Q: Which vegetables are best to eat raw and which are best to eat cooked? What is a good balance between raw vegetables, cooked vegetables and fermented vegetables?
A: Before I dive into answering this question, I want to start by saying that eating ANY vegetables is AWESOME and if thinking about which vegetables to eat cooked and which ones to eat raw overwhelms you, do NOT worry!
Let’s start first with one of the basic characteristics of vitamins – some are water-soluble and some are fat-soluble and some vitamins are also more heat sensitive than others.
The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the B vitamins. If you’re going to be cooking vegetables containing B vitamins or vitamin C (outlined below), avoid boiling them, as a good majority of the nutrients will end up in the cooking water. Instead, stick to steaming, sautéing or roasting these vegetables.
TIP: If you do end up boiling the vegetables, save the water to use for soups or for cooking at a later time so that the nutrients are not lost.
The fat-soluble vitamins include, vitamins A, D, E and K. These vegetables are fantastic when cooked.
When Cooking is Better
One of the most infamous vegetables (actually fruits) that are more nutritious when cooked is tomato. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that becomes MORE bioavailable (easily absorbed and used by the body) when cooked rather than raw. Research shows that lycopene increases by 25% when tomatoes are cooked for 30 minutes. Lycopene has been studied for its belief of being helpful with preventing cancer and other chronic diseases.
Vegetables containing beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), like carrots and sweet potato are actually MORE nutritious when cooked. Cooking, in this case, helps to break down the rigid plant cell wall, which makes more nutrients available for absorption.
Now let’s chat about heat sensitivity. There are a few vitamins that are quite sensitive to heat and therefore, vegetables containing these vitamins are best consumed raw.
Heat breaks down vitamin C, folate, vitamin B1 and B5.
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin C:
- Peppers (red, green, yellow, orange)
- Brussels sprouts
Examples of vegetables containing folate:
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin B1:
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
Examples of vegetables containing vitamin B5:
Eating any vegetables is good and whether or not you consume these foods raw or cooked is not a HUGE concern. If we can simply incorporate more vegetables into our diets that is going to be where we see the biggest benefit!
What Is A Good Balance Of Raw, Cooked And Fermented Vegetables?
In my opinion, incorporating 1-2 servings of fermented foods per day (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, fermented vegetables, kefir) is great for maintaining the population of good bacteria in your gut. However, if you’re more likely to have trouble with the good bacteria in your gut (read here to see if this might be you), then increasing the amount of fermented foods you consume may be helpful.
In terms of breaking up vegetables into raw, fermented and cooked categories and finding a balance between the 3, I recommend variety. I usually tell clients that they should be shooting for at least 4 cups of vegetables per day, which most people gasp at but think: if you have a side salad that is usually 2-3 cups alone. I recommend consuming some vegetables raw everyday, some cooked and some fermented. This will give you a great balance of nutrients and really give you the best bang for your buck nutrition-wise.
I hope this helps answer your question. The real truth is not to be too overly worried about it. If you’re eating at least 4 cups of vegetables per day (raw, cooked or both) and some fermented foods – relax, you’re golden 🙂
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Yours in Health,