Raw vs. Cooked - Which Contains More Vitamins and Minerals?
Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked.
Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate is not that critical for most people.
Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or "insufficiencies"). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice). And I'll tell you that 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 (a.k.a. more "bioavailable").
Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.
Foods to Eat Raw
As a rule, water-soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw. The reason why is two-fold.
First, 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 vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in an awesome 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 and poached but even for foods that 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 what you were aiming to keep.
However, how much loss are we talking about? Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%. 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 addition, live food contains enzymes that act as catalysts for detoxification and the absorption of nutrients. Under naturopathy, juices of certain vegetables and fruits are used as cancer-fighting foods. The body attempts to adapt to cooked food by increasing the enzyme content of saliva to begin breaking down the food as quickly as possible. The saliva of a raw food eater contains far fewer enzymes than that of a person who eats cooked food. This is because raw foods contain enzymes of their own, making salivary enzymes not as strongly needed for digestion. Without the proper enzymes to break down food, we being to accumulate undigested materials in our system. This can lead to weight gain, inflammation, stagnation, digestive distress, or fatigue.
Soaking nuts and seeds
Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become "unlocked" from their chemical structure, so they're more absorbable.
Foods to eat cooked
Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.
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 your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that is one factor to consider.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked - Spinach!
And I am not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen...unless you’re allergic, of course).
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.
Let’s look at a popular way of eating, the Raw Food diet or the Living Food diet…
A raw food diet focuses on unprocessed and uncooked plant foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit, and seaweed. It’s vegan or vegetarian. The diet omits foods that are processed or significantly cooked. Typically, at least 75% of foods must be living or raw on this diet. Most people include a limited amount of foods that have undergone some cooking as long as food is never heated over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The most popular raw food diet is the raw-vegan diet, but other forms include raw animal products and/or meat.
During food preparation, there are specific techniques used to make foods more digestible and add variety to the diet. These include sprouting seeds, grains, and beans, juicing fruits and vegetables, soaking nuts and dried fruit, and dehydrating fruits and vegetables.
Raw foodies (the nickname for devotees of this diet) believe that heating food above 115 degrees Fahrenheit destroys critical enzymes that are there to aid digestion and absorption of food. They believe that foods cooked above this temperature lose a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body, whereas uncooked foods provide living enzymes and the highest possible nutritional value. Followers believe that the raw food diet improves overall health and immunity, prevents degenerative disease, slows the effects of aging, boosts energy, and balances emotions.
Some caution that a raw food diet may lead to deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. It has also been found to be too low in calories for some people. Raw foods are also associated with greater incidences of food borne illnesses such as food poisoning, gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. This diet may not be appropriate for children, pregnant or nursing women, people with anemia, or people at risk for osteoporosis.
Did you know? Green leaves are the best source of alkaline minerals; contain the best fiber; have many calming, anti-stress properties; and are the best source of chlorophyll. In 1950, Dr. Howard Westcott found that just 100 milligrams (mg) of greens in the diet neutralized bad breath, body odor, menstrual odors, and foul-smelling urine and stools. I love adding frozen kale to my smoothies!
What raw foods should I eat?
· Land and sea vegetables
What raw foods should I avoid?
· Cooked foods
· Processed foods
What are the pros of a raw food diet?
· May ward off disease and increase energy
· May jump-start weight loss
· May improve skin quality
What are the cons of a raw food diet?
· May be too low-calorie for some people
· May be difficult to stick to when eating out
· May cause anemia
One aspect of a raw food diet I appreciate is preparing your food with love + consciousness. Have you heard of the Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine by Gabriel Cousens, MD? He has published a book and dietary approach meant to jump-start health and vitality by fusing Ayurvedic principles and science. It’s an individualized program based on natural, raw, organic, and nutrient-dense live foods. The objective is to reverse chronic illness and degenerative disease while promoting balance and well-being. In addition to describing the major health benefits of this approach, the book contains 250 international vegan recipes.
Dr. Cousens teaches that the body will crave what it needs to survive and thrive, and states that exact food needs will vary from person to person. He teaches that personal preference matters in regards to food consumption – there are those who do well on higher amounts of animal protein, fat, and small amounts of carbohydrates, those who do better with more carbs and less protein, and mixed types. He says that the journey to finding your type is one of trial and error, meaning followers should experiment with different eating styles to see what makes them feel best.
