You may be familiar with the idea that eating fresh, raw vegetables provides more nutrition than consuming cooked ones. In the case of some veggies, that’s true, yet it would be incorrect to include all vegetables in the same basket. A number of our most popular vegetables offer more nutrition punch per bite when they are cooked rather than when eaten raw, and in some cases the cooking method determines just how much nutrition you can get from those cooked veggies.
Consider tomatoes. Who doesn’t love a freshly picked tomato from the vine or the delicious chunks of the fruit surrounded by greens in a salad? Yet cooking tomatoes boosts levels of the potent antioxidant and phytonutrient lycopene, which has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, protection against pesticides, help with vision, and improved heart health, among other things. The heat of cooking tomatoes breaks down the walls of the plant and helps the body take in nutrients (e.g., lycopene) that are attached to the cell walls.
How about carrots? What vegetable tray or kids’ lunch would be complete without raw carrot sticks? Yet cooked carrots are higher in beta-carotene, a carotenoid and antioxidant that is essential for eye and skin health, than their raw counterparts.
Quite a few other vegetables provide more nutrition when cooked, and the cooking method plays a role as well. If you enjoy asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, and zucchini, for example, the best way to reap the benefits of their carotenoids and ferulic acid is to boil or steam them. These methods allow the veggies to release more antioxidants to the body.
Cooking vegetables isn’t without its downfalls, however. High temperatures tend to destroy a percentage of vitamin C in many vegetables, although they do retain a good amount of the nutrient. However, since vitamin C is so prevalent in fruits and vegetables, and if you eat a variety of produce, both cooked and raw, you shouldn’t have a problem getting enough vitamin C.
While cooking cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage may make them lose some of their vitamin C, it also allows for the formation of indole, a compound capable of killing precancerous cells.
Another advantage of eating cooked cruciferous veggies is that their raw versions have been associated with suppression of hormone production by the thyroid, which can contribute to a slower metabolism, fatigue, and coldness in the body because of the impact on thyroid hormone levels.
Given that a new study from Imperial College emphasizes that you should eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily to prevent premature death as well as the risk of heart disease and cancer, there is no better time to boost your vegetable intake. The bottom line is that you should enjoy a wide range of vegetables, both raw and cooked, and know which ones may provide you with better nutrition in one form or the other.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
Axe J. Lycopene: A powerful antioxidant to help prevent cancer & keep your heart healthy. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Dewanto V et al. Thermal processing enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing total antioxidant activity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2002; 50(10): 3010-14. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Imperial College London. Eating more fruits and vegetables may prevent millions of premature deaths. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Miglio C et al. Effects of different cooking methods on nutritional and physicochemical characteristics of selected vegetables. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008; 56(1): 139-47. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Sarkar FH, Li Y. Indole-3- carbinol and prostate cancer. Journal of Nutrition 2004 Dec 1; 134(12): 3493S-98S. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Scientific American. Fact of fiction: Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017.
Talcott ST et al. Antioxidant changes and sensory properties of carrot puree processed with and without periderm tissue. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2000; 48(4): 1315-21. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2017