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Raw vs Cooked Veggies

Insights from our favorite dietitian- Kristen!

Raw vs cooked: Is one more nutritious than the other?

Throughout this season I have highlighted local foods and their nutritional benefits, so today I am going to share some insight when it comes to preparing those vegetables. A common question I hear that many of you might wonder yourself is, which is healthier, raw or cooked vegetables? When it comes to an answer, all I can say for certain is it depends. ‘It depends’ is a very common answer for many dietary questions but couldn’t be farther from the truth! With preparing vegetables, there are many different types of cooking methods and getting clarification on which is the best is not always perfectly clear. So, the main takeaway from today’s post is not to give you a list of best vegetables to eat, but to provide some information and tips that will help you retain the most nutrients possible when preparing. And if you are like me, then your taste buds have their own preferences too. So, remember, the best way to eat your vegetables is in the form that you enjoy the most and will consume. The goal is to set a reminder that having a combination of both raw and cooked will help meet your nutrient requirements and will be an overall win for your health!

Raw vs cooked, or both?

So many of my favorites, are my favorites because they are cooked! So, what is the point to cooking your vegetables if we lose nutrients during that process? And wouldn’t that mean raw vegetables are better, healthier? When I say cooked vegetables, boiling usually comes to mind, when in fact there are many alternative ways to cook vegetables (I’ll come back to this later). It isn’t uncommon to think raw vegetables contain more nutrients since they have not been denatured by being heated to extreme temperatures. So why do we cook our vegetables? First, cooking can change the flavor, and for me this is a big one since I do not love all vegetables raw. Second, it can aid in chewing which leads into increased digestibility. And third, there are certain vegetables when cooked that their nutrients become more available for our bodies to use. For instance, lycopene (a nutrient with antioxidant properties) in tomatoes is more readily available after being cooked vs their raw counterparts. On the flipside, there are certain raw vegetables that retain their antioxidant properties better than if they were to be cooked. There is certainly a benefit to incorporate both, and from a nutrition standpoint we shouldn’t over complicate the enjoyment of our vegetables!

Which method is best?

Cooking practices can vary from home to home, and each cooking method will lead to nutrient loss, but there is one method where you will see greatest loss, boiling. However, utilizing the liquid used to boil your vegetables in a soup or stew will add back those nutrients lost into your meal! Our more favorable cooking methods that have less of an impact include grilling, roasting, steaming, stir-frying, baking/roasting, or microwaving. These generally preserve a greater number of nutrients.

Here are some tips to preserving nutrients when cooking:

§ Try methods that allow for quicker cooking and use fresh vegetables if possible. Longer cooking times at high heat = increased loss of nutrients.

§ Microwave, steam, roast or grill vegetables rather than boiling them. If you boil, save the liquid for soup or stew.

§ When possible, use less water when cooking, and cover with a lid to speed up the time.

§ Root vegetables should be boiled with skin on to retain nutrients (many nutrients lie close to the skin surface).

§ Avoid soaking your vegetables. Many nutrients are water soluble and can be lost by long periods of soaking.

§ The bigger the pieces the better. Smaller pieces increase surface area and exposure to air.

§ Practice proper food storage and use airtight containers.

§ Utilize the crisper section of the refrigerator.

Nutrients

Nutrients that are more likely to be retained during cooking (varies depending upon cooking method) include the B vitamin, niacin, and vitamin K, because they are fairly heat stable, whereas other vitamins, more susceptible to heat, include vitamin C, folic acid, and thiamin are lost in the cooking process. Certain studies have shown we could lose as much as 55% of vitamin C in certain vegetables! It is also important to remember that not only heat, but light and oxygen, and travel time can also cause for nutrient loss. Eating foods when they are picked at their peak and have shorter transportation times to your table is ideal, sound familiar? I hope so!

So, the goal is to not start preparing vegetables in a way that preservers the most nutrients every time. No matter the prep method, incorporating any vegetables into your diet is a win. Following some simple tips, having a healthy variety of both raw and cooked, and preparing them in way you and your family enjoy most is best!


~Kristen, RD



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