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Which Is Better: Eating Fruits and Vegetables Raw or Cooked?

Are raw fruits and vegetables healthier than cooked? If you ask proponents of a raw food diet, they’ll answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” But if you ask practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (such as acupuncturists), they’ll respond with a resounding “no!” Who’s right? It turns out the answer, as with so many things in life, is both. As discussed in two recent articles in the Washington Post, The pros and cons of eating raw food and “Vegetables' nutritional value often rises when they are cooked properly,” raw and cooked produce each have unique benefits.

Reasons to Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables Raw

1. Cooking can destroy enzymes in food and sometimes reduce their nutritional value. A good example is broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, which contain enzymes that activate the antioxidants present in them. So if you eat your broccoli raw off a crudité tray, you will benefit more from its ability to reduce free radical damage than if you eat it cooked from the steamer.

2. Raw foods also retain more vitamin C and many of the B vitamins, which are heat-sensitive. In addition, heating can destroy the beneficial bacteria in fermented veggies like sauerkraut.

3. Cooking at high heat can cause advanced glycation end products (AGEs) to form when carbohydrates brown. For example, when vegetables are stir-fried or roasted AGEs may form. AGEs increase inflammation and are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and signs of aging.

4. Raw food is less processed, which means it’s less likely to have healthy elements stripped away and unhealthy ingredients added. For example, if you peel an apple, you remove the portion of the fruit that contains the highest concentration of antioxidant phyto-nutrients, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. And if you take that peeled apple and bake it into a pie, you’ve likely added a lot of sugar and white flour, which isn’t doing your body any favors.

Reasons to Cook Your Fruits and Vegetables

1. Heating food actually concentrates some antioxidants. Good examples are lycopene in tomatoes, beta carotene in carrots, and phenolic acid in asparagus, all of which are more powerful when the vegetables are cooked. The effect can be considerable:

·         A 2002 study by a food science professor at Cornell University found that the absorbable lycopene in tomatoes rose by 35 percent when they were cooked. High lycopene intake is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer.

·         Similarly, a 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that cooking carrots increased their concentration of carotenoids (such as beta carotene) by 14 percent. Diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Some carotenoids, such as lutein and xeaxanthin, have been shown to support healthy vision, by slowing the development of eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

·         A 2009 study in the International Journal of Food Science showed that cooking asparagus more than doubled the amount of phenolic acid, which has been linked to lower cancer risk.

2.      Cooking makes some nutrients more available. Sometimes this phenomenon occurs because cooking breaks down tough plant cell walls. When mushrooms are cooked, for example, they have twice the niacin, magnesium, and zinc as raw mushrooms. Cooking also breaks down oxalic acid, a compound in spinach and other green leafy vegetables that blocks the absorption of iron and calcium. Quickly boiling spinach can reduce its oxalic acid content by 40 percent.

3.      Cooking produce makes its fiber more soluble, which makes it easier to digest and also helps regulate blood sugar.

So, should you eat your fruits and vegetables raw or cooked? The answer is simple. Both!  As registered dietician Ellie Krieger advises: “Mix it up, sticking to minimally processed options, and eat more produce in general.”

Do you like your fruits and vegetables raw, cooked, or both ways?


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