Eat your vegetables. This phrase may bring back childhood memories, but many adults struggle with this principle of healthy living as much as children. Countless diets exist to get more vegetables into your daily meals.
A trendy lifestyle is the raw diet, which involves eating uncooked, unprocessed foods. There are many variations in how people practice raw food diets, and the lifestyle has its benefits. Whole, unprocessed foods replace too many heavily processed grains and sugars, which can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. People with chronic illnesses and digestive issues can also benefit from eating whole foods.
The practice extends to vegetables, and this is where the information gets a little murky. Veggie Straws and Terra Chips don’t make the cut for raw, but some people draw the line at all cooked vegetables. When it comes to vegetables, is raw much better? Kansas City Chiefs dietitian and nutrition consultant Leslie Bonci helps us dig into the answer.
Are raw vegetables healthier than cooked vegetables?
Not necessarily, according to Bonci. “Nutritionally, fiber, micronutrients, phytonutrients, it’s the same,” she says. Reverse. Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plants.
One of the biggest supposed benefits of eating raw vegetables is absorbing enzymes, which cooking supposedly removes. Enzymes are proteins that facilitate metabolic reactions in our cells. Certain organs, such as the pancreas, liver and gallbladder naturally release enzymes. Insufficient production of these enzymes can lead to poor digestion, contributing to stomach upset and diarrhea.
Raw vegetables or fruits, some say, retain their maximum amount of natural enzymes, and heat above 115 degrees Fahrenheit will begin to break down some of them. Bonci, however, does not prioritize raw plant enzymes. Enzymes are more important to the plant than to humans, she says, and humans get a lot more from plants than enzymes.
How does cooking change a vegetable?
The cooking process changes the products. Boiling vegetables can leach out vitamin C, says Bonci, which is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve and are stored in water. This, however, is no reason not to boil or blanch; she recommends saving the water for the broth. “If you throw it away, then it’s literally micronutrients down the drain,” she says.
A quick dip in hot water can be good for flavor. Dropping broccoli or carrots in boiling water for up to three minutes — known as blanching — can lighten their colors and make them taste a little better. Applying heat in the oven or on the stove also kills lingering bacteria. However, juicing, which some raw eaters do, eliminates fiber, an essential nutrient for gut health and regularity.
Cooking can also change the taste of a vegetable. Bonci recognizes that flavoring vegetables is just as important as eating them, whether it’s a ranch for dipping or tossing greens into macaroni and cheese. Technically, steaming is the healthiest method because it doesn’t require oil, but fat isn’t necessarily bad. It can actually aid in digestion and nutrient absorption.
However, it is not necessary to cook vegetables to incorporate fat. Avocado naturally contains fat, so adding it to a salad ticks that box. Homemade tahini or hummus also makes a whole-food, high-fat dip.
Raw is not always an option. Frozen or canned vegetables taste best when cooked, and fresh ingredients aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes the only vegetables available come from supermarket shelves. There’s a reason raw diets have appeal for influencers, who may be able to regularly afford not just fresh vegetables, but also paraphernalia like wraps, crackers and other expensive food substitutes. that match the way of life.
Are there any benefits to a raw vegetable diet?
A raw diet is fine for anyone who prefers it, says Bonci, but it’s not a better way to eat your greens.
Vegetables, says Bonci, contain between 90 and 99 percent water. That’s a plus in terms of hydration, but it means eating vegetables alone can lead to water fullness without any protein. Eating a head of lettuce with a few tomatoes and carrots can fill you up, but it is not a balanced diet.
Still, raw vegetables can limit refined sugar and carbohydrates while increasing vitamin and fiber intake. The bottom line, says Bonci, is that the best way to eat vegetables is the one you like. “A vegetable is only good if you eat it,” she says. “If it stays in the pot or goes in the trash, it’s kind of useless.”
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