Is it healthier to eat vegetables raw or cooked? Well, that depends on which vegetables you are talking about.
While most vegetables are better eaten raw, there are a few you could cook instead to gain more health benefits, said Beth Stefura, a family and consumer sciences educator with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“Cooking some vegetables releases nutrients that your body can more easily absorb,” she writes in Vegetables That Are Healthier Cooked, a blog post at the Live Healthy Live Well website.
The site, which can be found at livehealthyosu.com, is a free information resource that offers science-based consumer information and insights. It’s written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer sciences who promote health and wellness.
While the heat involved in cooking some vegetables can destroy some of their nutrients, for others, it actually enhances their absorbability, Stefura said.
“For example, both beta carotene such as carrots and its relative, lycopene such as tomatoes, are more easily absorbed by the body after cooking,” she said. “This is because cooking changes the structure of these nutrients’ molecules, allowing our bodies to absorb them much more efficiently.”
And if you add some healthy fat to the cooking process, such as olive or canola oil, it also helps add more nutrients.
In the blog post, Stefura offers some examples of vegetables that offer more nutrient value cooked versus raw, including:
- Asparagus. This springtime vegetable is full of the cancer-fighting vitamins A, C, and E. Cooking asparagus increases its levels of phenolic acid, which is associated with the reduced risk of cancer.
- Carrots. Our bodies seem to use more easily the beta carotene in cooked carrots than in raw ones. One way to cook carrots is to cut them into rounds, steam them, and serve them with a little honey or cinnamon.
- Mushrooms. Microwaving or grilling mushrooms can increase antioxidant activity. Cooking options can include heating them up, slicing and adding them to a salad, or sautéing them and adding them to an omelet.
- Tomatoes. Lycopene is better absorbed when the food item is heated up. This might protect against cancer and heart disease. Cooking options can include slow roasting tomatoes in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then adding them to a sandwich.
- Spinach. Oxalic acid might block the absorption of calcium and iron from raw spinach. Heat is known to break it down. Cooking options can include blanching the spinach and serving it under grilled fish with salsa.
Whatever cooking method you choose, here are some other considerations when cooking your vegetables:
- If a vegetable has an edible skin—potatoes or summer squash, for example— leave it on. Many nutrients are concentrated in or just below the skin, and the skin protects the vegetables from losing nutrients during the cooking process.
- When cutting vegetables before cooking, opt for larger chunks. The less surface area that’s exposed to heat, the fewer nutrients you’ll lose.
- Cook vegetables in a loose pile or a single layer to allow the heat to access all of the food surfaces quickly and evenly. Again, the quicker vegetables cook, the more nutrients you get. (Turner, T. . Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.)
Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension Fayette County.