Do you eat your carrots cooked or raw? Roast them, we say. While experts often recommend raw veggies, some vegetables are actually healthier when cooked. Light heat or steam can make some nutrients in certain vegetables easier to absorb in the body. Cooking might even intensify the nutrient content per portion. So if you are not keen on raw veggies or you are looking for a more diverse diet, here is some insight that might surprise you.
What Makes Cooked Vegetables Better Than Raw?
Cooking can destroy water-soluble vitamins like B and C. And depending on the method, minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus can also decline by a whopping 70%. This is exactly why raw food has been gracing the counters of so many homes. That is just half the story, though.
Yes and no. It depends on the veggie and the way you are cooking it. Deep frying has no benefit.
Cooking breaks down food into an easy-to-absorb form and releases the nutrients. It also helps transform potentially harmful chemicals in some vegetables. But it all depends on the veggie and the method of cooking. These 7 cooked vegetables are better than raw.
1. Steam Or Roast Carrots
Carrots are known for their high beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is a natural antioxidant that transforms into vitamin A within our body. But it’s not absorbed all that well when you eat the carrot raw. These molecules need a bit of fat for better absorption. So sauteing them in very little olive oil or coconut oil can help your cause.
Cooking carrots makes it easy for you to absorb more of its healthy antioxidant called beta-carotene.
Cooking carrots also breaks down the cell wall and increases absorption. According to one study, the bioavailability of beta-carotene can significantly increase when the food source is heated or treated. So if you are eating the vegetable to increase your vitamin A intake, you may want to gently steam or roast it first. It is a wonderful (and tasty!) way to promote healthy eyes, strong bones, healthy teeth, and radiant skin.
2. Steam The Spinach
Spinach holds so much goodness in its dark green leaves and when you cook this veggie, it wilts and shrinks considerably. This means that one cup of cooked spinach will technically hold more spinach (and nutrients) than one cup raw. But spinach also contains oxalic acid, which hinders the absorption of certain minerals like calcium and iron in your body and may even form kidney stones. However, this happens only if you have a sensitive stomach.
Steam the spinach to make it easily digestible and remove some of its oxalic acid, which can be tough on a sensitive stomach.
You lose 5–53% of the oxalic acid when you steam the spinach and 30–87% when you boil it. On the other hand, the folate levels of spinach do not drop after steaming or cooking in the microwave, but if you boil the leaves, leaching destroys the folate. Unless you have a very sensitive stomach and are prone to forming kidney stones, stick to steaming the good leaf.
3. Steam Your Asparagus
Cook asparagus by steaming, blanching, or even baking to release its vitamins and antioxidants.
The fibrous spear-headed asparagus is another vegetable that benefits from cooking. The process breaks down the fiber, making it easier to digest and absorb nutrients like vitamin A, B, C, E, and K. One study determined that it actually increases the antioxidant activity of the vegetable. Researchers noted that cooking increased absorption of vital nutrients including beta-carotene, quercetin, zeaxanthin, lutein, phenols, and rutin. Steam or blanch your asparagus and serve it with a healthy sauce or toss it into a salad with a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Or bake it into a casserole.
4. Roast The Red Peppers
Roast or fry red peppers to keep their antioxidant levels intact.
Red peppers are an amazing source of carotenoids. And, as in carrots, cooking or processing can enhance the bioavailability of those carotenoids. Experts have also reported that dry heat methods can help with retention of antioxidants. Your best bet? Opt for roasting and frying instead of boiling and steaming. However, pay attention to cooking time and temperature. Overdoing these can destroy antioxidants that may be heat sensitive.
5. Cook Tomatoes With Olive Oil
Do you know that lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their red, is a great help to your health? Lycopene has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a valuable diet component for treating nerve-wasting diseases, cardiovascular problems, and even cancer.
Lycopene becomes more available to your body after cooking. No wonder then that researchers observed that people on a long-term raw-food diet had normal levels of most nutrients – except lycopene.
You can best absorb the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes by pureeing or stir-frying them in olive oil.
Reduce tomatoes down to a sauce, passata, or ketchup to significantly increase the absorption of lycopene. Or just cook them with a bit of olive oil.
6. Steam The Broccoli
Choosing the right method of preparing broccoli is slightly tricky. Broccoli has a component called glucosinate which is broken by the enzyme myrosinase to release anticancer chemicals called sulforaphane and indoles. Even chopping the veggie makes the myrosinase break down glucosinate. Heat makes myrosinase inactive, and even though your gut bacteria can break glucosinate down, it’s not as effective.
If you have hypothyroidism, don’t eat your broccoli raw. Steam it to preserve the nutrients and leach out some of the thyroid-disrupting component.
It would seem that eating broccoli raw is the best option. But glucosinate is also a goitrogen that can interfere with your thyroid hormones and affect your metabolism.
So to retain a healthy amount of glucosinates and not affect your health, steam your broccoli. Avoid microwaving or boiling, both of which bring the glucosinate down.
7. Cook The Mushrooms
Mushrooms aren’t a vegetable, strictly speaking. But these fungi form a major part of a vegetarian or vegan diet and are often considered a meat substitute. They are a mixed bag, however. After cooking, vitamin D and most B vitamins decline. Meanwhile, the same process increases the antioxidant vitamin C, which is a rather rare thing to happen because in most cases heat makes vitamin C oxidize rapidly. In one study, the antioxidant activity of the popular shiitake mushroom increased significantly after it was heated.18 Cooking the mushrooms also brings down their calories and increases the fiber content, calcium, and iron.
Raw mushrooms are tough to digest. Cook them to also increase the amount of vitamin C and make other nutrients more available to your body.
One potent argument against eating raw mushrooms though they are richer in certain nutrients is that they are difficult to digest because of their tough cell walls made of chitin. So the nutrients aren’t all available anyway. Cooking brings down the chitin levels significantly and helps release nutrients. So you can bake them or cook them in a broth of your choice. But make sure you eat the right mushrooms.