About two million years ago, our ancient human ancestors are believed to have first started using fire to cook their food. When fire met food, eating habits of early civilization advanced, and today cooking is an art. With many debates about the health of primitive man compared to modern society, it begs the question- did cooking improve upon or diminish the nutritional value of food? And when it comes to weight loss, which is better? Cooked or raw?
The answer to these questions is, it depends. There is no clear-cut general rule about the value of cooked versus raw foods. But let’s take a look at some of the facts we do know that may get us closer to making wiser choices.
First, when we talk about the cooked versus raw debate, we are mainly focused on plant-based foods. It’s true that people can eat raw meat, fish, and dairy, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick to the stuff that grows out of the ground.
When it comes to overall nutrition, cooked will generally lose to raw nine times out of ten. However, there are instances where cooking actually takes the lead because of its ability to increase the body’s absorption of valuable nutrients. For instance, the absorption of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, is unleashed when heated (especially with olive oil).
In addition to nutrient absorption, cooking also is the definitive way to kill any nasty bacteria that may be lurking in food. This means you can eat cooked spinach without a care in the world, but raw spinach may carry the risk of e-Coli, or bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning.
The major downside of cooking is that it may increase the production of cancer-causing agents. However, that risk applies less to vegetables and fruits and more so to meats, poultry, and fish. And if you choose to cook your plant-based foods, make sure you steam or sauté them. Stay away from frying as it increases the fat content of your food.
As said above, there’s no doubt about it. Raw veggies and fruits pack a nutritional punch. Without the heat they retain their water-soluble vitamin (such as Vitamin A and C), antioxidant, and unsaturated fat (“the good fat”) value. They also have a much higher fiber content than their cooked counterparts, which helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time.
Enzymes that assist in weight management, lipase and protease, are found abundantly in raw foods. Lipase helps the body with digestion, fat distribution and fat burning. Without this enzyme, fat becomes stagnant and accumulates. Protease helps the body break down proteins and destroy toxins. Getting rid of toxins is important because your body stores excess toxins in the form of body fat.
In addition to the risk of bacterial infection noted above, there are two other primary complaints when it comes to raw vegetables specifically. The first is raw vegetables can produce gas pain and bloating. These feelings are less common when eating cooked vegetables because the heat breaks down the fiber so your body doesn’t have to take on that task. The second is, let’s face it, the flavor of raw vegetables. It isn’t exactly nature’s candy. However, by adding more raw vegetables to your daily meals, you’ll find that your craving for sugar, salt and fat will decrease. You may actually grow to like the taste of vegetables! If not the taste, you’ll like the effects that raw vegetables will have on your body in the form of lower weight and higher energy levels.
We hope this helped break down some of the benefits and drawbacks of cooked and raw foods. In the realm of weight loss, raw appears to edge out cooked in many ways. But however you choose them, eating your veggies and fruits are great supports for helping you achieve your weight loss goals.
Cooked vs. Raw Tidbits On Popular Plant-Based Foods:
Asparagus- Steam this nutrient packed vegetable packed with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants for the best health benefits.
Beets- Beets lose more than 25 present of folate when cooked. This type of B Vitamin helps new tissues and proteins form.
Broccoli- Heating broccoli deactivates myrosinase, an enzyme in broccoli that helps cleanse the liver of cancer-causing agents.
Leafy Greens- Leafy greens like kale, chard, beet greens, collards and spinach, are high in chlorophyll (a powerful antioxidant), vitamins C and E, fiber, enzymes and amino acids. Eating leafy greens raw preserves their utmost nutritional concentration and makes for a more filling meal.
Mushrooms- Cooking mushrooms brings out more muscle-building potassium. More muscle means more calories burned, and more weight loss!
Onions- Eat your onions raw to get more of the phytonutrient allicin, a powerful antioxidant that boosts your immunity and fights against cancer.
Red Peppers- Vitamin C breaks down when baked, grilled, or fried over 375 degrees.
Spinach- Cooked spinach helps your body absorb more calcium, iron and magnesium.
Seeds- Raw seeds are a good source of protein and zinc, which boost your immune system, and have been linked to lower cholesterol. They are also high in fiber, vitamin E, and healthy unsaturated fats that can help keep your brain and heart healthy.
Tomatoes – When you eat cooked tomatoes your body absorbs more cancer-fighting lycopene.