Should Fruits and Vegetables be Eaten Cooked or Raw?
"The nutrient content of some foods is enhanced when they are cooked, and cooking can severely deplete the nutrient content of other foods."
Today’s live show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD is another in her healthy cooking series. Today she looks at whether it’s better to cook fruits and vegetables, or eat them raw. Dr. Nancy explains how much of each (how much fruit and how many vegetables) you should be eating every day, which method is healthier (cooked or raw), what types of fruits and vegetables are the best to consume, and which cooking method is best for each, to achieve maximum overall health. Check out this myth-busting show and get some great tips for healthy living.
- 04:05: How Much Fruit and Vegetables You Need
- 08:37: Cooked or Raw?
- 10:26: What You’re Trying to Get From Your Food
- 30:30: Cooking Methods
- 38:44: Specific Cooking Methods for Specific Foods
- 41:02: Blanched Green Beans
- 45:32: Wrap-Up
How Much Fruit and Vegetables You Need
Did you know that only 1 out of every 10 adults gets their daily recommended intake of fruits and veggies?
As an adult, every day you should be eating:
- 1½ to 2 cups of fruit
- 2 to 3 cups of vegetables
Now, a lot of people have been told that eating too much fruit can be bad for you, and they adjust their diets accordingly. We know there’s a lot of debate surrounding whether or not fruit has too much sugar and can, therefore, lead to things like:
The truth is, however, that the risk of developing these conditions is tied to refined sugar found in processed foods not from fruit.
Yes, fruit contains fructose, which is largely found to be the culprit for the diseases and conditions we just listed, but is bad for you — as most things are — only when consumed in very high amounts. In reality, you would have to eat well above your recommended daily dose of fruit for it to be harmful.
The bottom line? Fruit is not bad for you, so consume away!
Now that that’s settled, let’s move on to another great debate.
Cooked or Raw?
That answer, unfortunately, is not as simple as saying one or the other is definitively better. The nutrient content of some foods is enhanced when they are cooked, and cooking can severely deplete the nutrient content of other foods.
There are a few things that determine a fruit or vegetable’s nutrient content when consumed cooked or consumed raw. These include:
- How many nutrients you’re trying to get out of said fruit or vegetable
- The cooking method you’re using
- What type of fruit or vegetable you’re working with
What You’re Trying to Get From Your Food
Let’s start with what you’re trying to get out of the food you’re eating. Are you trying to maximize your fiber intake? Boost immunity with beta-carotene and vitamins C and A? Or are you maybe trying to reduce inflammation and aid digestion with foods rich in antioxidants and B vitamins?
Your answers to these questions factors into whether you should be eating certain vegetables, in particular, whether to eat them cooked or raw.
Carrots, for instance, may be better for you when they’re cooked since they produce higher levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene then converts to vitamin A, which is excellent for immunity, strong bones, and improved vision.
Did you know that there is 35% more calcium in spinach when it’s cooked? Additionally, spinach sees a spike in B vitamins, too, which can help digestion, and the same can be said for kale, broccoli, and cabbage.
Spinach, however, loses vitamin C and potassium when it’s cooked. Vitamin C is important for boosting immunity and reducing inflammation. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps maintain the right balance of fluids inside of and surrounding the body’s cells. Potassium also helps maintain nerve function. So, spinach is definitely another vegetable where you need to ask yourself, “What health benefits am I trying to get out this?”
Zucchini is a vegetable that may be better when consumed raw. Raw zucchini is loaded with potassium, phosphorous, and vitamin A, all of which it loses exponentially when it’s cooked.
The same can be said for cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. We know we just said that kale and broccoli can see increased levels of B vitamins when they’re cooked, but they also really pack a nutritional punch when they’re eaten raw (see what we mean about the answer not being simple?). When eaten raw, these three veggies maintain the highest levels of vitamin C, antioxidants, protein, and phytochemicals than when they are cooked. By eating them raw, you’re retaining essential nutrients that have been proven to reduce the risk of cancer and even to help fight it. On the other hand, some people have a hard time digesting cruciferous vegetables raw, which can result in gas and bloating, so cooked may be the way to go with these vegetables!
Asparagus is also better cooked, as are tomatoes (although as nightshades, we tomatoes can be inflammatory, so we don’t recommend eating too many of them in any form). Mushrooms actually can’t be digested at all unless they are cooked! Microgreens, which are super healthy and nutrient-dense (things like sprouts) should be eaten raw. They are so delicate that the nutrients will die off if they are cooked.
Onions are also better raw if you want to maximize the nutrients. They have higher organic sulfuric compounds, which are antioxidant to the body, which they lose when cooked. Sweet potatoes should be cooked, as should green beans.
But what about fruit? Poor fruit — it’s constantly getting the short end of the stick, isn’t it? Fruits retain their fiber most when you eat them raw. Apples, for example, also maintain higher antioxidant levels when consumed raw. However, as long as you aren’t adding any additional sweetener, the liquid leftover after cooking fruit can be very beneficial to your health.
Remember, if you’re not getting the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits every day, or if you’re worried that the nutrients have leached out during cooking, or your body just doesn’t absorb them well, you can supplement with a natural, food-sourced multivitamin.
Best Cooking Methods
We’ve talked a little bit about what vegetables, primarily, have an enhanced nutritional value when they’re cooked, but the way they are cooked makes a huge difference.
