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Is Raw Food Healthier Than Cooked Food?

It is not always true that cooked food has lower nutrition than fresh produce. For instance, tomatoes provide better health benefits when cooked than when eaten raw. Possible side effects of cooking include a destruction in food enzymes and a loss in essential nutrients. However, cooking food improves digestion, increases antioxidants in some vegetables, and kills bacteria that may cause food-borne illnesses. A healthy diet should have a balance of both raw and cooked foods.

There has always been a debate on raw food nutrition and cooked food nutrition. Those who advocate raw food diets claim that they benefit more from raw food than cooked ones while others claim the the opposite.

To sum up, raw food and cooked food have their own benefits. Some foods may be better eaten raw while some others cooked.

Eating your fruits and vegetables raw may have more nutritional benefits for your body than them being cooked; however, we cannot make a concrete conclusion because it largely depends on the food eaten raw.

Let’s examine why cooking certain foods may be bad and good for the body.

Possible Side Effects Of Cooking Food

1. May Destroy Food Enzymes

Cooking May Destroy Food Enzymes

This is one of the claims made by raw-food diet followers. When you ingest food, your body makes use of its enzymes to break the food down into smaller molecules so that it can be absorbed by your body easily. The food you eat also contains enzymes.

Most enzymes are heat sensitive and become inactive when exposed to heat or while cooking.

Raw-food diet proponents argue that since the enzymes present in the food are destroyed while cooking, the body requires more digestive enzymes to help in the absorption process which may further result in an enzyme deficiency. However, this argument lacks scientific evidence to substantiate it.

Some scientists say that the food enzymes are useful for the plant’s nourishment and do not aid humans in their digestion.

In addition, the digestive enzymes produced by the body to help in digesting the food is absorbed by the body and can be re-utilized making it less likely for any enzyme deficiency in the body.1

2. May Result In Loss Of Nutrients

Cooking May Result In The Loss Of Nutrients

Raw foods are rich in certain nutrients than cooked ones. This is because cooking results in the loss of certain essential nutrients that are required by the body. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C are lost in the cooking process.2 Vitamin C is essential as it fights free radicals that are harmful to the body, helps in the absorption of iron, aids in the healing of wounds, and protects the body from viral and bacterial infections.

Results of studies conducted on specific vegetables including bamboo shoots, red peppers, and green cowpea pods show that boiling causes the highest loss of essential nutrients. In bamboo shoots, boiling decreased the contents of protein and soluble sugar and caused a great loss in the total free amino acids.3 In red peppers, boiling significantly reduced the ascorbic acid content and the antioxidant properties.4 In green cowpea pods, boiling decreased the amounts of iron, calcium, ascorbic acid, and beta carotene.5

In addition, the time taken to cook your food affects the nutrients present in it. The longer the food is cooked, the greater the loss of nutrients.

The Benefits Of Cooking Food

1. Makes It Easier To Chew And Digest Food

Cooking Makes It Easier To Chew And Digest Food

Chewing your food is one of the initial steps of the digestive process. Chewing breaks down the food into smaller particles that will help your body to digest easily.

Improperly chewed foods can give your body a hard time to digest the food and may also result in bloating and flatulence.

Cooking makes the food softer, making it easier to chew and also gives a better aroma, making it more appealing and appetizing. Cooking has other benefits over nonthermal processing of food including gelatinization of starch, efficient denaturing of proteins, and killing of food-borne pathogens.6

I am sure all nonvegetarians will agree to the fact that cooked meat is easier to chew and digest than raw meat. Also, it is quite disturbing to have raw meat on your plate.

Cooked legumes and grains are easier to digest and also reduce the number of antinutrients present in them. Antinutrients are compounds that hinder the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients from the food.

2. Increases Antioxidant Ability Of Some Vegetables

Cooking Increases Antioxidant Ability Of Some Vegetables

Cooking increases the antioxidants present in some vegetables. Antioxidants are important for your body as they fight free radicals that harm the body.

It is also found that cooking has a positive effect on the phytochemical content present in vegetables.7 Phytochemicals have numerous benefits for the body which include stimulating the immune system, preventing DNA damage and helping with DNA repair, regulating hormones, and others.8

Results of a study show that tomatoes when cooked offer more lycopene – an essential antioxidant – to the body than when raw. This result also proves that processed fruits and vegetables don’t always have lower nutritional value than fresh produce.9

Results of a study on three vegetables – carrots, courgettes, and broccoli – showed that cooking increased the antioxidant activities in these vegetables.10

3. Kills Harmful Bacteria And Microorganisms

Cooking Kills Harmful Bacteria And Other Microorganisms

Cooking food has an advantage of killing bacteria and other microorganisms that may cause serious illnesses like diarrhea.

Cooking food thoroughly and eating it as soon as it is cool enough for consumption would, therefore, control the majority of contaminants in food and a significant number of food-borne episodes of diarrhea.11

Cooking meat should be done properly, otherwise, microorganisms may survive gentle frying and roasting especially if the meat was not properly defrosted before preparation.12

A study on raw milk or heated milk consumption depicts that raw milk may contain pathogens that may harm human health; therefore, heating raw milk is important to kill these pathogens. Heated milk showed negligible nutritional differences when compared with the values of raw milk.13

To gain the nutritional benefits from the foods you eat, there should be a balance of both raw food and cooked food. Here are a few examples of food that offer better benefits when eaten raw and others when eaten cooked.

