Ever since you were a toddler, your parents would give you raw veggies in lieu of cooked produce. The theory behind their decision was that raw vegetables had more nutritional benefits than those that were cooked. Raw based diets focus on this element and highlight the benefits of eating raw foods. But is this “fact” really true?
Studies have shown differing views but we’re here to break down the Fact or Fiction this week.
Vitamin B and C are grouped in the water-soluble category for nutrients. These nutrients have the highest likelihood of breaking down after being processed or cooked. Take a look at some of your favorite foods as examples. Frozen cherries lose approximately 50% of anthocyanins after being in the freezer for 6 months. Vitamin C in spinach is cut by two-thirds after cooking or steaming.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble compounds and tend to hold up well after cooking and processing. Carotenoids, an antioxidant compound, fits in this category as well. TheJournal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reports that common sources of these vitamins, including carrots, zucchini, and broccoli, should be boiled to maintain their nutritional integrity.
There’s a big caveat. Although boiling carrots increases their carotenoid levels, polyphenol levels are higher in raw carrots. As soon as they’re put in water, the polyphenols disintegrate.
Let’s look at broccoli. A 2007 study found that steaming and boiling resulted in 22–34% decrease in Vitamin C. Compare that to microwaving or pressure-cooking which preserved 90% of their Vitamin C value.
An important factor to consider is your digestive system. Some people find that vegetables are more easily digestible after they are cooked. The cooking process softens the tougher fibers. Your digestive system will likely have to put in less work — but the nutritional content may be decreased after the cooking process as well.
Consider the water content. Raw vegetables have more water so you tend to eat less. When vegetables are cooked, the water content is lost. Therefore, you can eat more and increase your nutritional intake.
Depending on where you live in the country, year-round supply of fresh produce may not always be a viable option. When fresh vegetables are shipped across the country, nutritional value is lost due to exposure to light and air. If possible, stick to local fresh produce. It will likely have more added benefits when compared to buying produce in a local supermarket. If you’re looking for the next best option, check out the freezer section since options will have slightly lower levels of vitamins.
Is this ultimately fact or fiction? It depends on the nutritional component that you’re looking at. A diet with a combination of cooked and raw produce is the most beneficial way to promote a well-balanced diet.