Vegetables: Raw or Cooked?

The so-called “paleo” diet, in which weight-watchers are tasked with eating only those foods which might have been found along the trails of their ancestors' mastodon hunts has taken a beating of late, but what about raw vegetables? Does not cooking kill many of the vitamins and minerals? Shouldn't we at least be eating our vegetables raw, when we can?

Not necessarily.

Cooking increases the levels of the red pigment lycopene in fruits such as papaya, tomatoes, pink guava, and red bell pepper. And a highlycopene intake, according to several recent studies, is linked with a lower risk of strokes and cancer. Some researchers uphold that lycopene is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin C.

Carrots, mushrooms, spinach, mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, peppers and many other vegetables also profit by cooking, supplying our bodies with more of the antioxidants ferulic acid and carotenoids than they do when raw. The science behind this is that the heat breaks down the cell walls in the veggies and thereby facilitates the body's absorption of some nutrients that are bound to those cell walls. Note that the vegetables need to be steamed or boiled to enjoy the full benefit, however.

Cooking cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage produces indole. According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition, indole assists in killing precancerous cells before they turn malignant.

There is, however, a negative side to cooking vegetables: it can destroy vitamin C levels in them. The highly unstable vitamin is degraded through oxidation and dissolves in water. But it more than balances out, as vitamin C is prevalent in far more fruits and vegetables – broccoli, oranges, cauliflower, kale and carrots – than is lycopene.

Although boiling carrots increases their carotenoid levels, it also wipes out their polyphenols. These are chemicals that have been shown to have antioxidant properties and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to one study.

Pluses and minuses. Ups and downs. The main takeaway here is: Eat your vegetables! Cooked or raw, there is no other food group so valuable for you!