Do vegetables lose nutrients when they are cooked? This is a question I get all the time. My initial answer is no, but it really depends. It depends on several factors: including how they are cooked, how long they are cooked for, and what vegetable it is. For example, some vegetables which have water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and B-complex vitamins) can be destroyed or decreased during the cooking process. Other vegetables which contain fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) are retained during the cooking process. Some foods which contain carotenoids or lycopene (orange vegetables and tomatoes) actually become healthier during the cooking process because the heat breaks down the cell wall and allows the nutrients in the plant to become more bioavailable and easier to absorb by our bodies.
So which foods should you be cooking and which foods are best raw? Carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers supply more antioxidants to the body when they are cooked rather than raw. Cooking in the form of steaming, roasting or boiling is recommended. Frying is a source of free radicals which are not good for your health. Lycopene is another nutrient that is better absorbed from food after it is cooked. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and other rosy colored fruits and vegetables. High intake of lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of some cancers and heart disease.
As for foods which are best eaten raw, those would be the foods high in Vitamin C. Many of these foods are citrus fruits, so one would naturally consume fruit without cooking it. Certain veggies that are better raw include broccoli, beets (which are a great source of folate which is in the B-complex family), and onions (although they taste so much better grilled). Tomatoes do lose some of their vitamin C when cooked, so I recommend enjoying them both raw and cooked.
Fruits and vegetables should be enjoyed daily in both the raw and cooked forms. Now you have the knowledge to optimize your nutrient intake. The bottom line when it comes to eating vegetables is not exactly how they are prepared but that they are consumed on a regular basis. The recommendations for most adults are approximately 3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day. By choosing cooked asparagus and raw broccoli you can make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.
What fruits and veggies do you plan on eating this weekend? Do you prefer cooked or raw?