We all know that vegetables hold the key to a healthy lifestyle and are beneficial due to their high content of vitamins and nutrients, but is there a difference between raw and cooked vegetables? The question pertains to popular thinking that suggests one may be better than the other, or one nullifies the nutrients while another boosts their value. There is much debate but we took it upon ourselves to investigate a variety of sources in order to ascertain what you should be doing to get the most out of your veggies.
There is obviously no easy answer but there is some research that indicates that it is not only a matter of cooked vs raw, but of certain vegetables reacting in different ways when they are cooked, as opposed to being raw and vice versa.
First off, it appears that people who stick to eating a mainly raw food diet showed normal vitamin A status and achieve favourable plasma β-carotene concentrations as recommended for chronic disease prevention, but showed low plasma lycopene levels. Lycopene is found in foods such as tomatoes and although the content is lowered in raw vegetables, when cooked there is an indication that thermal processing enhanced the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the bioaccessible lycopene content and total antioxidant activity and are against the notion that processed fruits and vegetables have lower nutritional value than fresh produce. There really is no true way of knowing definitively but if you want to get the best out of your tomatoes then it appears that cooking them is the way to go.
Away from lycopene content, mainly found in redder vegetables, in terms of antioxidants it is suggested that eating carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables cooked is an easier way of increasing the healthful content in them.
But that isn’t to say that this is the case for all vegetables…
Research has found that all cooking treatments, except steaming, caused significant losses of chlorophyll and vitamin C and significant decreases of total soluble proteins and soluble sugars. Therefore, by cooking vegetables there is an increased likelihood that if you are aiming for vitamin C then this is not the best route to go down.
Cooking can also decrease the amount of an enzyme known as glucosinolates that are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli. Cruciferous vegetables have been discovered to play a big role in human health and the proper functioning of the body and so eating these raw is definitely a better option.
You must be thinking…what does this all mean?
Well, not a lot, really. You can use the information about the different vitamins and minerals in vegetables and their reaction to cooking to your benefit but what is most important is to remember to eat vegetables daily. Buying fresh, local produce is a good place to start and avoiding cooking or frying foods in oil, preferring rather to drizzle a little olive oil over your salad, will help you to gain more fat-soluble minerals. If you stick to eating 3-5 portions of vegetables a day, varying it up between cooked and raw, you should be getting more than enough vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy and on track.