Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

Should you eat foods raw or cooked?

When it comes to optimal nutrition there are several schools of thought in terms of whether it is best to consume certain foods raw, or cooked. Vegetables in particular are often discussed along with seeds and nuts as nutritionally superior when consumed as part of a raw diet. Then there are the recommendations that suggest foods cooked in a certain way increase nutrient absorption while others are inhibited. So if you are looking to get the most out of your food, here is your own guide about what to eat raw and what to eat cooked to get the most out of your food on a daily basis. 

As is the case with all areas of nutrition, it is not as simple as ‘cooked vs. raw’. In fact much of the eating process right from the first bite you take impacts the way we digest and absorb the nutrients found in various types of food. For example, when it comes to raw vegetables and salad, chopping and cutting them helps to increase the availability of nutrients by breaking down relatively tough plant cell balls – think skin of the capsicum and cucumber. In a similar way, crushing and chopping some foods may help to release different enzymes as is the case with onions and garlic. Even soaking some foods including beans may help to reduce the acids that inhibit the absorption of some other nutrients. 

Specifically when it comes to foods better consumed raw, it is the nutrients effected by heat – Vitamins B and C including folate are all easily destroyed at high temperatures which gives some rationale to consume foods rich in these nutrients including leafy greens, capsicum, broccoli, avocado and cauliflower raw. While these nutrients are heat sensitive, what is important to remember is that lightly heating the veges is unlikely to be a major issue as opposed to cooking at high temperatures and in fact, serving salad vegetables or cooking these veges with a little olive oil will actual increase nutrient absorption of other key nutrients. For this reason, there is benefits of eating a mix of raw and lightly cooked salad vegetables every day to tick all your nutritional boxes. 

Then there are the nutrients for which you will actually absorb more when they are cooked. While overcooking vegetables does tend to destroy certain Vitamins (think soggy, discoloured vegetables boiled in a pot) cooking tomatoes and carrots for example actually increases the quantities of the antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene. This is the case for any red/orange and yellow vegetables for which lightly cooking will help to break down the cell walls and increase nutrient availability. 

While vegetables and salad are the key foods targeted when it comes to raw vs. cooked, let’s not forget our proteins. Omega 3 fats found in oily fish are relatively stable raw or cooked but for any raw meat fans, or for those who like to add a raw egg or two to their morning shake, cooking these proteins helps to denatures the proteins found in these foods, making them much more digestible.