There are a lot of claims out there about exactly how nature provides those fruits and veggies, though. Are they best consumed just the way they arrive, or do our culinary habits offer added benefits for our health?
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Here dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, LD, RD, explains what you need to know.
Myth: For the most nutrients, go raw
Everyone needs food to live, and because of this, food has been a hot research topic for the past 50 years. As it turns out, the evidence indicates that nutrient absorption is directly linked to how food is prepared.
For example, a 2007 study in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry countered the idea that raw, unprocessed vegetables automatically contain more nutrients. In fact, the study suggested that certain cooking methods — steaming, for example — actually helped preserve nutrients. And a 2009 study in the Journal of Food Science found that green beans, celery and carrots retained the most nutrients after certain cooking methods were used for preparation.
Likewise, a 2009 study found that broccoli — a vegetable packed with nutrients that may help our health by maintaining healthy bones and potentially fighting heart disease and certain cancers — was best in terms of nutrient value when steamed. And a similar study from the Institute for Biological Chemistry and Nutrition suggested that cooking vegetables but using less water might help preserve certain healthy compounds.
All of these studies show that cooking method makes a real difference in the value of the food we eat. While some food may be best eaten raw, that’s not the case for all foods. Consuming an all-raw diet may rob you of important vitamins and minerals.
Before going raw, do your homework and determine which vegetables truly will be best in their raw form or cooked form. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Steam your greens. Green vegetables tend to hold onto their nutrients best when they are steamed.
- Don’t boil most foods. Boiling tends to lead to a loss of nutrients.
- For garlic, go raw. Garlic is one food that may in fact be best for you when consumed raw and chopped. Chopping garlic, then allowing it to sit for a few minutes, activates allicin, one of the key components responsible for garlic’s many health benefits. After chopping, you can add it to salads or sprinkle it on top of pasta or freshly baked bread — yum!
- Cook your tomatoes, and cut them. A 2000 study in the journal Critical Reviews in Biotechnology found that heating, which helps to open up the cell wall of the tomato, cutting and adding fat to tomatoes provided the best bioavailability of lycopene. Just be sure to use a fat that helps to prevent heart disease, not promote it. Olive oil and canola oil are two that will work great in your next pot of tomato sauce!