Is the raw or cooked version nutritionally superior? On one hand, raw food enthusiasts will have you thinking that cooking leaches all key vitamins from vegetables and destroys beneficial live enzymes.
But, like most things, it's not that simple. Yes, raw veggies should be consumed in abundance, but so should sautéed, steamed, grilled, and roasted ones, as research shows that cooking can actually break down tough cell walls and make nutrients easier to absorb. Pretty cool, right? Here, 5 surprising veggies that thrive under heat.
You know carrots are good for your eyes, but do you know why? It's a compound called beta-carotene, which gives carrots their deep orange hue. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, which is essential for things like—you guessed it!—good vision (along with immune health and healthy skin). In 2002, researchers found thatcooking carrots actually increases the amount of beta-carotene your body is able to absorb.
Tomato sauce, tomato paste, ketchup—chances are that you eat plenty of cookedtomatoes. But if you don't, now would be a good time to start. If you're limiting yourself to fresh tomatoes, then you're only getting about 4% of the powerful antioxidant lycopene that this veggie-like-fruit has to offer, according to research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. That's because raw tomatoes have thick cellular walls that make it difficult for our bodies to absorb lycopene. Once they're cooked, however, the lycopene becomes much easier for our bodies to utilize, says Wendy Bazilian, co-author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean.
When Popeye swallowed a can of spinach, what was it that made his muscles bulge? If you're thinking "iron," then you might be right. But it could also be folate—a B vitamin essential for cell growth and reproductive health that's found in dark leafy greens. While cooking spinach doesn't increase folate levels, a 2002 study found that steaming spinach keeps folate levels constant. Why is that good? "A whole bunch of spinach wilts down to just a little bit," she says. "So you're going to eat a lot more of it after it's cooked." And thus, consume more folate as a result.
These green stalks are super high in cancer-fighting vitamins like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as folate. But the thick cell walls make it hard for our body to absorb these healthy nutrients. Cooking asparagus breaks down its fibrous cells so that we can absorb more of the vitamins.
We know—eating raw pumpkin isn't exactly normal. And that's a good thing, since cooked squash is incredibly more nutritious than raw (including other kinds of squash like zucchini and acorn), says Bazilian. Pumpkin, like carrots, is rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene, which are much easier to absorb once it has been heated. "Something like a can of cooked pumpkin puree is off the charts in terms of nutrition," says Bazillian.