Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vegetables: To Cook or not to Cook?

I've always been intrigued by the debate about which is healthier:  Cooked vegetables or raw vegetables.  The claim by many is that cooking vegetables removes significant levels of the nutrients in them, therefore they become less beneficial to the human body.  The other side of the argument (which I tend to lean toward) is the fact that we as humans have weak digestive systems, and are unable to process much of the raw, fibrous plant matter contained in uncooked vegetables, so while even though more nutrients may be present in raw veggies, we can't actually absorb them.  There's good data for both sides of this argument, and many reasons to mix it up and have both cooked and raw veggies in your diet.

Reasons to cook vegetables:

1.  Easily accessible nutrients:  Across the board, all the vitamins present in vegetables (A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, etc.) tend to be more easily absorbed because the vegetables are softer, and easier to digest.  This means theoretically that while cooked vegetables have a tad less of each vitamin compared to their raw counterpart, you end up getting MORE of those leftover nutrients than you would have gotten originally if you'd just eaten the vegetable raw.

(Here's a chart displaying the amount of each main vitamin in various vegetables when they're both raw and cooked:

2.  Beta Carotene- This extremely powerful nutrient present in many vegetables (especially carrots) is absorbed much more readily when the vegetables are lightly steamed.  Beta Carotene converts to Vitamin A in the body, which will aid in eyesight (ever heard the myth that if you eat enough carrots you can see in the dark?)

3.  Antioxidants- Same deal here.  Useful antioxidants like carotenoids and ferulic acid are utilized by the body much more effectively if vegetables are steamed or boiled.   

4.  They taste better!  At least this is what the majority of people agree upon.  I am partial to cooked vegetables myself, they're quite delicious, warm, easy to chew, and the flavors are much more palatable.  My friends would be a little stunned to see this because I'm usually munching on a pack of raw baby carrots or a stick of celery.  However if given the choice, I'll choose cooked every time.

5.  You can eat more of them!  Cooked veggies aren't as fibrous as raw veggies, and therefore won't fill you up as fast.  That means you can cram more of those useful nutrients down your gullet before your body tells you to stop.  On a muscle building diet, this is a must.  

6.  Anti nutrients are destroyed:  These things won't kill you, but they definitely won't help you.  But what exactly is an anti nutrient?  A good analogy is an apple seed.  The seeds are the valuable part of the apple, and the apple tree doesn't want you to eat its future offspring, therefore apple seeds have evolved to contain traces of cyanide.  Raw grains contain many anti nutrients, and the amount you absorb can be reduced by cooking them before consumption.  This destroys a good portion of those pesky little devils, and the analogy holds true with vegetables (mostly beans) as well.  

Reasons to leave them raw:

1.  They fill you up!  Raw vegetables are extremely fibrous, especially greens like lettuce, broccoli, celery, and spinach.  These foods all are extremely low calorie, healthy snacks that can fill your belly in a heartbeat if you're having one of those hungry hungry hippo moments.  Try a cup of raw broccoli sometime.  No, it may not taste great, but you'll definitely feel like you've eaten a significant meal.  

2.  Easy to snack on:  Raw veggies are easy to pack up.  Try packing a bag full of carrots, celery, pepper slices, and broccoli and I guarantee you'll end up with a filling snack that didn't take more than two minutes to make.  Raw vegetables are firm and robust, and won't be easily crushed.  They're relatively dry as well, so you won't soak the rest of your lunch by accident.  Plus, raw vegetables give that satisfying crunch, and if you can get used to the natural taste, you're golden.  

3.  More Vitamin C:  This vitamin tends to be the one that gets the bad end of the stick when veggies are cooked.  Much of the vitamin C is destroyed by steaming, boiling, or frying, so if you're looking for a little more in your diet (and you should be) then crunch on a few raw veggies today.  

4.  They make your body work!  Have you ever heard of negative calorie foods?  Well stop thinking about them right now, because there are huge debates on whether they exist or not, and the evidence is leaning toward a big fat NO.  However that doesn't mean your body isn't expending large amounts of energy to digest raw foods such as celery and broccoli, and the few calories that are in those foods make them great choices to give your digestive system a workout.  This isn't a pointless endeavor, a healthy digestive system can save you from all sorts of health troubles later in life.  The fiber in those tomatoes will only do you good!  

I say have them both ways!  Veggies are good for you no matter if they're steamed, boiled, fried, cooked, or right off the vine.  I love the way they taste each way, and once you try a few I bet you'll like them too.  Buy some baby carrot packs and much on them at work, or on a walk, or while you're outside reading a book, or while you're cooking dinner, whenever, wherever however you like!  In my opinion, there isn't really ever a bad time to have some vegetables.  

Load those plates high, crunch into a few carrots, and enjoy!

1 comment:

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