6 Vegetables That Are Better Cooked Than Raw

The raw food movement is largely predicated on the idea that cooking foods destroys certain vitamins and phytonutrients and therefore, we should eat fruits and vegetables in their natural state as much as possible. Well, it turns out that some nutrients are better absorbed by the body once cooked, meaning some vegetables are better cooked than raw.

In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who followed a regular, healthy, whole foods diet (with a normal mix of cooked and raw foods) absorbed more beta-carotene than women who also ate a healthy, whole foods diet but only ate raw foods. So even though the raw foods group ate more phytonutrients than the cooked food group, they absorbed less of it.

We’re definitely not making a case against raw foods or a raw food diet. Let’s be clear: any diet high in vegetables—cooked or raw—is healthy and good for you! But the science is clear that certain nutrients absorb better into our bodies once cooked. So how you prepare certain vegetables affects its nutritional value. Not to mention that cooking certain veggies can make them tastier and easier to eat and digest. So why eat just raw tomatoes? Eat raw and cooked depending on your mood and recipe.

Here are the vegetables and the nutrients found in them that are better cooked than raw.

Tomatoes

It’s common knowledge that tomatoes lose a lot of vitamin C when cooked. However, research has discovered that levels of lycopene go up significantly in tomatoes when cooked—probably because the heat helps break down the thick cell walls, which hold a number of important nutrients. Lycopene is one of the most powerful antioxidants we can eat and is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Here’s a hearty soup recipe with cooked tomatoes you can try. https://lifeandhealth.org/undo-my-disease/diabetes/italian-chickpea-and-quinoa-soup/1415597.html

Asparagus

This vegetable is full of vitamins A, C and E and when cooked, antioxidant levels in the asparagus went up by 16-25%, according to a study published in 2009 in the International Journal of Food Science. In addition, its level of phenolic acid (a nutrient also associated with a reduced risk of cancer) went up significantly.

Spinach

This leafy vegetable has become popular in salads, wraps and sandwiches simply raw. But Popeye ate cooked spinach in a can for a reason. A 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry demonstrated that steaming spinach reduced its levels of oxalic acid—which interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron and calcium—by a whopping 53%! So cooking spinach improves your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in it by a lot. Steaming this veggie also ensures it maintains its levels of folate, an important B vitamin that plays a role in making DNA and has been found to reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Research has also shown that overall, cooking spinach increases its levels of iron, calcium and magnesium. And have you noticed that spinach shrinks like crazy when cooked? Eating cooked spinach means you will be able to eat a lot more of it.

Carrots

Although popular (and if you ask my kids, preferred) as a raw vegetable snack, you might want to add some cooked carrots to your menu. Research has found that beta-carotene levels are boosted significantly when carrots are cooked. Beta-carotene is one of the main reasons we eat carrots. This nutrient gets converted by our body into vitamin A, which is important for vision, bone growth and essential for the immune system. Research has also shown that cooking carrots in less water helps maintain higher levels of phytonutrients.

Green Beans

According to a study in Nutrition Research cooking green beans increased its cholesterol fighting power compared to raw beans. Most people eat green beans cooked anyway but scientific research published in the journal Food Science observed that higher levels of antioxidants were found in green beans when they were baked, microwaved or even fried—versus boiling or pressure cooking. We don’t recommend frying in oil but an air fryer would work nicely.

Kale

This cruciferous vegetable has exploded in popularity recently. But it’s mostly consumed raw in salads and smoothies. You might want to eat some cooked as well. Kale contains isothiocyanates, which prevents the body from using iodine which the body needs for the thyroid to regulate metabolism, among many things. However, cooking kale deactivates the enzymes that cause this harmful effect. That’s why the Harvard School of Public Health recommends at least lightly steaming kale. You can always throw kale into vegetable soup recipes like this one we love with kale and white beans https://lifeandhealth.org/food/kale-and-white-bean-soup/181275.html.

Remember to get your five servings of fruits or vegetables per day by including some cooked veggies to your menu and optimize your nutrients!

Danny Kwon JD

Danny is the executive director of Life and Health and identifies with the struggle most people have to eat and live healthy, going back to his days eating fast food and working long hours as an attorney all the way to his present trying to find ways to get his kids to eat their veggies. Those challenges inspire him to produce evidence-based media designed to help people live healthier, happier lives. Danny is also the CEO of Carbon Biotech, the makers of Black Ice charcoal patch and is an attorney licensed in California and Canada.

3 Comments
  1. interesting article, of course you would not be able to cover all vegetables. But what are the dangers of eating raw potato, I know most people do cook their potatoes, as it is really unpalatable eating them raw. Would you comment on what nutrients are better absorbed when we cook the potato, or what harmful enzymes are deactivated by cooking them. Fruits are usually eaten raw, or are their some fruits that we should cook?

  2. I have heard before that the BODY ABSORBS more ‘Sulfur’ from Broccoli when it is cooked or Steamed for 5 minutes, can you confirm this. I viewed a number of ‘sprouting seeds videos’ that promoted this idea and the people were steaming for a few minutes, even their baby sprouts. INTERESTING. I have gotten into cooking it a little because I ain’t as young as I used to be and I cannot ‘digest RAW Broccoli anymore. MY THEORY is to,… in REFERENCE to MY ABILITY to DIGEST foods …. i SOAK what NEEDS to be SOAKED (for DIGESTION); COOK, ONLY that which NEEDS to be COOKED; ADD that which NEEDS to be STEAMED briefly at the END; turn OFF the HEAT and ADD the REST RAW, which can be DIGESTED RAW easily.. with GARLIC, chop and DRY it for a minute and ADD it in for FLAVOR.and I usually begin the MEAL with RAW FOODS. and NUTS and or UNLEAVENED CARROT BREAD. …This ARTICLE here was INTERESTING to THINK ABOUT. ME THINKS. THANKS.

  3. Thank you SO much for this information!!! These things (iron, calcium, iodine, folate etc.) are things we are supplementing but it looks like we don’t need to buy supplements – just cook these vegetables and enjoy! I am so grateful to know this now.
    Thank you again!

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