If you’re eating a whole food plant-based diet, you might be wondering whether it’s healthier to eat more raw foods or to follow a diet consisting of mostly cooked foods. There are pros and cons to both, and it depends on the type of vegetable and the nutrients each contains.
According to Dr. Fuhrman, raw foods “supply us with high nutrient levels and are generally low in calories, too. Eating lots of raw foods is a key feature of an anti-cancer diet style and a long life.” That’s why it’s important to eat a large raw salad every day.
While eating raw vegetables is certainly a healthy thing to do, it’s also important to eat them cooked, as well.
Eating only raw food is actually a disadvantage. It narrows our nutrient diversity and “caloric needs cannot be met on a raw food diet without consuming large amounts of fruits, avocado, nuts, and seeds,” according to Dr. Fuhrman.
To be considered raw, food cannot be heated above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Although certain vitamins and minerals are destroyed when heated, others become more available. According to Dr. Michael Greger from nutritionfacts.org, we’ve learned that “daily salad consumption, for example, may significantly decrease one’s risk of dying from heart disease.” But also, In a study of 11,000 vegetarians and other health-conscious people, “daily consumption of raw salad was associated with a 26% reduction in mortality from ischemic heart disease.”
So we know raw is good. “At the same time, we’ve known for 15 years that phytonutrients like lycopene, in tomatoes, appear protective against heart disease—and cooking dramatically boosts lycopene bioavailability Dr. Greger reports.”
Many people eat raw foods to cure conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, acne, cancer, IBS, and other ailments, but there are few studies that support these claims.
Benefits of Cooking Vegetables
There are benefits to cooking your vegetables. Cooking improves digestion, increases food’s net energy value, and greatly helps with chewing – the first stage of digestion. Another factor to consider is the method of cooking.
Certain types of cooking, however, such as frying, roasting, or barbequing – methods that create high heat and use oil, can form carcinogenic acrylamides so it’s best to refrain from cooking this way (Fuhrman, 2012).
Other articles about cooking:
Foods that may be more nutritious when cooked:
Benefits of Raw Food
Given the benefits of cooked foods, let’s not ignore the perks of raw food. Raw foods contain phytonutrients – natural plant chemicals that may help prevent disease and keep the body working properly. Examples of phytonutrients include carotenoids, flavonoids, glutisolinates, and phytoestrogens.
Many of these compounds are destroyed when they’re heated or processed. Further, water-soluble nutrients, such as B and C vitamins, seep out during cooking. A review published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that up to 55% of vitamin C in vegetables is lost during the cooking process, compared to raw vegetables.
Raw food advocates assert that raw diets contain natural enzymes, which have digestive and other benefits. Although these enzymes are destroyed when heated, human beings produce their own natural digestive enzymes and many plant enzymes are destroyed in the human gut. There is insignificant evidence to support the idea that natural enzymes are the primary reason to eat raw food.
Be sure to check out some of my delicious raw salads:
- Waldorf Salad with Walnuts & Raisins
- Arugula Apple Beet Salad
- Romaine Salad with Kale, Apples, and Cranberries
- Cucumber Tomato Salad
Green cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, kale, and collards have more vitamins and minerals per calorie than any other food. To get the most out of these foods, some must be cooked and others kept raw. Myrosinase, an enzyme in green cruciferous veggies, is deactivated when heated. (Furhman, 2012)
Simply put, many of the vitamins and minerals associated with vegetables are more bioavailable when cooked, and the body can easily absorb the nutrients, but some veggies should be left raw.
The Best Raw Foods
Vegetables that are more beneficial when eaten raw (for some nutrients), include:
- Bell peppers
The truth is, the question of whether raw or cooked foods are better is complex and science has yet to fully establish how different plant molecules interact with the human body. Regardless of how your food is prepared, eating fruits and veggies is crucial to maintaining your health. Foods often taste better when cooked and if that makes you eat more vegetables then, by all means, eat cooked foods.
The consensus among nutrition experts is that a combination of raw and cooked foods is best for getting the most vitamins and minerals. The bottom line is – some nutrients are lost when veggies are cooked, but others become more available for the human body to absorb. Just remember, the best way to prepare your fruits and veggies is whichever method helps you eat the most of them!