Vegetables: Raw or Cooked?

Before worrying about whether to eat your vegetables raw or cooked, let’s look at an interesting study on vegetable and fruit intake. Research has quite consistently shown an association between higher fruit and vegetable intake and lower mortality rates. Indeed, a recent study1 of over 130,000 people in 18 countries showed significantly lower mortality risks for participants who ate 3 to 4 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes daily (one serving was about 125 g or 1/2 cup), when compared to participants with lower intakes. The study also found that as participants ate more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, there was a trend (though not statistically significant) towards fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Although this study confirmed the results of similar studies done in the past, it was different in a couple of ways. Whereas similar studies have been done in the United States, Europe, and China, this particular study was more global and included data from communities of varied incomes from North America (included only Canada), South America, Europe, Middle East, Asia (including China), and Africa.

This study also looked separately at raw and cooked vegetable intake. Whereas increased cooked vegetable intake showed a modest benefit in mortality risks, increased raw vegetable intake was strongly associated with lower mortality risks.

From reading these results, it may appear better for you to eat most or all of your vegetables raw. However, for certain vegetables, cooking can actually increase the levels of certain nutrients and phytochemicals. At other times, eating raw vegetables yields more nutritional benefits. Here’s some tips on what to eat raw and what is better cooked.

  1. Because heat breaks down the walls of the cells, cooked tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Lycopene is an antioxidant and maybe helpful in preventing heart disease and certain forms of cancer. You do lose some vitamin C when cooking tomatoes, but vitamin C is rich in many other fruits and vegetables.
  2. Steaming carrots results in higher levels of beta carotene than eating them raw.  Beta carotene is an antioxidant in the body and can be converted to vitamin A which is important for your eyes and bones.
  3. Bell peppers. Bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that declines during cooking, so eat these raw, perhaps with a dip such as hummus.
  4. When eating raw broccoli, you get more sulforaphane – a phytochemical that fights precancerous cells.  When eating cooked broccoli, you get more indole – also a cancer fighter.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Whether eating your vegetables raw or cooked, just remember to choose a rainbow of colors and eat plenty every day!

1Miller et al. (2017). Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths in 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study.  The Lancet. Published online 8/29/2017.