Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked. Which contains the most
vitamins and minerals?
Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn't that critical for most people.
This can become important when there are deficiencies. These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).
The answer isn't as simple as "raw is always better" or "cooked is always better." As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb. Let's take a look.
Foods to eat raw:
As a general rule, water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw. The reason why is two-fold.
First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade; this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more "delicate" and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.
Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat high vitamin C and B containing foods in their raw form (salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (quickly steaming or blanching).
Fun fact: Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.
The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they're "water soluble." So, guess where the vitamins go when they're cooked in water? Yes, they're dissolved right into the water; this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well.
Of course, savvy chef, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.
But, how much loss are we talking about? Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.
In short, the water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what's left over after they're heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.
Foods to eat cooked
Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.
Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!
Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so it may be the oil you are cooking them in that helps with the absorption.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked? Spinach!
And I’m not just saying this because I enjoy eating spinach, any which way. It contains so many beneficial compounds that it's great eaten both raw and cooked. Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins. Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat more cooked than raw spinach.
Make sure you eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, raw and cooked.
Recipe: Sauteed Spinach
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bag baby spinach leaves
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.
2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.
4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes.
5. Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.
6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.
Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.