It has long been debated by raw food enthusiasts and the more traditional schools of cooking as to which way to eat vegetables is healthier, raw or cooked.
Vegetables contain many nutrients essential for good health. These plant foods supply carbohydrates, antioxidants, fiber, minerals and vitamins. The nutritional values of vegetables may change during processing or cooking. Different preparation methods (including cooking temperatures) can affect the vitamin content of most vegetables.
While some foods may lose many of their nutritive benefits between harvesting and eating, using certain cooking techniques may help your vegetables retain many of these important nutrients. Cooking is a process that is adopted to make food easily digestible, destroy disease causing germs, and to enhance its taste and flavor. Naturally, it has several advantages as well as disadvantages.
Carbohydrates: The starch swells during cooking and becomes gelatinous. Thus, cooking helps in proper digestion of carbohydrates.
Proteins: Moderate heat splits protein and shrinks it in size. As a result, it becomes more easily digestible. However, severe heat (during roasting, baking and frying) reduces the nutritional value of proteins.
Thiamine: About 20% to 50% of thiamine (Vitamin B1) is lost to cooking, with the greatest loss occurring when foods are boiled, baked or fried. It is also depleted if you add soda for cooking vegetables.
Folic acid and Vitamin B12: Both these vitamins tend to be lost when using cooking methods such as pressure cooking, roasting or frying. In addition to the loss due to heat, folic acid and vitamin B12 are also lost when excess water is discarded after cooking.
Vitamin C: This vitamin is lost by oxidation due to exposure to air and by discarding excess water after cooking. About 10% to 60% of vitamin C is lost during cooking depending upon its method and the vegetable cooked. Furthermore, Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium are all lost when excess water is discarded after cooking.
Techniques for cooking vegetables include microwaving, steaming, stir-frying, deep-frying, baking and boiling. Using low heat and quick methods of cooking can help retain vitamins.
According to North Dakota State University, microwaving foods provides a method of cooking that helps to retain the vitamins in vegetables. Microwaving foods takes less time than conventional methods and reduces the need for water. Steaming vegetables until slightly tender may also help preserve both vitamins and color. Another quick method of cooking, stir-frying, adds a crisp texture, without requiring long cooking times.
While eating vegetables raw or lightly cooked may help them retain healthy amounts of vitamins, cooking can provide benefits as well. According to the arthritis foundation, cooked tomatoes supply three to four times more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Cooking releases this antioxidant from the fibrous portions of the vegetables, making it easier to absorb. Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002 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. Cooking can also help destroy bacteria and parasites.
In conclusion, there are strong arguments for eating both raw and cooked vegetables and since the latest guidelines from the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services calls for the consumption of 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day, we recommend that you balance what you eat and enjoy some prepared each way every day. One thing we can assure you here at Prisco's Family Market is that you never need be bored eating the same old thing day after day. We offer well over 175 different varieties of fresh vegetables in our store, and we have thousands of different vegetable recipes on our web site available 24/7.