UAB Nutritionist Dr. Beth Kitchin joins us with the answer to the question - Raw vs. Cooked: Which is Better? You may have heard of the raw food diets where you don't eat anything cooked. It's not that popular for obvious reasons. But is the belief that uncooked foods – particularly vegetables – are more nutritious? Sometimes the answer is yes. But sometimes, the answer is no. It all depends on the particular food and the particular nutrient. Let's take a look at three nutrients that are better when the food is cooked – and one that isn't!
Lycopene and Tomatoes
- Remember the headline "Pizza Lowers the Risk of Prostate Cancer". Yes, it was a lousy headline but there was a nugget of truth in there. Some studies show that men who eat more cooked tomato foods have a lower risk of prostate cancer. We can say it's cause and effect but there is an association.
- Researchers think it may be the lycopene – a type of carotenoid. Think of it as a cousin of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
- Tomatoes are high in lycopene but when you cook them, more lycopene is released from the cells and absorbed into the body.
- So cooking tomatoes actually is better for lycopene and the body!
Calcium and Spinach
- Spinach is one of the few vegetables that have a decent amount of calcium in it. But if you eat the spinach raw, you absorb almost none of that calcium.
- That's because spinach is high in oxalic acid which binds up the calcium and keeps you from absorbing it.
- But, when you cook spinach, you destroy a lot of that oxalate letting you absorb the calcium!
Beta-Carotene and Carrots
- Cooked carrots are actually higher in beta-carotene than raw carrots.
Vitamin C and Everything
- Here's the downside to cooking spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, and other vegetables high in vitamin C.
- Vitamin C is pretty fragile. The longer you cook broccoli, sweet peppers, or anything else high in vitamin C, the more vitamin C you destroy.
- This doesn't mean that you don't get any benefit from vitamin C when you cook vegetables.
- Just keep cooking time short and try not to boil in a lot of water.
- Sautéed or vegetables that are steamed for a short time will still keep much of their vitamin C. So just don't cook them to death and you will still get some of that C!
So, should you cook it or eat it raw? The bottom line is to eat a lot of vegetables. Mix it up – cook them sometimes and eat them raw sometimes. Let taste be your guide! And when you do cook them, keep cooking times short with a minimum of water so can preserve that vitamin C but maximize lycopene and beta-carotene!