Should You Eat Fruits & Veggies Raw or Cooked?
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2017
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Table served with middle eastern vegetarian dishes. Hummus, tahi
What’s the best way to eat your fruits and vegetables -- raw or cooked? Raw foodies tout the benefits of live enzymes and intact vitamins in raw foods. Meanwhile, traditionalists credit humanity’s brain growth with the discovery of fire and the cultural shift toward cooked foods. So, what's the answer? Well, it depends on the food. Some fruits and veggies have the most amount of vitamins when eaten raw, while other foods, like tomatoes, need to be cooked to get the most nutrition out of them. Find out which foods are better to eat raw or cooked and get a recipe for each!
Coleslaw in a bowl on wooden table
RAW: FENNEL AND RADICCHIO
Fennel is great for bloating, and the compounds in radicchio that give it a bitter/spicy taste help you digest other foods in your meal. Both are perfectly fine to eat cooked, but they will offer you the most health benefits raw. A great (and tasty!) way to get those benefits is to prepare a simple cold slaw. Some people find it hard to digest raw cabbage, so in this recipe, I swapped out cabbage for digestion-enhancing fennel and radicchio. I use a mayo-type ingredient to keep the traditional flavor, but added chipotle powder for a metabolism boost to help your body burn fat more quickly. Grated orange peel provides a mood-enhancing aroma, and dried cranberries offer some chew to go along with all the crunch.
Related: Full Recipe: Cold Slaw
Tropical salad: pitahaya, mango, dragon fruit bowl
RAW: DATES AND DRAGON FRUIT
Dates are an excellent source of quick energy, and when you eat them raw you keep all of the important vitamins A and K alive. Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, has a host of B vitamins that will be fully retained without cooking. In my recipe for Rosewater Pink Pistachio Dates, dragon fruit puree lends a vibrant magenta color to the whipped coconut cream topping. You can find pitaya puree in the frozen section of major grocery chains. This scrumptious dessert takes just a few minutes to make and has only five ingredients.
Related: Full Recipe: Rosewater Pink Pistachio Dates
Radishes enhance your body’s ability to detoxify and digest your food, and as a bonus, they're one of the best quick-pickling options because they look beautiful and taste so unique. With quick pickling, you get the general taste of pickled veggies without the time investment. In my recipe for Quick Pickled Radishes, I add turmeric for both its color and anti-inflammatory qualities. While I use “Easter Egg” radishes for their varied antioxidant-filled hues, regular red radishes look and taste wonderful too. Fennel fronds add a slight hint of licorice and can be switched out for dill if preferred. The color changes in just an hour, so no need to be patient here! You can top anything from tacos to burgers with these tasty pickles.
Related: Full Recipe: Quick Pickled Radishes
RAW: GARLIC AND BELL PEPPERS
There are mixed opinions about whether the allicin in garlic, which is its most important antibacterial component, stays alive through cooking. Some sources say it survives heat; others claim it’s rendered useless. To play it safe with the healthy compounds in garlic, I use it raw, ensuring its immunity-enhancing nature isn’t thwarted. When bell peppers are eaten raw, they have the most amount of vitamin C left intact. Peppers are common for stuffing when cooked, but by simply slicing them into little heart-shaped quarters, they make an excellent vehicle for dips. In my recipe for Garlic & Herb Dip Stuffed Peppers, I use sour cream instead of Greek or Icelandic yogurt so you get all the creaminess with more protein and probiotics.
Related: Full Recipe: Garlic & Herb Dip Stuffed Peppers
RAW: LEMONS, LIMES, GRAPEFRUIT & ORANGES
While commonly used in cooking, citrus fruits retain their health value best when eaten raw. Grapefruit is a well-known metabolism booster (it’s basically the quintessential diet food), but lemons and limes are also excellent for weight management because they help control hunger as they detoxify. You can choose any citrus fruits for my So Much Citrus Salad recipe. The dressing contains plenty of zest, which slows down the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. Squeezing fruits fresh ensures you’re getting the most nutrients — so ditch those pre-squeezed bottles!
