As with most things in life, there’s a middle path. This also applies to eating raw and cooked food. There are so many benefits to eating raw; however, there are some vegetables with more nutrients bioavailable when heated. We’ll explore the benefits of raw foods, which are most valuable in their uncooked form, and why.
Food is deemed ‘raw’ if it has not been heated over 112° F. That is the magic number after which the chemical composition of the food changes thus altering some of the health benefits. There are certain building blocks of nutrients that our bodies require to function properly, many of which are susceptible to being destroyed in the cooking process.
Digestive Enzymes are one of those highly important building blocks. They are living proteins that help our bodies break down food into more operable and available units. These live enzymes help in the digestion and synthesizing of nutrients. These amazing living proteins are destroyed, or ‘denatured’, in the cooking process. Because of this, our bodies use up these enzymes to assimilate the cooked food that we eat and need to be replenished by eating more raw foods.
Other important health components compromised by cooking are vitamins and phytonutrients. Water soluble vitamins like C, B1, B5, and folate are also lost in the cooking process. Glucosinolates, natural components found in vegetables in the cruciferous family (cabbage, broccoli, watercress, radishes, kale, broccoli), and their incredible anti-cancerous properties, are also destroyed by heating over 112° F. We benefit more from high-antioxidant foods when eaten raw because the phytonutrients are also very sensitive to heat. However, it is interesting to note that the antioxidant, Lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, bell pepper, and papaya is enhanced by cooking.
Other significant benefits of eating raw include alkalinity, oxygenation, and hydration. All three work together to boost immunity, lower inflammation, detoxification, and energy levels. Illness and diseases are more prevalent when our bodies are acidic, lowing our immunity. Raw foods neutralize acid and keep the body alkaline. Hydration also plays a very important role in helping with alkalinity and detoxification. Raw foods are the most water dense foods available to us as and they are high in nutrients like chlorophyll that increases the blood oxygen levels in our bodies.
Some foods do have more bioavailable nutrients when cooked. In addition to the antioxidant Lycopene increasing with heat, as mentioned before, the betacarotene found in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach are also more available when broken down by heating. If you boil your vegetable and want to get the most water soluble nutrients back after cooking, utilize the water in which they were boiled.
As you can see, there’s a balance. Both raw and cooked food have their place in our diets and both can be enjoyed while also reaping the maximum health benefits. It is important to note that different digestive systems respond differently to raw and cooked foods thus, no matter how many nutrients are available to you, some people have a harder time processing and absorbing them. It is crucial to listen to your body in order to figure out what works best for you.