Understanding cooked vs. raw foods

There are certainly benefits to eating raw. But raw food is cooling for the body, while warm food that has been cooked is, well…warming.

Healthy Eating

Sonia Chartier

29 May 2018

During the cold winter months we often crave soups, stews, and other warming comfort foods, but which is best, raw or cooked? Let’s find out.

Why do we cook our food?

Cooking our food has obvious practical reasons, some foods like most meats, need to be cooked to be edible.

But historically, the act of cooking our food had huge implications in our evolution. Eating cooked food allowed our hominid ancestors to spend less time gnawing on tough, raw materials, giving them the time and energy to socialize.

This task was very demanding in a cognitive sense, and forced us to develop more powerful brains. Cooking was essential to us becoming "human".

Doesn’t cooking food cause it to lose nutrients?

Some fruits and vegetables are more nutrient dense when cooked, and others when raw. For example, the levels of lycopene, an antioxidant shown to lower the risk of heart attacks and cancer, has been shown to increase in tomatoes when cooked.

On the other hand, broccoli is best consumed raw, as it contains a compound called sulforaphane – shown to block the proliferation of and kill precancerous cells – which is damaged by heat.

Which vegetables are best consumed raw?

Arugula: rich in B vitamins and containing high amounts of folate – known for contributing to brain health – this green is best consumed raw as it loses these essential nutrients during cooking. 
Garlic: Allicin is a compound found in glaric that is antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory, but is very heat sensitive, so best consumed raw.

What vegetables are best eaten cooked?

Kale: Steaming increases the absorption of phytonutrients essential for immune boosting and cancer fighting.
Mushrooms: Lightly sauté to maximize potassium and vitamin B intake.
Spinach: You’ll be able to absorb more calcium, iron, and magnesium.

These three vegetables, in addition to cooked carrots, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw, according to Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University.

When it comes to cooking foods, are some methods better than others?

Yes! Lightly boiling and steaming are ideal for preserving the antioxidants in vegetables, whereas deep fried foods are not only a notorious source of free radicals, but the antioxidants in the oil and vegetables get used up during frying.

So, raw or cooked?

Comparing raw and cooked food is difficult, they both have their merits, and done properly, both a diet of primarily raw or cooked foods can be healthy. When it comes to vegetables, cooked ones provide some benefits that raw do no and vice versa.

The most important thing is that whether a vegetable is cooked or raw, you’re eating it. If you like your carrots raw and your broccoli steamed, then enjoy them that way! Eating vegetables, no matter how they’re prepared will have you reaping loads of benefits.


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