Are raw or cooked vegetables better for you?

basket of raw vegetables

We know we should be eating more vegetables, but should that be more raw or more cooked. Does it matter?

Most people think that raw vegetables are better for you than cooked vegetables, but this is not always true. It’s more complicated than that.

“Some nutrients are easily deactivated or can leach out of food during the cooking process. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, are particularly susceptible to being lost during cooking .

“In fact, boiling vegetables may reduce the content of water-soluble vitamins by as much as 50–60%.

“Some minerals and vitamin A are also lost during cooking, although to a lesser extent. Fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K are mostly unaffected by cooking.”via Is Raw Food Healthier Than Cooked Food?

What’s better raw or cooked carrots?

But cooking is better for some nutrients. This is because it makes the nutrients easier for the body to use. For example, research has shown that we absorb approximately 3-4% of carotenoids from raw carrots, and 15-20% from cooked carrots. Carotenoids are plant pigments that give yellow, orange and red fruit and vegetables their colour. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, so have a role in helping us fight old age and cancer.

Cooked foods may be easier to digest and may be safer

Cooking also breaks down tough fibres and allows the digestive juices to penetrate the vegetable. This is particularly important for someone who is elderly, ill or who has impaired digestion.

Cooking also reduces the volume of the food. This can be very good, if it means that you eat more vegetables. For example, if you make some soup with lots of veggies, you’ll almost certainly consume more veggies than if you ate them as a salad. Most of us do not eat enough vegetables so this is a good thing.

Cooking may also remove toxins. Many beans have a toxin called ‘phytohaemagglutinin’ or kidney bean lectin. Fortunately cooking destroys this toxin, so that beans are a nutritious and valuable addition to our diets.

How do raw foods help our gut bacteria?

Research is showing that the bacteria in the gut are extremely important for our health. A study has found that a typical apple carries more than 100,000,000 bacteria. Some of these microbes are important in maintaining a healthy gut environment, or microbiome. Professor Gabriele Berg (Graz University of Technology, Austria) says:

“The bacteria, fungi and viruses in our food transiently colonise our gut … Cooking kills most of these, so raw fruit and veg are particularly important sources of gut microbes.”

This research was on fruit, but it’s likely to be true for veggies too.

Raw vegetables improve mental health

There is some interesting research from The University of Otago on fruit and vegetables and mental health.

For the study, more than 400 young adults from New Zealand and the United States aged 18 to 25 were surveyed. This age group was chosen as young adults typically have the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption of all age groups and are at high risk for mental health disorders.

The group’s typical consumption of raw versus cooked and processed fruits and vegetables were assessed, alongside their negative and positive mental health, and lifestyle and demographic variables that could affect the association between fruit and vegetable intake and mental health (such as exercise, sleep, unhealthy diet, chronic health conditions, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender).

Dr Tamlin Conner, Psychology Senior Lecturer and lead author, says: “Controlling for the covariates, raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression, and improved levels of psychological wellbeing including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing. These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables. ”

In other words raw fruit and vegetables have a bigger impact on mental health in young people than cooked vegetables and fruit.

So am I saying eat more cooked veggies? Yes I am, but I’m also saying eat more raw veggies too. So, make sure you have soups packed with veggies, plant-based curries and chillis. Make yourself smoothies with veggies as well as fruit. Use as many different coloured fruit and veggies as possible. This maximises the health benefit. Also make yourself lots of great salads, where the veggies are a big part of what you are eating, not a garnish or something on the side.

Put veggies at the centre of what you eat. It will benefit your gut biome and your overall health. If you want to understand more about the beneficial effects of vegetables, hop over to Dr Michael Greger’s site