Incorporating more raw vegetables into your regimen can assist your weight-control efforts and also cut your risk for certain diseases. Raw veggies are nutrient-dense – high in water, low in calories and full of a wealth of nutrients that may help protect against everything from heart disease to cancer. Some vegetables benefit from cooking, however, because the process increases your body’s ability to digest these foods and absorb their unique nutrients. Make sure you get both raw and cooked veggies in your daily diet.
Vegetables in Salads
One of the best and easiest ways to eat raw vegetables is in salads. Have a variety of raw vegetables cleaned, chopped and stored in the refrigerator so you always have the makings of a big salad that will set you back very few calories. For a main-dish lunch or dinner salad, serve 2 or 3 cups of romaine or mixed greens as the base, then add red bell pepper, fennel or jicama, and broccoli florets. One small study found that eating broccoli raw facilitates the absorption of its sulforaphane, a phytonutrient with powerful anti-cancer properties; the results appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008.
To keep you feeling full, make sure you have protein atop your salad, such as grilled chicken or salmon, a hard-boiled egg, a cup of black beans or lentils, or a serving of tempeh or tofu.
Raw Vegetable Dipping
Eating raw vegetables with healthy dips is another good way to eat your veggies raw. Have celery sticks, sliced bell pepper and cucumber rounds with hummus for a snack or light lunch. Make a white bean spread in a food processor with garlic, lemon, cilantro and beans, and serve it with raw green beans or asparagus spears, or scoop it up with endive leaves. Opt for the super easy and serve zucchini and summer squash strips and with a simple dip made of plain yogurt, chopped garlic and spices like cumin or dill.
Because of vegetables' high-fiber content, you may find it hard to digest raw veggies, especially if your diet has been low in fiber and you increase your intake of veggies too quickly. The side effects of increased fiber intake include gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea. In addition, in people with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, vegetables such as broccoli can cause painful gas.
You may find raw veggies easier to digest in liquid form, as the base of smoothies and fresh juices. Try a green smoothie with a few handfuls of kale, a banana, frozen blueberries and soy or coconut milk. Or create a fresh vegetable juice using Swiss chard, celery, cucumber and a golden beet for sweetness. Juicing in a conventional juicer strips away most of the fiber in raw vegetables, so you will still need to eat whole vegetables for their fiber content.
Raw vs. Cooked Veggies
Research has found that the nutrients in a few veggies are better absorbed when these foods are cooked. For example, the beta-carotene in carrots – that's the antioxidant carotenoid that gives them their bright orange color – is better absorbed when they are cooked, according to a small study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2003. Antioxidants help the body ward off free radicals, molecules that can damage healthy cells. In a similar way, cooking tomatoes with a little bit of fat enhances their lycopene content, a type of carotenoid associated with reduced risk of different types of cancer.
If you have a compromised immune system from medical treatment like chemotherapy, your body may be less able to defend against bacteria in raw vegetables. Make sure you wash your raw vegetables thoroughly, and talk to your doctor about whether you should eat vegetables slightly cooked.
- Cleveland Clinic: Raw Veggies Pack a Punch, but Cooking Can Unlock Key Benefits
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Bioavailability and Kinetics of Sulforaphane in Humans After Consumption of Cooked Versus Raw Broccoli
- HelpGuide.org: High Fiber Foods
- University of California, Berkeley, Wellness: Bringing Up Broccoli
- Body Ecology: How to Eat Your Vegetables Raw
- European Journal of Nutrition: Beta-carotene Bioavailability From Differently Processed Carrot Meals in Human Ileostomy Volunteers
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: How Lycopene Helps Protect Against Cancer
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Food Safety During and After Cancer Treatment