Examples Of Foods That Are Better Eaten Raw

  • Broccoli: Raw broccoli contains three times the amount of sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting plant compound, than cooked broccoli does.14
  • Cabbage: Cooking cabbage may destroy the cancer-preventing enzyme myrosinase. If you cook cabbage, do so for a short duration.15
  • Onions: Onions inhibit platelet aggregation. However, cooking it may destroy or reverse their antiplatelet activity.16
  • Garlic: Garlic possesses anticancer properties and cooking them may destroy this benefit completely.17

Examples Of Foods That Are Better Eaten Cooked

  • Asparagus: Cooking asparagus breaks their fibrous cell walls making folates and vitamins like vitamin A, C, and E more available for absorption by the body.
  • Spinach: Cooked spinach provides better availability of its nutrients like iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc to the body.
  • Mushrooms: Cooking mushrooms helps degrade potential carcinogens and also helps in the release of a powerful antioxidant, Ergothioneine.
  • Tomatoes: As mentioned earlier, cooking tomatoes provides more lycopene which is good for the body.
    Meat, fish, and poultry: Meat, fish, and poultry contain bacteria that may cause food-borne diseases. These can be eliminated by properly cooking them.

References   [ + ]

1. Rothman, Stephen, Charles Liebow, and Lois Isenman. “Conservation of digestive enzymes.” Physiological reviews 82, no. 1 (2002): 1-18.
2. Igwemmar, N. C., S. A. Kolawole, and I. A. Imran. “Effect of heating on vitamin C content of some selected vegetables.” International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research 2, no. 11 (2013): 209-212.
3. Zhang, Jin-jie, Rong Ji, Ya-qin Hu, Jian-chu Chen, and Xing-qian Ye. “Effect of three cooking methods on nutrient components and antioxidant capacities of bamboo shoot (Phyllostachys praecox CD Chu et CS Chao).” Journal of Zhejiang University-Science B 12, no. 9 (2011): 752-759.
4. Hwang, In Guk, Young Jee Shin, Seongeung Lee, Junsoo Lee, and Seon Mi Yoo. “Effects of different cooking methods on the antioxidant properties of red pepper (Capsicum annuum L.).” Preventive nutrition and food science 17, no. 4 (2012): 286-292.
5. Deol, Jasraj K., and Kiran Bains. “Effect of household cooking methods on nutritional and anti nutritional factors in green cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) pods.” Journal of food science and technology 47, no. 5 (2010): 579-581.
6. Carmody, Rachel N., and Richard W. Wrangham. “The energetic significance of cooking.” Journal of Human Evolution 57, no. 4 (2009): 379-391.
7. Palermo, Mariantonella, Nicoletta Pellegrini, and Vincenzo Fogliano. “The effect of cooking on the phytochemical content of vegetables.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 94, no. 6 (2014): 1057-1070.
8. Phytochemicals: The Cancer Fighters in Your Foods. American Institute for Cancer Research.
9. Dewanto, Veronica, Xianzhong Wu, Kafui K. Adom, and Rui Hai Liu. “Thermal processing enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing total antioxidant activity.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 50, no. 10 (2002): 3010-3014.
10. Miglio, Cristiana, Emma Chiavaro, Attilio Visconti, Vincenzo Fogliano, and Nicoletta Pellegrini. “Effects of different cooking methods on nutritional and physicochemical characteristics of selected vegetables.” J. Agric. Food Chem 56, no. 1 (2008): 139-147.
11. World, Health Organization WHO, and Safety Unit Food. “Contaminated food: a major cause of diarrhoea and associated malnutrition among infants and young children.” Facts about infant feeding 3 (1993): 1.
12. Newman, Mercy J. “Food Safety: Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. Luke 12: 19b.” Ghana medical journal 39, no. 2 (2005): 44.
13. Claeys, Wendie L., Sabine Cardoen, Georges Daube, Jan De Block, Koen Dewettinck, Katelijne Dierick, Lieven De Zutter et al. “Raw or heated cow milk consumption: review of risks and benefits.” Food Control 31, no. 1 (2013): 251-262.
14. Conaway, C. Clifford, Serkadis M. Getahun, Leonard L. Liebes, Donald J. Pusateri, Debra KW Topham, María Botero-Omary, and Fung-Lung Chung. “Disposition of glucosinolates and sulforaphane in humans after ingestion of steamed and fresh broccoli.” Nutrition and cancer 38, no. 2 (2000): 168-178.
15. Rungapamestry, Vanessa, Alan J. Duncan, Zoë Fuller, and Brian Ratcliffe. “Changes in glucosinolate concentrations, myrosinase activity, and production of metabolites of glucosinolates in cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) cooked for different durations.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 54, no. 20 (2006): 7628-7634.
16. Hansen, Emilie A., John D. Folts, and Irwin L. Goldman. “Steam-cooking rapidly destroys and reverses onion-induced antiplatelet activity.” Nutrition journal 11, no. 1 (2012): 76.
17. Song, Kun, and John A. Milner. “The influence of heating on the anticancer properties of garlic.” The Journal of nutrition 131, no. 3 (2001): 1054S-1057S.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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