Just so there’s no confusion, when I say “Raw vs. Cooked”, I’m talking about vegetables and fruit!
First, let me just tell you that the raw vs. cooked debate isn’t all that critical for most people. A well-balanced, nutrient-dense and varied diet will provide you with all the nutrients you need to maintain good health.
People who eat a whole-foods based diet will generally have a good balance of vitamins and minerals from food.
However, when it comes to problems like nutrient deficiencies due to poor gut bacteria, malabsorption or food avoidance, raw vs. cooked can make a huge difference in what your body can use.
While there are a lot of people following a raw food diet, don’t think that there is a mandate that raw is better. Nor is there any proof that a cooked diet is superior. There is way more to factor in when choosing a diet than which one is considered ‘better’ by the media and health industry!
Yes, some vitamins are better utilized by your body from raw foods, but some are also absorbed faster when the food is cooked.
Raw foods are thought to contain more vitamins and minerals than cooked foods because the cooking process destroys enzymes. Enzymes are needed by the body to breakdown and assimilate nutrients from your food.
Some vitamins, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, are best obtained from raw foods. Women with chronic fatigue and stress will undoubtedly be low in B vitamins. Vitamin C is important for immunity, which is suppressed when you’re stressed out.
Vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble. This means that, if you boil or steam foods rich in either of these vitamins, the nutrients will leach out into the water. Of course, you could save that water for soups or cooking later but the more it’s heated, the fewer the nutrients are left behind.
If you’re unsure whether to eat foods rich in these vitamins as raw vs. cooked, opt for raw. You’ll get more nutritional value and your body will more easily break them down.
If you’re still unsure about if raw vs. cooked is better, consider this: 15 – 60% of nutrients are lost in these foods when heated or cooked. That’s a lot!
Which foods to eat raw?
Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, bell peppers, strawberries, leafy greens, lemons, grapefruit, papaya, mangos, pineapple, watermelon, kiwi, tomatoes and honeydew.
Foods rich in B vitamins include nuts, peas, raisins, leafy greens, spinach, avocados, mushrooms, carrots, bananas, seeds, and some berries.
Which Vegetables are Better Cooked?
Orange and red vegetables (tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes) are rich in the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene. In order for the body to absorb beta-carotene, these veggies need to be cooked. (Notice that they also can be eaten raw to enjoy their vitamin C and B complex content too!)
Beta-carotene is beneficial for eyesight, skin health, and a strong immune system. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A within our bodies.
One study found that 6 ½ more beta-carotene was absorbed from cooked carrots than raw! And, combine orange and red veggies with healthy fats to get even more health benefits. Beta-carotene and vitamin A are fat-soluble so they are absorbed more efficiently when eaten with fats.
One of my favorite breakfast combos is roasted sweet potato with avocado, a perfect combination to get the benefits of beta-carotene.
Honorable Mention – Spinach!
In the raw vs. cooked debate, one superstar vegetable is great either way. Spinach contains water-soluble vitamin C and the B vitamins. Plus, it contains beta-carotene and iron, both of which are absorbed better when spinach is cooked.
So, if you want to balance your spinach intake, add a couple of handfuls of raw spinach into a smoothie. And then get out some garlic and sauté it with 3-4 handfuls of spinach for another excellent dish!
A Special Note
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are members of the cruciferous family of produce. Both contain a good amount of Vitamin C and the B Vitamins. However, because cruciferous vegetables, when eaten raw, interfere with thyroid hormone production, eat these foods lightly steamed or roasted to deactivate the substance. Women with adrenal fatigue, chronic stress and weight issues usually also have a deficiency in thyroid hormone regulation and should avoid raw cruciferous vegetables.
What About Nuts and Seeds?
I often recommend ‘raw’ nuts and seeds to clients. No roasting, salt or sugar have been added to raw nuts. Essentially, raw nuts and seeds are the purest form of these foods.
However, they contain something called phytic acid. Phytic acid prevents our bodies from breaking down and absorbing all the beneficial nutrients in raw nuts and seeds. So, I highly recommend that you soak all raw nuts and seeds in room temperature water at least overnight. Soaking them helps breakdown the phytic acid so that your body can benefit from them once you eat them!
Raw vs. Cooked – What’s the Final Verdict?
The raw vs. cooked debate doesn’t really matter if you struggle with confusing health symptoms, chronic fatigue and chronic stress. A diet high in both raw and cooked vegetables works for you because most vegetables contain multiple different vitamins and minerals. Eat some, like spinach and carrots, either raw or cooked since they contain a bunch of different nutrients.
So, before you drive yourself crazy worrying about whether you should eat your veggies raw vs. cooked, go ahead and eat both! I like to have 2-3 servings of raw vegetables and 2-3 servings of cooked vegetables every day.