Is it Cooking or eating Raw, that will benefit you more?

Before humans got the ability to control fire and the idea to put food over it and then eat, we pretty much ate all our food in the raw form. Whether it was the fruits, vegetables or meat, we satiated our hunger by eating food as how the animals still do.

But that doesn’t mean that eating raw food is better than eating cooked food. There is never a simple answer to questions like these. On top of that, a majority of Americans don’t eat enough veggies/fruits. The percentage of Americans eating adequate veggies or fruits is only about 10-15!

When humans started to cook their food, it certainly must have felt tastier and better, or else it would have been stopped a long time ago. The problem with cooking food arises because the nutrient content in more than half of it gets reduced as compared to its raw form. Then there are foods whose nutrient content gets enhanced after cooking.

The factor of Heat

So, what changes the nutrients in food? The unanimous answer is – Heat. It has the power to destroy nutrients, but that depends on the way you apply heat while cooking. Talking of nutrients, each one is affected differently by heat.

  • Vitamins D, A, E, and K are Fat-soluble. If you cook any vegetable having these nutrients, e.g. kale or spinach, in oil, the health benefits get reduced as the compounds break down.

  • Vitamins C & B and other compounds, chemicals called phytonutrients are water-soluble. If you cook foods having these phytonutrients by boiling, they get “leached out” into the water. If that liquid is discarded, obviously the nutrition quality of the food decreases. Although, you can stock that excess liquid, use it in other recipes and still take the full benefits of the phytonutrients.

  • Many fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C, which is the most sensitive among all. It easily gets affected by air, heat, & light and is water-soluble, and hence it gets easily degraded. The nutrient that is regularly used as a standard to measure the effect of cooking on nutrients in food is none other than Vitamin C.

Heat is not the only one culprit that removes out precious nutrients from your food. The nutrients start to degrade the moment harvesting begins, the water-soluble nutrients also reduce to a large extent when you wash your vegetables and fruits in water before cooking or eating.

You just can’t determine any universal formula for eating food in its best condition because different vegetables and fruits have their maximum nutrient content at different stages whether you eat them raw, or wash or cook them. You should know about each vegetable and fruit, when is the best time to eat them, how to cook to minimize the nutrient damage, etc. some of the examples are:

Zucchini and Carrots: Cooked carrots have more of Beta-carotene, which is converted by our body to Vitamin A. Boiling carrots reduces the polyphenols in them which helps in weight management and diabetes; but it also preserves the antioxidants and Vitamin C in carrots and Zucchini as compared to frying these foods.

Tomatoes: Although cooking reduces Vitamin C of raw tomatoes, it also increases lycopene to three times than its original quantity. It is useful in reducing the risk of heart attacks, prostate, and other cancers.

Spinach & other leafy greens: Cooking increases the calcium in spinach by about 35% since it shrinks. But it also decreased Vitamin C and Potassium levels. Steaming the leafy vegetables increases their bile acid binding ability which helps in lowering cholesterol. Steaming the green beans and spinach help folate (Vitamin B) to stay intact.

Kale, Broccoli & Cauliflower: Cruciferous vegetables like the kale, cauliflower, and broccoli give us the maximum health benefits when we eat them raw. Cooking broccoli reduces Vitamin C and Indole glucosinolates which help in fighting cancer, same goes with kale for antioxidants.

A study revealed that blanching and boiling cauliflower depletes the minerals, proteins, and phytochemicals of it, whereas steaming, microwaving or stir-frying will only cause a slight loss. The fresh and raw form of these vegetables always shows the highest level of carotenoids, Vitamin C, and flavonoids.

Fruits: Comparatively it is simple to control the nutrient content of fruits as most of them are eaten raw. Still, exposure and heat affect them besides washing in water before eating. Most fruits are primarily made of water, so their natural sugars get concentrated when you cook them making them sweeter than before. The liquid that you get after cooking fruits is healthier than the one from vegetables.

We eat food to get energy, to stay alive and survive, to get all the nutritional benefits of it. Hence, we should know all about their nutrient content, how much of it is there in them when eating, how to keep the maximum nutrient content of food for eating, etc. or else it remains just a tasty indulgence devoid of any health benefits.

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