This is a commonly asked, and somewhat heated debate in the health world. Pun intended.
Do we have to eat vegetables in their raw form or can we cook them and still enjoy their nutritional benefits?
For many, cooking vegetables makes them easier to consume and “tastier”. The good news is that some vegetables do increase in nutritional value when cooked. There are only a few that this actually applies for though, tomatoes being one of them. Fresh, uncooked tomatoes actually have lower lycopene levels than cooked or processed tomatoes. Cooking breaks down the thick cell walls of many plants, releasing the nutrients stored in them. Pretty amazing, huh?
The same concept also applies for asparagus which is super high in cancer-fighting vitamins like A, C, and E, as well as folate. But the thick cell walls make it hard for our body to absorb these healthy nutrients. Steaming asparagus breaks down its fibrous cells so that we can absorb more of the vitamins.
In 2002, researchers found that cooking carrots actually increases the amount of beta-carotene your body is able to absorb. Beta-carotene is then converted into vitamin A in the body, which is essential for things like good vision.
When it comes to cooking vegetables though, there are always tradeoffs. One method may increase the availability of a nutrient while depleting another. For example, while boiling carrots can increase beta-carotene, raw carrots have far more polyphenols (phytochemicals that work as antioxidants to protect the cells in your body from free radical damage), which disappear once you start cooking them.
If your interest is to maximize absorption of nutrients, we highly recommend juicing. Juicing offers many life-enhancing health benefits including a faster, more efficient way to absorb the immune boosting nutrients naturally found in fruits and vegetables. It provides a way to access digestive enzymes which typically are locked away in the fiber matrix of whole fruits and vegetables. Removing the fiber is also easier on our digestive systems which means it will require much less energy to break down and yet provide us even more benefits.
Be weary of juices sold in stores however as they often contain fillers such as unnecessary added sugar, or preservatives. Fresh, organic cold pressed juices are best and if you can juice at home it is even better!
So What’s the Verdict?
In summary, there really is no one-way for eating vegetables. Some are beneficial to cook, while others are more nutrient dense raw. The reality is though that the best form will be the one you will actually eat.
Perhaps you are just starting to add vegetables into your daily diet, in which case steaming them may be more enjoyable to your tastebuds, encouraging you to actually eat them more.
If you are used to eating vegetables though, you may want to consider incorporating more of them in their raw form, such as carrots, celery, kale, spinach, etc. Also look into juicing – as it offers countless benefits.
Whether it’s raw, steamed, boiled, baked, grilled, or juiced – if you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, you don’t have to worry much about the cooking method.