The best part, Dr. Cousens integrates spirituality into his eating approach, encouraging devotees to prepare their food with love and consciousness. He believes that all food is living and should be treated as such to ensure the highest number of nutrients is imparted into the body. When food is prepared carelessly (over high heat for example), nutrients are comprised; therefore, Dr. Cousens believes that when we cook our food with care, the prana (or life force) remains intact. Dr. Cousens also believes in service and charity as part of a conscious, vibrant life.
What foods are included in the rainbow green live diet?
· Land and sea vegetables
· Whole grains
· Nuts and seeds
· Superfoods (e.g. chia seeds, blueberries, salmon, etc.)
What foods are avoided in the rainbow green live diet?
· All processed foods
· Excessive animal protein
· Overcooked foods
What are the pros of the rainbow green live diet?
· Focuses on bio-individuality
· Encourages whole fruits and vegetables
· Excludes dairy, which is a common irritant and/or allergen
What are the cons of the rainbow green live diet?
· Some do well with dairy
· Some may need a more structured plan to lose weight
Superfoods…What are they?
Superfoods are a class of the most potent, super-concentrated, and nutrient-rich foods on the planet. Superfoods have the ability to tremendously increase the vital force and energy of one’s body and are the optimum choice for improving overall health – boosting the immune system, elevating serotonin production, enhancing sexuality, cleansing, lowering inﬂammation, and alkalizing the body.
Some of the top superfoods include cacao (raw chocolate), goji berries (wolfberries) – check out ningxia red as a tasty way to get all the benefits of wolfberries, maca, hemp products in the raw form, spirulina and AFA blue-green algae, bee products (honey, pollen, propolis), camu camu berry, sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, nori, etc.), and medicinal mushrooms (reishi, chaga, etc.). I’ve been loving this mushroom coffee!
The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get many nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them.
Recipe (cooked spinach): Sautéed Spinach (Serves 4)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bag baby spinach leaves
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.
2. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.
4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes.
5. Sauté cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.
6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.
Romaine Wraps (Serves 1-2)
2 large romaine leaves
1 avocado, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
½ cup sprouts
1 lime wedge
Dash of sea salt
Garlic Tahini Dressing (see below)
Fill the romaine leaves with avocado, tomato, pumpkin seeds, and sprouts.
Squeeze the lime and sprinkle a dash of salt over the filling or drizzle with tahini dressing.
Garlic Tahini Dressing (makes 1 ½ cups)
1 cup raw tahini paste
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for one week and will thicken during storage. Add 1 tbsp. of water at a time to thin. Great for salads and wraps.
Chocolate Ganache (Serves 2)
¼ cup cacao powder
3 tbsp. maple syrup
2 tbsp. coconut oil, warmed to liquid
Mix all ingredients by hand or in a blender for a smoother texture. Pour into a small custard cup and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or until firm.
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Going Raw by Judita Wignall
I’m a small town Oregonian, a scientist, an integrative nutrition health coach, and a crunchy mom. Passionate about natural living, long distance cycling, cooking with my littles, kick boxing, cashew milk ice cream + margaritas (skinny, on the rocks - salt, please!).
My passion is helping people conquer their wellness goals and create a more natural, sustainable lifestyle. My love of nature and natural remedies have led me to dive deep into essential oils and creating simple, all natural household and personal care products on my own. My blog started on a simple premise of sharing my journey to a more natural lifestyle, including the science behind many natural remedies, DIY recipes, tips, and ways to save money using plant-based alternatives. Now, as I emerge from my health coach training program, I have married my passion to my purpose, combining all aspects of health and wellness with a holistic approach to create a platform that delivers online tools that bring you into alignment with where you want to be.
I don’t promote diets, fitness, or weight loss as a goal - I encourage my clients to seek out what works for their individual body chemistry + spirit. We will look at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole.
I am so happy you are here, and I look forward to getting to know you. Learn more >>>
I am not a doctor. I am not here to diagnose, treat, or cure any of your illnesses. The content I share is for informational purposes only.
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