Raw or Cooked?

A debate that has been going on for decades already, is whether it is healthier to eat raw foods or cooked foods?

Raw Foods: Definition

By definition, raw foods are foods that are not heated beyond 50ºC. “Raw foodists” believe that higher temperatures destroy the naturally occurring enzymes and nutrients in the foods we eat, thereby preventing the body from obtaining the optimal health benefits of the food.

The typical raw foods include:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • sprouted whole grains and sprouted seeds
  • oils
  • herbs
  • seaweed
  • fermented foods (miso and sauerkraut)
  • raw (unpasteurized) dairy or cheese
  • raw fish
  • eggs

Because there is no “conventional” cooking, food preparation equipment include food dehydrators which you can use to make fruit rolls or dehydrated vegetable “chips”. Food processors and blenders are also popular.

What are the Benefits?

A high intake of plant foods (particularly the minimally processed type) is associated with lower risk of certain types of cancers. Including raw foods, such as nuts, seeds and sprouted grains are also high in the right kind of fats and fiber and are nutrient-dense. Sprouting grains or seeds has been shown to improve the bioavailability of some nutrients. The use of fermented foods means regular consumption of probiotics, or good bacteria, which help maintain the right balance of healthy flora in the gut.

What do researhers say?

  • Raw food supporters believe that one needs to eat raw to obtain optimal benefits from naturally occurring enzymes in foods. However, the enzymes contained in raw foods are denatured by the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach once the food enters your stomach, raw or cooked.
  • While it’s true that applying heat to foods can destroy or reduce the level of some nutrients, such as water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants and some unsaturated fats, other nutrients actually become more bioavailable (better absorbed by the body) once the food is cooked. For example, lycopene in tomatoes and biotin in eggs are more available to your body once it’s cooked.

Herbs and Spices 

cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme

Besides adding flavour to the foods we eat, herbs and spices also contribute antioxidants. Simmering, soup making and stewing appear to increase antioxidant capacity, while grilling and stir-frying decrease antioxidant capacity. Freezing herbs and keeping pureed herbs refrigerated was also shown to increase antioxidant capacity, but keeping them in a vinegary form (such as vinaigrette) decreased it.

So Should You Cook or go Raw?

While there is no single superior cooking method, most studies show that using less cooking liquid and/or shorter cooking times helps improve retention of phytonutrients. Therefore, instead of boiling, consider methods such as steaming, blanching, stir-frying, or microwaving. Of course, there are recipes for which boiling still makes sense, such as soups, because you will consume the cooking liquid as part of the finished dish.

Rather than overanalyzing, it is best to consume a wide variety of plant foods prepared many different ways. Foods should be enjoyable, so prepare your fruits and veggies the way you like them and consume them regularly. 

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