, and plays a role in cancer prevention.
The same study found that cooking spinach increased its vitamin C content by almost 50%, while also making more of this vitamin available for absorption. Vitamin C helps protect against cell damage caused by free radicals, which can lead to heart disease, cataracts and other health problems.
When you cook vegetables, you don’t just add flavour. You also get some other benefits from cooking that can help you eat more vegetables:
Cooking can have other benefits too. A 2009 study published by the Cold Spring Harbour Symposia on Quantitative Biology journal and conducted by Harvard University showed that cooking:
Increases digestibility, and
Improves the net energy value of foods
Plus, some evidence suggests that cooked foods contributed to the evolution of the human brain because it “greatly increases the caloric yield of the diet, as a result of the greater ease of chewing, digestion, and absorption of foods cooked in otg oven.”
With many vegetables, the best way to prepare them is the way that gets you to eat them. If cooking them means you’ll eat more, that could be a very good thing.