With the abundance of healthy and delicious veggies to choose from, we have no worries about choosing what to eat. The question is – how do we prepare certain favorites and staples to get a meal or snack that’s not only flavorful, but gives us the maximum benefits and nutrients from each?
Although some general rules apply, our bodies function differently, and the way we prefer to prepare certain foods will largely depend on our ability to digest them. That being said, let’s have a look at the most widely recommended way to prepare certain foods and the reasons why they’re best in each form.
Asparagus should be cooked because the process breaks down its fibrous cell walls. That makes it easier for our bodies to absorb and digest vital nutrients and antioxidants, including folate, vitamins A, C, and E.
Although certain types of mushrooms taste great raw, we’re better off cooking them all. The compound agaritine is a potential carcinogen found in certain types of mushrooms, including the common white or button mushrooms you find in supermarkets and sometimes served raw in salads. Cooking helps degrade this compound, and it is also found to help release beneficial mushroom antioxidants.
Cooking tomatoes (lightly!) helps release higher levels of powerful antioxidants, including lycopene. Lycopene, the antioxidant found in red fruits and veggies, is extremely beneficial and found to be helpful in preventing cancer, so it helps to know that the cooking process makes it more available for our bodies to absorb.
The same goes for broccoli. Raw broccoli contains thrice the amount of sulforaphane, which is a plant compound beneficial for cancer prevention. This vegetable is also rich in vitamin C, which is vulnerable to the cooking process. However, many people find it incredibly difficult to digest raw, so it’s best to mix and match or cook it on low heat for a short period of time – just enough. Broccoli is also great when boiled minimally and blended into soups.
Foods that are best eaten raw or blended
Obviously, you won’t be blending your onions into a smoothie, but don’t cook them either. Raw onions contain important phytochemicals that help prevent certain cancers and it also has heart-healthy properties. High heat reduces these benefits.
Although most often cooked lightly to add flavor to meals, garlic is best in unaltered form. Raw garlic is rich in sulfur compounds which have anti-cancer properties, and cooking degrades them.
Foods that are best cooked
When it comes to certain vegetables, you’ll undoubtedly get more nutrients if you cook them. But it’s important to remember not to overcook anything – don’t let them get to the point of sogginess, as much of the nutritious value will be lost along with the taste.
Although carrots are delicious raw and you might love snacking on them, doctors recommend cooking them to actually get all the benefits they offer. That’s because cooked carrots actually contain more beta-carotene, the antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in our bodies. If you detest the taste of cooked carrots, you can boil them lightly and blend them into a creamy soup.
However, you don’t have to be too rigid about this – raw tomatoes and tomato juice still taste delicious and have plenty of benefits.
Contrary to popular belief, extra virgin olive oil does not lose any of its benefits when heated. That’s because it contains mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, which are quite resistant to high heat. Olive oil is incredibly healthy, and among numerous benefits, it helps maintain healthy testosterone levels naturally for men whose diets are otherwise very low in fats. The verdict: forget the rumors and incorporate it into your diet however you like.
Cooking spinach makes nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium more available for the body to absorb. It also boosts the antioxidant content, but there’s a twist: the polyphenols, which are beneficial to our bodies and help fight disease, are prone to degradation from high temperatures.
So the best way to go about it so to cook spinach, especially when you’re looking to boost your iron and zinc levels, but add some variety every once in a while – throw some fresh spinach into your salad or try it in a green smoothie.
Red peppers are incredibly rich in vitamin C, polyphenols, and other important phytochemicals – all of which are highly sensitive to heat, so it’s best to eat it fresh to get the most benefits.
Again, the high amount of vitamin C, polyphenols, and antioxidants is somewhat degraded by cooking so it’s best eaten raw. Many people, however, find kale difficult to digest when eaten raw. In that case, try massaging it or blending it into a smoothie – blending will help break down the fibrous cell walls, making it more digestible and the nutrients available for absorption.
Basically, everything else is safe to eat and undoubtedly healthful when eaten raw or blended, but great to cook lightly as well. So take your pick and enjoy – find what feels best for your body, mix it up, and pick the option that’s most delicious to you.
About the Author
Caitlin is a bookworm and a medical student. She is particularly interested in nutrition and wellness. In her free time, when she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health, lifestyle, and food-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, blogging, and grilled tofu. To see what Caitlin is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.