When making healthy meals, most of us don't think about whether or not cooking our food affects its nutrition. Although some foods can be more nutritious when cooked, there are other foods that should always be consumed raw, as heating can destroy certain nutrients. It can be hard to tell which foods should be eaten fresh and which should be steamed, so it's important to be aware of which foods can withstand cooking and which should be tossed into a salad.
"Food preparation has a big effect on the levels of nutrients and phytochemicals in food and also on how well they are absorbed," says Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN to Bustle over email. "Cooking, chopping, blending and juicing have both positive and negative effects, making it hard to determine the single best way to prepare each and every food."
A study from The British Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate a raw diet had high levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene, but low levels of lycopene, which suggests that some foods are best eaten raw (such as those that contain the former nutrients), while others are best consumed cooked.
To make the most out of your fruits and vegetables, try to eat the following options raw in order to optimize your absorption of nutrients.
"Choose raw fruit as often as possible," says Mashru. "There isn’t much science showing benefits of cooking fruits, so it makes sense to go with the most convenient and obvious way to enjoy these foods."
2. Red Peppers
"Red peppers contain a large proportion of vitamin C per serving," says Mashru. "But vitamin C is highly unstable in heat, and as a result, cooking can cause levels of the nutrient to plummet if they are cooked."
Cooking garlic reduces the antioxidant allicin, which helps fight heart disease and cancer. Garlic does contain other nutrients that remain intact after cooking, but to maximize its protective benefits, it's best to enjoy garlic raw or to chop up the garlic 45 minutes before cooking, which allows the allicin to remain.
Like peppers, spinach is high in vitamin C, and cooking the green removes two-thirds of the nutrient. However, cooking spinach does break down oxalic acid, which can help with your body's absorption of calcium, iron, and magnesium, so it may be best to alternate when eating the vegetable.
Onions — like garlic — contain allicin, and eating onions raw preserves the antioxidant. Because onions contain a variety of organic sulphur compounds that are destroyed by heat, it's best to eat onions raw to get their blood pressure-lowering and heart-protecting benefits.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting compound. However, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that consuming raw broccoli helps your body absorb more of compound more quickly. Although steaming and baking broccoli doesn't significantly reduce the sulforaphane, boiling greatly diminishes the amount of the nutrient absorbed.
Overall, it's important to maintain a balance in how you prepare your food. "Aim for the best of all worlds by eating about half of your vegetables raw and half in the gently-cooked state," says Mashru.
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