Related: Full Recipe: So Much Citrus Salad
RAW: STRAWBERRIES, MANGO AND HONEYDEW
Berries are very high in antioxidants, and eating them raw leaves those free-radical absorbing compounds alive! Melons are high in potassium and very hydrating. The fun part of my fruit parfait recipe is that you can use any fruit you want, and dragon fruit whipped coconut cream (see recipe in the link below) is a gorgeous and healthy bonus. I like strawberries, mango and honeydew for their color combination, but you can use just one or multiple fruits for this easy dessert.
Related: Full Recipe: Fruit Parfait
RAW: BELGIAN ENDIVE
Belgian endive is a member of the chicory family, related to frisee and radicchio. A single serving has more than two times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A as well as about 25 percent of the calcium and iron you need in a day. Since these nutrients are available when it’s raw, and because it loses its crunch when cooked, Belgian endive is better eaten raw. It makes a great appetizer because individual leaves can serve as little boats for presentation and/or dipping. These can be stuffed with nearly any dip; olive tapenade is my favorite because the richness of olives pairs perfectly with the slight bitterness of Belgian endive.
Related: Full Recipe: Tapenade Endive Boats
COOKED: SPAGHETTI SQUASH
Spaghetti squash has several times the RDA of vitamin A per serving as well as a host of B vitamins. (Whether or not it's better to eat cooked is kind of moot, since it would be difficult to eat raw!) But when baked, the vitamin-packed squash flesh can be separated with a fork into strands that look like spaghetti. The end result is spaghetti squash that can pair with nearly any sauce because the flavor is so neutral. In my recipe for Cheesy Spaghetti Squash, nutritional yeast provides even more B vitamins and a lightly cheesy taste, and turmeric mimics cheese’s color while adding its anti-inflammatory properties to the dish.
Related: Full recipe: Cheesy Spaghetti Squash
Raw spinach is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on your kidneys. It’s also a goitrogen, meaning that (when raw) it can disrupt your thyroid function. A quick steam lowers both the oxalic acid and the goitrogens, meaning you can still have a yummy smoothie full of its benefits! Spinach is a favorite for smoothies because its texture and taste are so much easier to hide than kale, and it allows the bright flavors of your raw fruits to shine through. For my Hidden Spinach Smoothie, all the other ingredients are raw so that you get all the fruit nutrition in its best form. Have steamed spinach on hand if you enjoy it in smoothies -- it will keep in the fridge for several days.
Related: Full Recipe: Hidden Spinach Smoothie
Tomatoes contain a compound called lycopene; it’s what gives tomatoes their red color. A powerful antioxidant, lycopene is several times more bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked than when they’re raw. For my Roasted Marinara Sauce, the tomatoes are combined with onions and garlic. The jury is out on whether garlic is as healthful cooked as when it’s raw, but onions retain many of their flavonoids when cooked. Tomatoes don’t taste the best in their off season, so the caramelization created through roasting is an awesome tool for upping the game of bland winter tomatoes. And by roasting this sauce, it frees you up to do other things while it cooks in the oven!
Related: Full Recipe: Roasted Tomato Marinara
Asparagus contains an array of antioxidants, but one of its most important offerings is ferulic acid. This specific antioxidant can help with everything from reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol to fighting sun damage. When asparagus is cooked, the ferulic acid is activated, so this is a good choice to eat cooked instead of raw. In my recipe for Easy Blood Orange Asparagus, sautéing it with citrus brings an unexpected brightness to the asparagus. Because citrus is best for you when eaten raw, my preference is to add it at the very end. Blood oranges are used for their unique color and the anthocyanins that make the flesh red, but if they aren’t in season, regular oranges are an excellent substitute.
Related: Full Recipe: Easy Blood Orange Asparagus Saute
Raw carrots are a common snack food, and they’re definitely a better choice than chips or crackers. But cooking carrots boosts their beta carotene content, which is important for eye health. The beta carotene may not be enough to give you night vision, but it converts into vitamin A to protect your vision as well as improve your reproductive health. Not a fan of steamed carrots? Try my recipe for Mustard-Glazed Carrots instead. This can be done without making them too sweet by using both whole-grain and Dijon mustard at a higher ratio to sweetener. Since mustard is already salty, you don't need to add salt.
Related: Full Recipe: Mustard-Glazed Carrots
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are there other foods you think should be on this list? What foods do you prefer eating raw vs. cooked and vice versa? What's your favorite healthy recipe using raw or cooked fruits and veggies? Leave a comment below and let us know!
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