To cook or not to cook? Proponents of the trendy raw food craze swear by the health benefits of eating vegetables in their 'pure' uncooked state. The experts agree – to an extent. “Some foods are healthier when eaten raw,” says dietitian Tali Pines. Study after study has shown that heat depletes or completely destroys certain nutrients and cooking some veggies can make them less nourishing
Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest health news and info with Saga Magazine. Find out more
Be that as it may, not all veggies are better for you raw. Cooking unlocks certain nutrients and some cooked food is healthier and more easy to digest than raw according to Dawn Porter, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
10 foods you should never store in the fridge
Red peppers – raw
Red peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C – they contain three times as much of the vitamin as oranges, believe it or not. Vitamin C doesn't take too well to being heated, and although it's tempting to grill or roast your peppers 100% of the time, eating them raw in a salad or with a dip will provide your body with higher quantities of this essential nutrient. Cooking also damages the anti-inflammatory flavonoids in red peppers, reducing their disease-fighting potency.
Find out more about vitamin C and its effect on your health
Tomatoes – cooked
Lycopene is a red pigment, which studies show protects against cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach, and offers some protection against cancers of the breast, mouth, cervix, pancreas, colon and rectum. Tomatoes are the most important source of this nutrient in the Western world – we get around 80% of the lycopene in our diet from tomatoes. Cooking tomatoes breaks down the cell walls, which makes the lycopene content more easily absorbed, and cooked tomatoes contain more antioxidants than raw.
Try our delicious tomato recipes
Onions – raw
Some people find cooked onions tastier and easier to digest, but eating them raw is more nutritious. Onions are a rich source of sulphur, an essential mineral with all sorts of health-enhancing properties, from easing skin complaints to preventing certain cancers. Cooking onions depletes their sulphur content and chopping or slicing them makes the sulphur more bio-available, so eat your onions raw to reap the benefits. Raw onions are also higher in vitamin C and flavonoids than cooked.
How to chop an onion without crying
Kale – cooked
Juicing enthusiasts may harp on about the virtues of raw kale smoothies, but they'd be better off eating the superfood green boiled or steamed. While uncooked kale may have slightly more powerful anti-cancer properties than cooked, raw cruciferous veggies contain compounds that can adversely affect thyroid health – heat kills these compounds. Plus, cooked kale has more cholesterol-lowering prowess, contains more bio-available antioxidants, and is much easier to digest than raw, which can cause bloating and flatulence.
How to cook kale
The pros and cons of kale for your health
Broccoli – raw
Cooking broccoli the traditional way – boiling in water – depletes its water-soluble vitamin content: vitamin C and B vitamins leech into the water and are lost during the cooking process. Up to 70% of the mineral content is drained, too. Cooked broccoli is also significantly lower in cancer-fighting nutrients than raw. If you can't stomach the veggie raw, light steaming should retain most of the nutrients.
Try these tasty broccoli recipes
|More advice from Dr Mark Porter...
Carrots – cooked
You can't beat the satisfying crunch of a raw carrot, but cooked carrots taste sweeter and are actually better for you. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that cooked carrots contain more beta-carotene – their superstar nutrient – than raw. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, a key nutrient for health. Other studies have backed up these findings. If you can, steam or boil instead of frying your carrots.
Try this recipe for spicy carrot soup
Garlic – raw
Raw garlic can be a bit harsh for some people, and roasting makes it taste milder and wonderfully sweet. Nevertheless, the health properties of garlic are more pronounced when it's in its raw state. Like onions, garlic contains potent sulphur compounds, including allicin, which are damaged and depleted when exposed to high temperatures. Allicin, which has anti-bacterial and anti-viral benefits, has been shown to help lower cancer risk, prevent heart disease and support the immune system.
Learn more about how garlic can help your health
Mushrooms – cooked
Raw mushrooms may seem ultra-healthy but cooking these fungi is best. Heating breaks down some of the fibre, making the mushrooms easier to digest, and their vitamin D, iron and zinc content more bio-available. Cooked mushrooms lose up to half their water-soluble vitamin and mineral content, but because they're reduced in volume, you tend to eat far more cooked mushrooms than raw, so you're likely to get the same, if not more of these nutrients, simply by consuming more shrooms.
Are mushrooms the new superfood?
Find delicious mushroom recipes
Beetroot – raw
Though it's more common to eat it cooked or pickled, raw beetroot has a refreshing sweet taste all of its own and is a lot better for you. Cooking reduces the folate content of this root veggie and destroys much of its vitamin C content. Again, if you're not a fan of beetroot in its raw state, resist the urge to boil the life out of it, and lightly steam the vegetable instead to retain more of the nutrients and those fabulous earthy flavours.
Find out why beetroot is good for blood pressure
Asparagus – cooked
Adding raw asparagus to smoothies and salads has become fashionable of late, but is it really the healthier option? As a matter of fact asparagus is more nutritious cooked. Gentle cooking ups the veggie's bio-available antioxidant content, as well as its vitamin A, E, K and chromium, all essential nutrients for top-tip health. It's important not to overcook asparagus however – light steaming rather than boiling will help you get the most nutrients from this veggie.
How to cook asparagus
Try our delicious asparagus recipes
Subscribe today for just £15 for 12 issues...