Cooked Versus Raw Vegetables

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I’ve done a little reading about this topic, and you can find pretty strong opinions, especially on the side of raw food.  The question I’m addressing here is not which is more appealing, but which is healthier.   I think that question can be looked at from two aspects:  which is the most digestible and which  contains the most nutrients.  Here’s what I have learned about digestibility and nutrition.

1.   Digestibility.   Raw vegetables contain enzymes that aid digestion.  Cooking can destroy those enzymes and hinder digestion.  However, vegetables also contain cellulose, a fiber which we have difficulty digesting, even with those enzymes.  While fiber doesn’t contain nutrients, it is an important part of digestive health.  Cellulase, the enzyme needed to digest cellulose, is produced by intestinal bacteria.  Cooking vegetables, even lightly steaming them, breaks down that cellulose layer and makes them digestible.  Blending or pureeing vegetables, such as in a smoothie, also helps make them more digestible.

2.  Nutrition.  Generally, minerals withstand heat, especially dry heat.  Vitamins are more easily destroyed, but do better with moist heat.  Both vitamins and minerals leach into cooking liquid, and it is good to use that liquid in the meal.    Some nutrients, particularly vitamin C, are easily destroyed by heat.  On the other hand, some nutrients are made more available by cooking.  In one study, lycopene in tomatoes rose 35 percent after cooking them. 

In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables sold in stores have often lost many of their nutrients by the time we eat them.  It is best to chose items that are in season and grown locally.  Frozen vegetables are usually frozen at their peak and could contain more nutrients than fresh.  Obviously, they would have to be cooked. 

The bottom line for me is that we should eat a variety of vegetables in a variety of ways.  The important thing is to eat them.  If you won’t eat broccoli raw, but you will eat it cooked, then cook it and eat it.   If your child eats carrots raw, but not cooked, then give him raw carrots.  You get what I’m saying:  Eat Your Vegetables! (And I’m speaking to myself as well.)

You can find more information at the following sites (and many more with a little searching).

Surprising News About How Cooking Affects Antioxidants – NutritionData

Vegetable Nutrient Chart – Dr. Decuypere

Fact or Fiction:  Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones – Scientific American

How to Eat Your Vegetables Raw – Body Ecology

This post is third in a series on vegetables.  I’ll finish next week with ways to cook vegetables.  You can view the first two posts here:

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables

What is a Vegetable?

What do you think about cooked versus raw?




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Comments

  1. Airwrecka says:

    My mom has been sick for years and years. Digestive, bowel issues, food allergies. She always tried to eat as raw as possible and ate very little sugar, dairy or wheat. Someone finally recommended to her that all her food needed to be eaten cooked and/or at room temperature and it has changed her life. No more gas, diarrhea, constipation, etc. Raw is not always the best thing for everyone.

  2. I think it's important to have both, like you said. But I do find my weight easier to manage when I'm having raw veggies, like a salad every day.

  3. Annette says:

    I just became one of your followers because I really appreciate what you do for the celiac community. Your research on raw foods is very interesting – I have been wondering about this for a while, and there seems to be so much info out there, it is difficult to know what to believe. Thank you also for your great recipes and instructions!!

  4. Aubree Cherie says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks so much for this post! I really struggle with this issue of cooked vs raw. I really like that you've taken an very objective approach; I feel I've gained a better understanding. (And maybe I'll let myself not feel as guilty for cooking most of my vegetables…)

    So thanks! ~Aubree Cherie

  5. zanjabil says:

    I remember when I tried the raw vegan diet for a couple months…it
    was my worst diet experiment EVER. I had the worst GI issues. I now eat most of my veggies cooked, but I still love a raw salad often. Greens,celery, and carrots seem to be the most digestible for me in the raw state. My sons also prefer those veggies raw too. Almost everything else is cooked for our family. We also tend to eat more raw seasonally, late spring and summer.

  6. WendyGK says:

    My youngest breaks out in hives around her mouth when she eats raw fruits and veggies. She loves cooked veggies. They only need to be lightly steamed to stop the hive issue and she eats a lot especially greens like kale and chard and she goes through two big bunches of broccoli a week by herself. I think we need to listen to our own bodies and eat what works for us. There are so many diets, shoulds, guilt and shame issues around food these days. Moderation and listening to our bodies and some common sense are my rules. The rest of the family likes big salads and more raw fruits and vegetables, but we are a different blood type and our celiac symptoms are not the severe digestive kind like hers. Great post, Linda.

  7. Karen, WA state says:

    I prefer to eat raw veggies as I really like the crunchiness, however, many veggies I can not digest raw and others cause painful blisters all thru my mouth and throat. (Unfortunately I have 20 IgE allergies to fruits and veggies plus several IgG allergies)So I have to cook everything.

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