Heat can destroy some of the valuable nutrients in vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat only raw produce. Research shows that both cooked and uncooked vegetables boost nutrition and improve your health.
Benefits of Raw Vegetables
When raw vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and eaten soon after they are harvested, they supply a significant amount of essential vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients (vitamin C and B vitamins) are sensitive to heat and they degrade quickly when foods are cooked. They can also leach out off food and into the cooking water. Raw vegetables are better than cooked vegetables for getting these sensitive vitamins.
Benefits of Cooking Vegetables
Research shows that while cooking may decrease some nutrients, it also increases and improves the availability of others. The results depend on the vegetable and the cooking method. When carrots are steamed or boiled carotenoid content increases, especially lutein which is important for eye health. Steaming and boiling broccoli increases carotenoids, but steaming also helps maintain the cancer-fighting glucosinolates common in cruciferous vegetables. Research also shows that heating tomatoes increases the total antioxidant activity and makes lycopene (associated with a reduced risk for some cancers) more available to the body. Spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers are examples of other vegetables that have higher antioxidant levels after being cooked.
The Bottom Line
If you eat only raw vegetables, you miss out on specific nutrients that are released during the cooking process. If you eat only cooked vegetables, you may not be getting enough heat-sensitive vitamins. Variety in both the types of vegetables you eat and how they are prepared is the key to getting the most nutrients from your food.