While you may have noticed the hype about the benefits of raw food diets or raw food cleanses, it is important to note that not all cooked foods are bad. In fact, cultures around the world have been cooking their traditional food dishes for thousands of years in healthy ways.
Depending on the type of food, the method of cooking and the supporting ingredients in a dish, digestion and nutrient absorption of vegetables can actually be increased from cooking. Spices such as cumin, turmeric, ginger and coriander are frequently used in traditional Indian cooking and act as important digestive aids to help the body break down and absorb important nutrients that come available once cooked. The flavour enhancing additions of such spices also provide anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits to the body and work in conjunction with a variety of fiber rich vegetables to fill our cells nutritional requirements.
When it comes to the raw or cooked question of vegetables, it's all about balance. Some plants, like kale for example, will benefit from the cooking process but can also be enjoyed raw for higher levels of vitamin C.
So let's break it down and look at what vegetables fit the raw category and which ones can benefit from a little heat.
How Much Is Enough?
As a nutritionist I recommend that vegetables should be the largest part of your meal, taking up ¾ of the space on your plate. Another great rule of thumb is to only snack on fresh foods and eat dark leafy greens daily. Sourcing from as close to home as possible not only ensures a lighter environmental footprint, it also provides the highest amount of nutrients possible as nutrient depletion begins immediately after harvesting.
The Canada Food Guide recommends at least seven to eight servings for adult females and eight to 10 for males of vegetables daily, and many health professionals recommend even more. Aside from the dark leafy greens, a focus on bright orange vegetables (squash, carrots, orange beets), which are high in powerful carotenoids, is suggested.
Raw is not always more nutritional. While raw food contains live enzymes it can also be hard to digest in which case we don't actually absorb all the nutrients. It's important to pay attention to the individual needs and preferences of your body to see what foods best suit you.
It's true that vegetables cooked for a long duration, in poor quality oils, at a high heat are not a healthy option. Vegetable soups on the other hand, when made from high quality ingredients and simmered for a longer duration can be quite healing and provide a great source of minerals and fibre.
My personal preference of cooking methods are those that are higher heat for the least amount of time in order to retain nutrients, texture and a little crunch (no soggy vegetables for me please). Preferably, my vegetables are lightly sautéed on medium-high heat with water. I will add a high quality unrefined oil (such as unrefined sesame oil) before serving. The addition of oil ensures the absorption of important fat soluble vitamins in the vegetables. Alternatively, I cook with waterless stainless steel cook-ware that is an excellent heat conductor and requires less cooking time.
When I'm not cooking my vegetables I am often making vegetable smoothies so that I can also enjoy the raw benefits that vegetables and fresh foods have to offer. When it comes to vegetables the most important thing is to simply eat more! Many of us have a hard time fitting in the suggested daily servings that lies somewhere between seven to 10, depending on your sex.