Which is Healthier: Raw vs. Steamed?
Have you always wondered how to prepare vegetables in order to maximize their nutritional content? There’s no easy answer, since cooking powers up the nutrients in some vegetables—and does the exact opposite in others.
Asparagus Eat: Cooked
Steaming that asparagus ignites its cancer-fighting potential.
Red peppers Eat: Raw
Their vitamin C breaks down when roasted, fried, or grilled above 375 degrees.
Tomatoes Eat: Cooked
Cooking actually increases its level of lycopene — an antioxidant thought to help prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss. Adding a healthy oil is even healthier.
Fresh fruits and veggies are full of necessary vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and how you eat them can change the amount of nutrients absorbed.
When researchers tested the digestive effects of both raw and steamed veggies — beets, okra, carrots, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, and cauliflower — something interesting happened. Steamed veggies did a better job of binding to bile acids. And that’s a good thing. It means more bile acids get excreted, which in turn means the liver needs more bad LDL cholesterol to make bile — which means there’s less LDL circulating in your body.
Question: I’ve always thought fresh is best when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but some say that frozen foods have more nutrients. Who’s right?
You’re both right. It’s true that fresh fruits and vegetables tend to taste better and have more nutritional value than frozen or canned. But that’s not always the case.
Fresh is best when it really is farm-fresh and ripe. However, many commercial fruits and veggies are picked before peak ripeness — which also means before their nutritional peak — to avoid spoilage during transport and storage. And just a few days after harvest, fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutritive goodness. What’s more, the longer they sit on the shelf — during transport, in the supermarket, and in your fridge — the fewer nutrients they have left to pass on to you.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables intended for freezing are usually picked close to the peak of ripeness and are flash-frozen immediately after harvest. The processing does deplete some nutrients, but it locks in the rest for up to 12 months. In some instances, frozen fruits and veggies may actually have more of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Personally, I enjoy purchasing “organic” frozen veggies and fruit and during the winter months I prefer frozen!
- Both raw and steamed have health benefits therefore eating a combination of both is best.
- If certain raw vegetables cause discomfort (gas, bloating, indigestion…), ask your nutritionist for guidance to how to improve your digestion.
- Leave skins on whenever possible. Many fruits and vegetables hold most of their antioxidants in their skins. Simply wash well before cooking/eating and I recommend “organic” when possible.
- When choosing which vegetables and fruit to purchase organic visit the Dirty Dozen. These are the 12 produce that have the highest residue of pesticides. This is a wonderful start. Click here
- To help retain the highest levels of vitamin C, don’t thaw your frozen veggies before cooking. Studies show that vegetables cooked directly from frozen retain more vitamin C than vegetables that are thawed first.
- Lightly steam vegetables instead of boiling, sautéing, or roasting.
- If you prefer to blanch your veggies, dip them into boiling water for the least amount of time possible.
Question: I’ve heard that tomatoes are a good source of the antioxidant lycopene. Are there any other fruits or vegetables that contain lycopene?
Tomatoes and tomato products may be the main dietary source of lycopene for most people, but you can top off your lyco-levels with other fruits, including papaya, guava, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.
Lycopene is nature’s red and pink paintbrush; it’s what gives those fruits their color and their high antioxidant content.
It isn’t always easy for our bodies to access lycopene. Tomatoes, for example, have relatively low levels of the antioxidant until they’re cooked. Cooking increases the amount of lycopene, and adding a little olive oil makes it easier for the body to absorb this healthful substance. That means cooked and processed tomato products, such as tomato sauce, tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce, are all excellent sources of lycopene. Try to purchase organic tomato products and look for glass jars instead of tins or better yet, try homemade.
A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that cooking actually boosts the amount of lycopene in tomatoes. The level of one type of lycopene, cis-lycopene, in tomatoes rose 35 percent after they were cooked for 30 minutes at 190.4 degrees Fahrenheit (88 degrees Celsius). Heat breaks down the plants’ thick cell walls and aids the body’s uptake of some nutrients that are bound to those cell walls.
Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that cooking carrots increases their level of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene belongs to a group of antioxidant substances called carotenoids, which give fruits and vegetables their red, yellow, and orange colorings. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.
Question: I always use fat-free salad dressing to ensure I’m not loading up on extra calories. But I recently heard that full-fat salad dressing is best. Why is this?
It may seem counter intuitive, but it’s true. Don’t forget the fat! Drizzle your vegetables with a bit of healthy oil, like olive oil, to allow your body to absorb nutrients easier.
Some antioxidants, such as carotenoids found in carrots, tomatoes, spinach, and corn, need fat in order to be absorbed by your body. In one study, participants who added a healthy full-fat dressing to their salads absorbed more carotenoids than participants who used low-fat, fat-free, or no dressing. But that doesn’t mean to go overboard. Remember that 1 tbsp. of most fats contain 90 calories. Choose healthy fats like: olive oil, flax oil, ghee, organic butter and avocado oil.
Comparing the healthfulness of raw and cooked food is complicated, and there are still many mysteries surrounding how the different molecules in plants interact with the human body.
The bottom line is to eat more veggies and fruits no matter how they’re prepared.