Should I be eating raw or cooked foods?

You may be hearing mixed messages… eat raw and transform your health OR eat all cooked foods and improve your digestion. So which one is it? Today we are going to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of eating both raw and cooked foods so you can make an informed decision on which diet may be best for you. 

The benefits of eating raw foods

Not too long ago the raw diet was trending but as a refresher eating raw primarily refers to eating uncooked fruits and vegetables. Eating raw foods can help you avoid processed foods, added sugars, and unfavorable oils. Additionally, certain nutrients are more bioavailable when foods are eaten raw; meaning that your body can easily absorb and utilize specific nutrients. 

Nutrients more bioavailable in raw foods: 

    • Glucosinolates – a nutrient found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale. This nutrient is most bioavailable when these foods are eaten raw. Glucosinolates are beneficial to the human body and are believed to be involved in regulating inflammation, antioxidant activities, detox, and be preventive against cancer. 
    • Vitamin C – found in specific foods such as spinach, citrus fruits, broccoli, kale, and bell peppers and is also best absorbed when eaten raw. 

The benefits of eating cooked foods

As you may have guessed eating cooked foods means sauteing, steaming, baking, or other methods of preparing your fruits and veggies. Eating raw foods is believed by some to be better for digestion because the foods’ natural digestive enzymes are destroyed in the cooking process due to high heat. However, I find that for many, eating cooked foods leads to better digestion and fewer feelings of discomfort. This is because when fruits and veggies are heated their natural fibers and plant cell walls are broken down, resulting in less work on your digestive tract. 

An added benefit to eating cooked foods is the list of nutrients with increased bioavailability when cooked. 

  • Lycopene – found in tomatoes is best absorbed when cooked. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage. 
  • Carotenoids  – found in carrots, squash, spinach, and sweet potatoes and are best metabolized when cooked. Carotenoids are also a strong antioxidant and may be good for your immune system, growth, and eye health. 
  • Iron –  found in spinach and is best absorbed when cooked. Iron is a critical player in your red blood cells specifically relating to oxygen transport. 
  • Allicin – a compound found in garlic that has medicinal properties and has been associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol and protective against certain neurological diseases. Allicin is most bioavailable when minced/chopped then left to air out for 10 minutes and then heated. 
  • Ferulic acid – found in asparagus and is best absorbed when cooked and is good for skin health. 
  • Vitamin K – found in green leafy vegetables and is easily digested once cooked. Vitamin K has a role in blood-clotting and bone metabolism among other functions. 

So which way of eating is best for you?

There’s no right answer. Both ways of eating have their benefits. It really is just figuring out what works best for you and your body. Experiment with eating some raw foods and then a few cooked foods. This may look like eating a salad one day and tuning into how you feel. Are you bloated? Does your food feel “stuck”? Did you have a bowel movement? You get the gist. Then the next day has the same ingredients from your salad but this time cook them. Again, tune into your body and see how you feel. 

For people prone to diarrhea, bloating, stomach upset, or suffer from autoimmune conditions eating cooked foods may be right for you. However, if you suffer from constipation eating raw foods may be right for you. 

Additionally, you may find that during the warmer months your body craves cooler foods leaving you eating lots of raw fruits and veggies. In contrast, as it gets colder outside you may find yourself leaning towards warm and cooked foods. These sensations are natural and your body , so listen to your body and try this pattern of eating out. 

The Bottom Line

Both raw and cooked fruits and veggies have their pros and cons. If you are focused on the bioavailability of nutrients then I suggest cooking your fruits and veggies except for the case of Vitamin C and Glycinophates. If you’re focused on improving your digestion then try incorporating more raw foods if you are constipated and more cooked foods if you are experiencing diarrhea, bloating, or an upset stomach. In most cases, you are going to end up eating a mix of both raw and cooked foods and that is great! 

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