Should Vegetables Be Eaten Raw?

Occasionally I get asked questions about whether it’s better to eat vegetables raw as opposed to cook. The answer to that question is typically: it depends.

Although certain cooking methods are less favourable (i.e. boiling), cooking actually enhances your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients. For demonstration purposes, I’ve included a study that looked into various cooking methods used with broccoli. Additionally, it compared both fresh and frozen vegetables.

J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 4310-4321

If we look at the dotted line, that’s the value of raw vegetables. With the exception of boiling, the other cooking methods either preserve nutrition quality at 80% or better and occasionally, make nutrient absorption superior to the raw version. Fresh vegetables are generally superior nutritionally to frozen vegetables, but both are good for you.

Canned vegetables are much poorer options nutritionally as they are packed with salt and occasionally can pick up harmful residues from the inside of the cans (particularly acidic vegetables like tomatoes: The 7 Foods Experts Won’t Eat).

The key when cooking vegetables is to limit how much direct time they are cooked in water, as many of the water soluble vitamins and phytochemicals leach out into the water. A quick cook in the microwave or steaming are both vastly superior cooking methods in this regard. A light stir-frying can also be used to preserve high levels of nutrition quality.

These rules about cooking vegetables don’t apply to leafy greens (they are best eaten raw) or really watery vegetables like cucumber. However, any vegetable with an appreciable fibrous content (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, peas, beans, asparagus etc) benefit from a light cooking method.

One final cooking tip, you never want to cook vegetables to the point of being mushy or discoloured. Only cook vegetables just long enough that they start to soften, but still retain their crunch.

So now you know, both fresh and lightly cooked vegetables are equally beneficial for you, just in different ways. If you struggle to digest raw vegetables (and many people do) then giving them a quick steam is a surefire way to make them easier on your system, while still giving you all the nutrition you need.

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!