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Raw Food vs. Cooked Food: A Nutrient Analysis

Which foods contain more nutrients – raw or cooked? The answer isn’t as clear as you might expect. There are many different food preparation methods, with some involving heat to bake, steam, roast, or fry; we eat other foods raw, and some foods dried or sprouted. Each food preparation method has benefits, and the quest to identify the best way to prepare foods to preserve as many nutrients as possible is still underway.

No one knows exactly when humans started using fire to cook food. Many biologists believe that developing fire to cook foods was a key change that allowed humans to develop a larger brain with a direct impact on how we evolved as a species. The brain needs more energy for its size than any other organ in our body, and some scientists theorize that developing a larger brain hinged on ancient humans being able to cook food. Cooking foods like meats, potatoes, and grains makes them much easier to chew and digest, which provides more calories for energy.

What is a raw foods diet?
A raw foods diet is based on a vegan diet that includes fruits, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains and beans. The actual amount of raw food consumed ranges from 50% to 100% of total calories. The only “cooking” that is allowed is via the process of dehydration.

To cook or eat raw?
Cooking foods can decrease water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C and some types of antioxidants. Different types of cooking methods have varying effects and in general more nutrients are lost with higher cooking temperatures, longer cooking times, and immersing foods in water. For example, water-soluble antioxidants in cauliflower and broccoli are lost during boiling, but unchanged with steaming.

However, cooking some vegetables actually increases the ability of our body to digest some types of nutrients. Cooking also kills harmful microbes that can cause food poisoning.

It is important to note, our body produces enzymes to digest food and absorb nutrients, and the enzymes in foods are deactivated by stomach acidity.

The bottom line: Numerous research studies show that eating more plant sources of food — vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds and legumes — is a key strategy to improved health and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. All nutrients except for vitamin B12 are found in plant foods. People who eat a cooked or raw plant-based diet need a B12 supplement or should choose foods that are fortified with B12. Vitamin D is less prevalent in plants, with the major food sources in fish, liver, and egg yolks. However some mushrooms are high in vitamin D and our skin produces vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet light.

Because uncooked foods like sprouts, berries and lettuce are often linked to food-borne illness, all produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Due to the increased risk of food-borne illness from some uncooked foods, pregnant women, young children, senior citizens, people with weak immune systems and anyone with a chronic medical condition should not eat a raw foods diet.

Our tips: Eating more thoroughly-washed fruit and vegetables either raw or cooked is a priority health goal. Aim for at least 5 servings per day of a variety of fruits and vegetables and more is always better! Include fresh or frozen fruit with breakfast oatmeal or yogurt, add a salad or vegetable soup to lunch, include two different types of vegetables with dinner, and enjoy fruit for snacks or a healthy dessert. Further, cook vegetables in as little water as possible unless you’re making a sauce from the liquid.

DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.

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