By Contributing Author Sharon A. See
I’m often asked about the benefits of raw food diets, of which there are many. But, there are some foods that can actually be more nutritious for us to eat in cooked form.
It really comes down to nutrition science. Some nutrients are very delicate and degrade quickly when exposed to heat. Others, when cooked, can become easier for our digestive systems to absorb. And then there is the more complex nutrition science of combining specific nutrients to enhance absorption.
The great thing about this time of year is that you can find the best fruits and vegetables for both raw and cooked recipes right at The Monroe Farmers Market.
Here’s a quick guide to go by when deciding which are best cooked and which are best eaten raw. I’ve also included a tasty recipe which combines just the right ingredients to naturally enhance nutrient absorption.
Fruits and Vegetables Best Eaten Raw
As a general rule, water-soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw. The reason why is two-fold.
First, these nutrients are very delicate and break down quickly when exposed to heat. Steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying foods rich in Vitamin C and B vitamins will break down the nutrients and make them less beneficial.
The simplest way around this is to eat fruits and vegetables high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form like in a salad. These would be any of your leafy greens like lettuces, kale, or spinach along with red peppers and all berries. Or, cook them quickly by steaming or blanching.
The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and B vitamins are best eaten raw is that these nutrients are water-soluble. So, guess where the vitamins go when they're cooked in water? Yes, they're dissolved right into the water; this is particularly true for vegetables boiled or poached but even for those that are steamed as well.
Here’s an extra tip for you if you’re going use a water-based method of cooking. Keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. But be cautious not to overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.
Fruits and Vegetables Best Eaten Cooked
Cooking beta-carotene-rich vegetables make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable. Orange and red veggies like tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes are most nutritious when they are cooked. In fact, one study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!
Nutrients in these foods are also considered fat-soluble. So for even greater nutrient absorption, eat your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked–Spinach!
Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that its great eaten both raw and cooked.
Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamin C and the B vitamins. Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.
Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.
Here’s a great spinach recipe for you that also incorporates the idea of combining nutrients to enhance absorption. Spinach is rich in the essential mineral iron. The lemon in this recipe is high in vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron when consumed together. Enjoy!
In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes. Sauté spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and squeeze fresh lemon juice on top. Serve & enjoy!
About Sharon A. See
I hope you are enjoying my articles. If you’d like some customized strategies and support with healthy eating for you and your family, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help!
If you have farmer’s market or healthy eating questions you’d like answered or topics you’d like to hear more about, please let me know. See below to contact me.
Sharon A. See
Certified Holistic Health Coach
You can contact me and find other interesting articles, resources, and recipes on my website at www.vitalizedwellness.com.
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The Monroe Farmers' Market is open June–October and offers fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods and hand-crafted specialty foods to Connecticut locals.