You probably already know that vegetables are good for you, but you may not realize that raw vegetables have different nutrient profiles than cooked ones. In some cases, raw vegetables are better for you; however, some, like tomatoes, provide more nutrition after being cooked.
There’s no right or wrong way to eat vegetables, but knowing which are best raw and better cooked can help your body absorb more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What is a Vegetable?
Most people will concur that a carrot is a vegetable and an apple is a fruit. However, arguments over whether tomatoes and melons belong in the fruit or vegetable category often become heated. Researchers at the World Vegetable Center are occasionally asked to define vegetables, but the response is not always clear-cut.
Fruits are flowering plant components that contain seeds and emerge from ripened ovaries in botany. Therefore, from a botanical perspective, fruits include melons, tomatoes, and chilies. Likewise, a carrot is a root, a broccoli stalk is a blossom, and spinach is a leaf. Plant components, not the entire plant, are described in this botanical terminology, and a vegetable has no botanical definition.
Vegetables are typically considered edible greens, herbaceous (non-woody), short-lived plants grown in gardens, or plants consumed as young plants. There are, however, some exceptions. For instance, not all vegetables are green; some, like the moringa tree leaves, are grown on trees, and tomatoes taste better when fully grown.
As a result, the definition of a vegetable is frequently determined by its use in cuisine or culture. In part, because most fruits are sweet and most vegetables are not, vegetables are often eaten during the meal’s main course rather than as a snack or dessert. Distinguishing between vegetables and root crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and yams is also crucial.
These root crops are often regarded as vegetables and occasionally referred to as root vegetables in horticultural courses worldwide. However, these starchy vegetables stand out in culinary applications because they are high in energy and give us a feeling of fullness but are poor in important minerals and vitamins.
Healthy Vegetables to Eat Raw
Broccoli, spinach, and lettuce, which are all high in vitamin C, are some of the healthiest vegetables to eat raw because cooking can destroy a lot of the vitamin C.
Depending on how they were cooked, vegetables high in vitamin C lost between 9 and 55% of their vitamin C when they were cooked. The least important change was steaming while boiling destroyed the most nutrients. Raw vegetables that are high in vitamin C are:
The 2018 Food Chemistry study compared raw vegetables to traditionally cooked ones cooked using the sous vide method, which involves sealing vegetables in a plastic bag or glass jar and then cooking them in boiling water. It found that:
Vegetables to Cook
On the other hand, researchers who worked on the report said that cooking some vegetables makes their antioxidants more bioavailable. The method of cooking is also important. When vegetables were cooked in a way called “sous vide,” they had more antioxidant activity than when they were boiled. Some of these vegetables are:
Another study, which looked at the beta-carotene in vegetables and was published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in April 2014, found that cooking has a good effect. In other words, your body can absorb beta-carotene better from cooked vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and pumpkin than from raw ones. This is because cooking softens the walls of the plant and makes it easier for your body to absorb some of the nutrients.
Cook Vegetables Carefully
Of course, eating cooked vegetables is better than not eating any at all. If you don’t like raw vegetables or prefer them cooked, you can get the most nutrition by cooking them just enough to make them soft (but not so much that they become mushy and soggy).
Shayna Komar, RD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Health, says that overcooked vegetables lose their nutrients, and eating too many overcooked and processed foods can cause long-term health problems.
So where’s the best place to cook? Every vegetable is different, but some general tips can help. Instead of boiling, use dry cooking methods or methods that use only a small amount of water, such as roasting, baking, or steaming. You keep more nutrients when you use less water and less heat. Cook vegetables until just tender, not mushy. If you boil vegetables, you can save the water and use it in soups to keep all the nutrients.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that keeping vegetables in bigger pieces can be helpful when cooking since less surface area means fewer nutrients are lost. Some vegetables, like potatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, are better with their skins.
A lot of the nutrients in vegetables are in the skin or under it, and the skin also helps the vegetables keep more nutrients when they’re cooked. Make sure to wash the vegetables well before you cook them.
Tips for Eating Raw Vegetables
The amount of vegetables you need depends on age, gender, and activity. But generally, you should eat between 2 and 3 cups of vegetables daily. Raw and cooked vegetables count toward your intake, but the USDA says that 2 cups of raw leafy greens, like spinach, count as 1 cup of cooked leafy greens.
A good way to eat a lot of raw vegetables is to eat salads. Start with spinach or kale as the base, then add white onion, green bell peppers, and broccoli. You can even get more nutrients by adding cooked vegetables like beetroot that has been roasted. Add a dressing made of heart-healthy olive oil and apple cider vinegar to help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables.
You can also make a raw vegetable snack to eat between meals. Mix raw green bell pepper and broccoli with a side of hummus, which is high in protein and can help you feel full until your next meal.
