To Cook or Not to Cook?
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 or more bioavailable.
I understand that sometimes all this information can be a bit confusing and may seem a bit overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be.
We want to implement simple nutritious swaps to include more fruits and veggies in our meals to help us increase the nutrient level of our diet, lose weight, and improve our overall health and wellbeing.
Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods and how these will help on our health journey.
Foods to Eat Raw
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 foods high in vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form like in an fresh delicious salad or to cook them for as short a time as possible, like 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 but even for foods that are steamed as well.
Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, 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 the nutrients you were aiming to keep.
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.
In a previous blog post, I discuss how vegetables are also great for improving your overall gut health.
Foods to Eat Cooked
When steamed or broiled, these veggies supply more antioxidants: carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage and peppers.
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 our fat-soluble vitamins with a small amount of healthy fat like olive oil, coconut oil or grass fed butter will help us absorb more of the vitamin, so that’s one factor to consider.
These are some of the ways I love to season and cook my veggies so they are not only nutritious but delicious!
- Smoothies are a great way to sneak in extra veggies
- Raw veggies with homemade hummus or a yogurt dip
- Salads with homemade salad dressings
- Sauteed with a small amount healthy fat and seasonings
- Roasted with a small amount of healthy fat and seasonings
- Spiralize them to add to salads or use as a veggie pasta
My clients often tell me that now that they know how to make veggies taste delicious, their husbands and children are commenting how good they are and the whole family is enjoying more veggies!
Don't Forget the Fruit
Frozen fruit is the second best choice since fruit loses very little nutrients in the freezing process.
When eating dried fruits, we need to be very careful with our serving size as they are high in sugar. Also, it is best check the ingredients of dried fruit for added sugar and sulphates.
Canned fruit is heated, therefore some of the nutrients are lost. They often have added sugars and syrups.
Fruit juices have removed the fibre from the fruit and the fibre slows the absorption of the sugars in fruit. Many juices also have added sugar. It is much better to opt for a whole apple than to have a cup of apple juice.
Soaking Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein, healthy fats, fibre and a variety of nutrients. They are great to aid in our weight lost journey although we need to keep in mind that they are also high in calorie so should be eaten in moderation.
Enjoy Your Spinach Raw or Cooked
Spinach 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 way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.
One way to enjoy spinach, is by adding it to a Simple Swaps smoothie as I discuss in a previous blog post. A smoothie is a great way to add more fruits and veggies to your day!
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bag baby spinach leaves
- 1 dash salt
- 1 dash black pepper
- Fresh lemon
- In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.
- Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
- Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.
- Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes.
- Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.
- 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.
Diversity is Key
Eating a diversity of colourful foods both raw and cooked can be an easy way to get a complete range of the vitamins and minerals our body needs to thrive!
"Since starting Cheryl's program I have cut my sugar intake to almost nothing, and I eat a lot more vegetables/fruit then I ever did before!!"
Simple Swaps Member: Melissa
Enjoy Your Fruits and Veggies
The bottom line is we need to eat lots of veggies and fruits no matter how they're prepared. They provide numerous benefits and are so important for our health.
Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked, just make sure to enjoy them!
Want some recipe ideas to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your day?Check out my Simple Swaps Guide to Meal Planning & Prepping by clicking the button below.