One of the greatest trends of this millennium has been the so-called “raw” movement. With variation diets like caveman, Paleo, ancient, and vegan, the raw food craze has hit a fever pitch. But does this seemingly healthy way of eating benefit our health as much as it’s promoted?

Is Less More?

Raw can be great nutritionally, but several recent studies have shown that “all-raw” eaters may be shorting themselves on some key nutrients and antioxidants. Elements such as lycopene and carotenoids might be lacking when certain produce is not cooked.
The raw food folks counter with the claim that cooking destroys critical enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. So, what’s the best way to eat your fresh food? Cook it like a “civilized” human, or go all caveperson and eat it raw?

To Cook or Not to Cook?

Cooking most foods, be it a juicy grass-fed steak or a stalk of asparagus, can alter and diminish certain nutrients and enzymes.  Many vitamins, like Vitamin C and B-1, and some anti-cancer components, like glucosinolates, are indeed diminished when exposed to heat.
Since humans have evolved from hunter-gatherers, the raw promoters claim we’re designed and equipped to handle raw food and process it effectively.

Here are some benefits to eating raw foods:

  • Better digestion due to the concentration of enzymes
  • More vitamins and minerals are preserved in raw foods
  • Lower risks of certain cancers have been tied to raw food consumption

Now Let’s Cook!

There are certain risks involved with eating certain raw foods particularly proteins like meat, seafood and dairy, which can carry harmful and potentially deadly bacteria and parasites.
Proponents of cooking use the bacteria and parasite issue as one of the key arguments for cooking most foods, but everyone agrees that many fruits, vegetables, and nuts are perfectly fine eaten raw.
Cooking can aid in digestion, as it helps break down fibrous cell walls and makes foods easier to chew. Cooked food is also more palatable to many people, particularly the young and the aged. If it looks good, it’s more likely to be eaten, which is sometimes half the battle.

The Cooked and the Raw

With all the arguments pro and con, the choice is ultimately up to you and perhaps your nutritionist and doctor as to how much raw vs. cooked food you want to incorporate into your diet.  One thing that all health professionals agree upon is that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables regardless as to how they are prepared. If you need some advice on which foods offer more benefits when cooked or raw, below are some guidelines.

Foods that do well under heat:

  • Tomatoes – heat releases more lycopene; use them roasted or even in sauce
  • Carrots – cooking them makes the beta carotene more available
  • Asparagus – supplies more antioxidants when steamed or roasted
  • Spinach, mushrooms, peppers and cabbage all do well cooked

Foods that are most beneficial when consumed raw:

  • Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Most leafy greens like lettuces, herbs, cabbage and watercress
  • Garlic
  • Carrots

Double Dipping

Aha! Carrots and cabbage are on both lists! Yes, it’s true—some vegetables and fruits offer benefits when consumed raw or cooked. It’s like the old saying: variety is indeed the spice of life. To get the most benefits of many foods, you should eat them in a variety of ways, sometimes cooked and sometimes raw. It can get confusing, but as long as you are eating more vegetables and fruits, don’t stress too much over the raw vs. cooked battle—just enjoy!

Digestion Suggestions

The following tips will help you stay safe and healthy as you go raw or stay away from the Neanderthals and continue to cook your food:

  • Always wash all produce thoroughly.
  • Buy local (and organic) when possible to maintain the nutrients.
  • Practice good food safety when dealing with raw meats and seafood.
  • Chew raw (and cooked) foods well; cut raw foods into smaller pieces.
  • Use low heat, steam, or oven roasting to maintain the most nutrients in your produce
  • Raw nuts are an excellent way to go raw safely, and they offer many healthy benefits beyond just being raw.
  • Frozen produce is an acceptable substitute when fresh is unavailable.

Whether you’re eating raw or cooked, best health practice is to know your food sources. Keeping organic is your best choice, and educating yourself on nutrition will always benefit you and your family. For other recommendations and tips on nutrition and health, check out