Raw Food vs. Cooked: Which Is Healthier?

Raw Food vs. Cooked: Which Is Healthier?

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Cooking Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of Some Vegetables

Studies have shown that cooking vegetables increases the availability of antioxidants like beta-carotene and lutein (19, 20).

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A.

A diet rich in beta-carotene has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease (21).

The antioxidant lycopene is also more easily absorbed by your body when you get it from cooked foods instead of raw foods (22).

Lycopene has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer in men and lower risk of heart disease (23, 24).

One study found that cooking tomatoes reduced their vitamin C content by 29 percent, while their lycopene content more than doubled within 30 minutes of cooking. Also, the total antioxidant capacity of the tomatoes increased by more than 60 percent (22).

Another study found that cooking increases the antioxidant capacity and content of plant compounds found in carrots, broccoli and zucchini (25).

Antioxidants are important because they protect the body from harmful molecules called free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidants is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease (26).

Summary: Cooking your vegetables may make certain antioxidants more available to your body than they are in raw foods.

Cooking Kills off Harmful Bacteria and Microorganisms

It's better to eat certain foods cooked, as raw versions may contain harmful bacteria. Cooking food effectively kills bacteria that may cause food-borne illness (27).

However, fruits and vegetables are generally safe to consume raw, as long as they have not been contaminated.

Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and raw sprouts are some of the fruits and vegetables most frequently contaminated by bacteria (28).

Raw meat, fish, eggs and dairy often contain bacteria that can make you sick (27, 29).

E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter are some of the most common bacteria that may be found in raw foods (30).

Most bacteria cannot survive at temperatures over 140 F (60 C). This means that cooking effectively kills bacteria and reduces the risk of food-borne illness (31).

Commercially produced milk is pasteurized, which means it has been exposed to heat to kill any harmful bacteria it may contain (32).

It is not recommended to consume raw or undercooked meat, eggs or dairy. If you do choose to eat these foods raw, make sure your food is fresh and purchase it from a trusted source (31).

Summary: Cooking food effectively kills bacteria that may cause food-borne illnesses. This applies especially to meat, eggs and dairy.

It May Depend on the Food

Neither a completely raw nor completely cooked diet can be justified by science.

That's because both raw and cooked fruits and vegetables have various health benefits, including a lower risk of chronic disease (33).

The truth is that whether food should be consumed raw or cooked may depend on the food.

Here are a few examples of foods that are either healthier raw or healthier cooked:

Foods That Are Healthier Raw

  • Broccoli: Raw broccoli contains three times the amount of sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting plant compound, than cooked broccoli does (34, 35).
  • Cabbage: Cooking cabbage destroys the enzyme myrosinase, which plays a role in cancer prevention. If you choose to cook cabbage, do so for short periods (36).
  • Onions: Raw onion is an anti-platelet agent, which contributes to heart disease prevention. Cooking onions reduces this beneficial effect (37, 38).
  • Garlic: Sulfur compounds found in raw garlic have anti-cancer properties. Cooking garlic destroys these sulfur compounds (39).

Foods That Are Healthier Cooked

  • Asparagus: Cooking asparagus breaks down its fibrous cell walls, making folate and vitamins A, C and E more available to be absorbed.
  • Mushrooms: Cooking mushrooms helps degrade agaritine, a potential carcinogen found in mushrooms. Cooking also helps release ergothioneine, a powerful mushroom antioxidant (40, 41).
  • Spinach: Nutrients like iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc are more available for absorption when spinach is cooked.
  • Tomatoes: Cooking greatly increases the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes (22).
  • Carrots: Cooked carrots contain more beta-carotene than raw carrots (19).
  • Potatoes: The starch in potatoes is nearly indigestible until a potato is cooked.
  • Legumes: Raw or undercooked legumes contain dangerous toxins called lectins. Lectins are eliminated with proper soaking and cooking.
  • Meat, fish and poultry: Raw meat, fish and poultry may contain bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Cooking these foods kills harmful bacteria.

Summary: Some foods are better to eat raw and some are healthier when cooked. Eat a combination of cooked and raw foods for maximum health benefits.

The Bottom Line

Some foods are more nutritious when eaten raw, while others are more nutritious after being cooked.

However, it's unnecessary to follow a completely raw diet for good health.

For the most health benefits, eat a variety of nutritious raw and cooked foods.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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