Which is better to eat, raw or cooked food?

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Continuing with our theme of This And That, today’s topic is…Which is better, eating raw or cooked food?

As with many things, there is no clear-cut, definitive, just-one answer, but input from health nuts, foodies, and good science combined can help us make informed choices.

First, a definition: “Raw” food is defined as food that has not been heated or cooked. This includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted and soaked grains and legumes as well as some fermented products. Some people include raw fish, meat and dairy.

Cooked food has been…cooked….at least to some degree. This includes steaming, boiling, baking, roasting, frying, pressure-cooking and microwaving.

Here are some things to consider…Cooked food often smells better, which, of course, is a big part of the enjoyment of food. Cooking makes food softer, which makes it easier to eat. Food has to be broken down by chewing in order for the nutritional components to be absorbed and used by the body. Raw foods can be harder to chew, which may lead to eating less, or chewing less thoroughly, which can lead to gas and indigestion. On the other hand, the crunch in raw foods comes from fiber and cellulose, which we need to keep our system “moving.”

Cooking, in some cases, releases nutrients that would not be available if the same food was consumed raw. Carrots, for example, release more beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which supports bone, eye and reproductive health, when cooked. Some foods carry bacteria and microorganisms that can be dangerous if not cooked. This includes milk, dairy, eggs, fish and meat. Best to be very careful with these. Most common fruits and veggies are safe to consume raw, if cleaned and stored properly.

However, the opposite is also true. Eating raw fruits and veggies is connected to lower rates of cancer, fewer calories, better weight management, fewer saturated fats and artificial additives, lower cholesterol, higher energy and better digestion.

Cooking is thought to deactivate or leach out a group of vitamins called “water soluble vitamins,” like vitamin C and the B vitamins. Very important. Boiling has been found to reduce the vitamin content of food by 50-60%. Other vitamins don’t seem to be affected by cooking. The more food is cooked, however…you know, soggy and limp and colorless… you can bet that a lot of vitamins have been destroyed.

Steaming, roasting and stir-frying are some of the best methods of cooking vegetables when it comes to retaining nutrients.

Specifically… Raw broccoli has more cancer-fighting nutrients than cooked broccoli. Raw onion supports heart health by thinning blood and decreasing inflammation. Garlic has many healing properties when consumed raw that are lost when cooked. Mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, on the other hand are better for you when cooked, as more vitamins and antioxidants are available. And the starch in potatoes is pretty much indigestible until cooked.

In summary…both cooked and raw foods are good for us! Over-cooking reduces many nutritional benefits of food. A diet of only raw food, while the path of choice for some, may not be practical or beneficial for others.

Best to combine the best of both worlds, enjoying plenty of raw fruits and veggies in your diet and cooking food lightly or quickly to retain both flavor and nutrition, avoiding over-cooking.

Enjoy!

Until next week, be healthy…