Let’s rank the cooking methods in order:
- Steaming — this can be done either in the microwave or on the stovetop. Steaming is, hands down, the best way to cook your vegetables in order to reap the maximum health benefits. Drizzle with a little olive or avocado oil, and add a pinch of sea salt and you’ve got yourself a deliciously nutritious side dish!
- Sautéing or even stir-frying vegetables has proven to retain nutritional value, especially for vegetables like onions, cabbage, and beets. In fact, purple vegetables are cooked best when steamed or stir-fried because the color leaches into the water, which is where all the nutrients are.
- Blanching — this is a great cooking method because it helps your veggies retain their crispness. If you’re not familiar, blanching is the process of boiling water and dropping vegetables in only for about 30 seconds to a minute. Then you immediately soak them in ice water to halt the cooking process. Since the veggies aren’t cooking for very long, they hold on to all their nutrients. Try blanching fresh green beans — it turns them a bright green, gives them a great texture, and they taste wonderful!
- Roasting is another great method because you use less oil than when sautéing, making your vegetables a bit healthier for you, and it also brings out the natural sweetness of your veggies, especially root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and pumpkin. Plus, using some sort of oil like olive, avocado, or coconut will help your body absorb certain nutrients like vitamins E, A, and D.
- Grilling — like blanching, grilling is a good method because you don’t have long cooking times, which keeps vitamins and minerals locked in.
You may be surprised that boiling isn’t on this list! Skip the boiling and retain the nutrients, Dr. Nancy says! The key to preserving nutrients in vegetables is to keep the amount of liquid you’re cooking them in to a minimum and to also keep the cooking time and the cooking temperature as low as possible. That’s why methods like steaming, sautéing and blanching are at the top of the list.
Another method that may or may not surprise you is microwaving. Steaming vegetables in the microwave is not only a quick and easy way to cook your veggies, but it will keep a lot of the nutrients locked in, as well. That’s because microwaving uses very little water and the food cooks very quickly from the inside out, meaning the nutrients don’t even have an opportunity to break down. We know microwaving can be a bit controversial, so that one’s up to you!
Fun fact for you: cutting carrots before you cook them can reduce their nutritional value by 25%. Isn’t that interesting? So, if cooked carrots are on the menu, cook them whole and then cut them!
Specific Cooking Methods for Specific Foods
We already discussed this a little bit when we talked about choosing a cooking method according to the nutrients you’re trying to preserve within your fruits and vegetables, but let’s go into a little more detail about the specific method you should use for specific vegetables. Here’s a comprehensive list for you:
- Leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, escarole, and spinach
- Garlic — but add in when you’re almost done cooking. That way you’ll keep all the good stuff in and not burn the garlic.
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
Steaming and blanching are really a great option for almost every vegetable. These two methods use very little water and don’t have long cooking times, two factors that help fruits and vegetables hold their nutrients.
Blanched Green Beans
You can use this method to blanch any vegetable really — blanching may be used to preserve color, nutrients and texture, to prepare ingredients ahead of time, and to prepare vegetables for freezing.
Here’s what you need:
- A big pot of boiling water
- A slotted spoon
- A bowl of water with ice (known as an “ice bath”).
- A plate lined with a cloth or paper towel.
- 2 tablespoons of sea salt
- Vegetables — make sure they are cut into a uniform size so they all blanch at the same rate.
So, here’s what you need to do:
- Bring your large pot of water to a boil
- Right before adding your vegetables, add the salt — this helps lock in the vegetables’ bright colors and adds a bit of flavor, but you can skip this if salt is an issue for you.
- Add the vegetables to the pot in small batches so that the water continues to boil. Do not cover the pot.
- After about 30 seconds, test for doneness. Remove one piece; dip it into the bowl of ice water, and taste. Keep testing every 30-60 seconds until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. Most vegetables take between 2 and 3 minutes.
- When the vegetables are done, remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. This is called “shocking” the vegetables.
- When the vegetables are completely cool, remove them from the ice bath and drain on the towel-lined plate.
- When dry, sprinkle with your favorite seasoning, and serve.
Let’s recap what we talked about, and then you can get to cooking some delicious fruits and veggies!
Every day, you should be eating:
- 1½ to 2 cups of fruit
- 2 to 3 cups of vegetables
The myth surrounding fruit being bad for you because it contains too much sugar is exactly that: a myth. You would have to consume an exorbitant amount of fruit to see the negative effects of fructose, which include type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and obesity. These typically occur when consuming large quantities of refined sugar found in processed foods.
The way you cook your fruits and vegetables determines how many vitamins and minerals are going to be retained within those fruits and vegetables. For instance, microwaving and steaming are excellent cooking options because they do not use a lot of water and do not have long cooking times, two factors that promote maintaining nutritional value.
Boiling, on the other hand, is one of the less favorable options because the nutrients leach out into the water. Unless you’re making soup, choose a different cooking method.
You also want to keep in mind what nutrients you’re trying to get out of your veggies. If you’re sticking with foods that are high in fiber, for instance, go for some raw berries and raw zucchini. If you want to boost immunity, roast up some carrots with a little olive oil, since the oil will help your body absorb the vitamin A found in those carrots.
We hope you found today’s information helpful. Stay tuned for even more great nutritional and health education every day.