The Raw Truth: Getting More Out Of Your Food
To cook or not to cook? That is the question weighing on the minds of the health-conscious these days. While there’s no denying that raw plant-based foods provide us with many essential nutrients and help promote optimal health, sometimes cooking foods helps us best access their nutritional benefits. Just as every individual has unique dietary needs, each food source has unique properties that determine how it’s best prepared and consumed. Read on to learn when to go raw and when to turn up the heat!
Benefits of Raw Foods
Nature’s Food: Eating food in its raw, preferably organic, form is the definition of eating a whole, unprocessed diet. Raw fruits, vegetables, nut and seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients in their natural form. Our bodies know intuitively how to break down these foods, absorb their nutrients, and utilize them to nourish our cells.
Enzyme Action: Raw fruits and vegetables contain valuable antioxidants, vitamins and active enzymes that facilitate proper digestion and metabolism. Cooking them at high temperatures destroys the enzymes, which means the body must produce its own enzymes to aid the digestive process. This extra task drains energy and stresses the digestive system, exhausting the body’s enzyme-producing glands and eventually leading to poor digestion and nutrient absorption. However, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, squash and turnip require cooking to soften the cellulose and fiber content, making them easier to break down and absorb.
Benefits of Cooking
Increases Nutrient Availability: Cooking a vegetable can sometimes boost the variety of nutrients released inside the digestive tract, making it more nutritious. Here are a few examples of foods that are healthier when cooked.
They contain lycopene, a carotenoid phytonutrient that gives tomatoes their red color and their cancer-protective qualities. Lycopene is more readily available for absorption when the cellular matrix is disrupted through heating. In addition, heating tomatoes also converts the “trans” form of lycopene into the more bioavailable “cis” form, further increasing its capacity for absorption.
Onions are high in sulphur-containing compounds that help promote heart health and maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Heating onions for just five minutes has been found to trigger chemical reactions that result in variations in those sulphur compounds, increasing the variety of sulphur-containing substances and, in turn, increasing their health benefits.
Cruciferous vegetables such as Broccoli, Cabbage and Brussels sprouts are healthiest when lightly cooked or steamed. These vegetables contain substances called ‘goitrogens’, which inhibit uptake of the mineral iodine by cells in the thyroid gland. This can contribute to Iodine Deficiency and the development of ‘Hypothyroidism’. The process of cooking or soaking these foods deactivates the goitrogens, but doesn’t damage their cancer-fighting phytonutrients called ‘Indoles’.
Some foods should never be eaten raw because of safety concerns. Cooking eggs, meat and poultry helps inactivate bacteria and microorganisms that can cause putrefaction and disease. Dried beans and lentils should be cooked, soaked or sprouted to remove toxins. Whole grains such as oats, quinoa and brown rice contain phytic acid, which can partially block mineral availability. Cooking, soaking or sprouting grains reduces their phytic acid content and makes them easier to digest.
Sure, we eat for nourishment. But we want that nourishing food to taste good, too! Lightly steaming or sautéing vegetables like bitter greens (e.g., kale, collards and mustard greens) can bring out their delicious flavors and make them more palatable. The health benefits of a raw food amount to nothing if the thought of eating it raw doesn’t appeal to you.
In closing, the key to any healthy diet is to strive for balance. Eat a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods – sometimes raw, sometimes cooked – to live well, feel energized, and be your healthiest self.