How does Cooking Affect Vegetable Nutrition?
How you cook and prepare vegetables affects how healthy they are when you eat them.
Boiling, Blanching and Steaming
When you cook with water, you lose nutrients that dissolve in water, like vitamins C and B. However, not all water-based cooking methods are the same. More vitamin C is lost when you boil than when you cook it. When broccoli, spinach, and lettuce are boiled, they can lose up to 50% of the vitamin C they have. While some vitamin C is lost during the blanching process, it is less than during boiling because of the shorter cooking period.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, blanching also slows the loss of other vitamins and minerals from vegetables. Blanching removes dirt and some bacteria that could harm your health from the vegetables and may even help block the enzyme activity that leads to product spoilage.
Given that the food isn’t completely submerged in water, steaming is regarded as one of the greatest methods for preserving and enhancing the nutrients in vegetables, including water-soluble nutrients. For instance, boiling lettuce, spinach, and broccoli might only reduce their vitamin C concentration by 9 to 15%.
Roasting and Grilling
According to the Mayo Clinic, roasting and grilling vegetables are excellent methods of preparation because they don’t require the addition of fats like butter or oil and are cooked using dry heat (either the oven or the grill). These techniques will preserve more water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C and B, than boiling, even if heat will still result in nutrient loss.
Sautéing and Stir-Frying
Some studies suggest that boiling vegetables this way may enhance your ability to absorb nutrients. For instance, compared to raw carrots, persons were 6.5 times more able to absorb the antioxidant beta carotene from stir-fried carrots.
Compared to other high-heat cooking techniques like boiling, utilizing the microwave enables you to cook your vegetables for a shorter period with less heat, which results in less nutrient loss.
How you prepare your vegetables in the microwave, however, does important. According to Harvard Health Publishing, microwave cooking and submerging the vegetables in water may cause vitamin C to leak into the water, whereas steaming them in a steamable bag may help retain nutrients.
And the answer to the question of whether it is safe to microwave potatoes is yes. Your potato won’t get radioactive if you microwave it or any other vegetable. Non-ionizing radiation, such as that produced by a microwave, is different from the radiation that X-ray equipment produces.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, microwaved potatoes and vegetables are still nutritious because microwave heating does not alter the food’s chemical composition or lead it to retain microwave or radiation after cooking.
Are Boiled Vegetables Healthy?
The nutrients in your vegetables may change depending on how you cook them, and any preparation will probably alter the vitamins’ contents.
Whether the vegetable you’re preparing contains nutrients soluble in fat or water, according to the National Cancer Institute, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B, including folate, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and others, dissolve. The vegetable will retain fewer nutrients after cooking since these nutrients will leach out into the water when the vegetable is boiling. Mushrooms, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and bell peppers are some vegetables high in water-soluble vitamins.
Compared to other cooking methods, boiling removes more water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, from vegetables like broccoli, chard, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and zucchini. Interestingly, the study also discovered that boiling reduced the amount of beta-carotene in carrots, even though beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) is not water-soluble. Since beta-carotene is heat-sensitive, the researchers hypothesize that the boiling water’s high temperature likely causes this.
What Happens if you Only Eat Raw Vegetables?
In addition to lacking certain critical macronutrients, fruits and vegetables also lack calcium, zinc, and omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Due to the high fiber content of raw foods, such a diet may result in a fiber overdose, which may cause gas or bloat. There are several health advantages to including raw foods in your diet, especially fruits and vegetables. Once you get acclimated to eating raw food, you’ll probably have greater energy, better skin, better digestion, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. You can unquestionably lose weight by sticking to a low-calorie diet or by eating just veggies for a month. However, a long-term healthy diet needs enough calories, protein, and fat, which you may be removed from your diet.
Can I Eat Raw Carrots?
Generally speaking, “vegetable” refers to the new edible parts of some herbaceous plants, such as their roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, or seeds. In its broadest sense, the term refers to any plant life or product. These plant components are either consumed raw or cooked in various ways, mainly as a savory dish as opposed to a dessert. The component of the plant that is used for food is typically used to classify vegetables.
Beets, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, and turnips are some of the root vegetables. Asparagus and kohlrabi are examples of stem vegetables. Potatoes are one the edible subterranean stems or tubers. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, lettuce, rhubarb, and spinach are vegetables with leaves and stalks. Garlic, leeks, and onions are some of the bulb vegetables.
Artichokes, broccoli, and cauliflower are examples of the head, or flower, vegetables. Cucumbers, eggplant, okra, sweet corn, squash, peppers, and tomatoes are fruits that are frequently used as vegetables. Legumes like peas and beans are frequently used as seed vegetables.