There has been a lot of attention on the health benefits of raw food diets lately. Raw food diets are those made up of mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds that are eaten fresh or prepared with little cooking.
Promoters of raw food diets claim that cooking destroys important nutrients found in these foods, which lowers their health benefits. Raw foods can be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet, but do these claims really stand up when it comes to cooking vegetables?
Are Raw Vegetables Better for You than Cooked?
Not exactly. All vegetables contain a mixture of nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Some of these nutrients hold up to cooking better than others. For example:
- Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and folate, are especially sensitive during cooking. For vegetables with these vitamins, choose cooking methods that use less heat and water, like steaming and microwaving. Dry cooking methods, like roasting and grilling, also retain more nutrients. Avoid boiling or over-cooking.
- Lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in bright orange vegetables actually benefit from cooking. When these vegetables are exposed to heat, both nutrients are released from cells and become more available for your body to absorb.<
Although cooking does not reduce fibre content, it can break down tough fibres within vegetables which make them easier for you to eat and digest. Most importantly, cooking enhances the flavour of foods. If vegetables taste good, you are more likely to eat and enjoy them!
Raw Veggie Snacks
If you are struggling to get enough vegetables into your diet, snacks are a good way to add a serving or two. Here a few easy-to-make snacks that include raw veggies:
- Vegetables and dip: A healthy dip, like guacamole, hummus or yogurt, is a perfect match for your favourite raw veggies.
- Smoothies: Boost the nutritional value of your smoothie by adding fresh vegetables. Try this smoothie bowl with kale, kiwis and chia seeds.
- Salad rolls: Enjoy a salad-on-the-go with these delicious rolls made with raw vegetables, rice paper and fresh mint.
Food Safety for Raw Vegetables
Food safe practices can help you avoid getting sick from food-borne illness. Follow steps to handle fresh vegetables safely. For people who have a higher risk of food-borne illness, it is safest to eat fruit and vegetables that are cooked. Read food safety tips for those at a higher risk here.
Raw vegetables are a choking risk for babies and young children. HealthLink BC has tips for parents and caregivers to prevent choking.
The Bottom Line: the healthiest vegetables are the ones you actually eat! Enjoy a variety of raw or cooked vegetables to maximize their nutritional benefits.