Raw food has become very popular these days, but is it always the best choice for your health? Is it always the most efficient way of extracting nutrients from the food you eat?
To go straight to the point, well no it is not always the case. There is a lot more to the argument than just cooked vs raw:
As you prepare, bite, chew and digest, you create a series of mechanical and chemical changes that affect:
- – A food’s nutritional content
- – Each nutrients ‘bioavailability’ – some nutrients are best available when the foods containing them are eaten raw, but other nutrients are best available when the foods containing them are cooked, or eaten alongside other foods.
Here are the best ways to get the most out of the food you eat:
1. Eat locally grown food soon after it has been picked:
This maximises the vitamins and minerals you get from the food to start with. The longer the food is separated from its nutrient source the more nutritional value they lose. By the time fruit and veg reach supermarkets, experts estimate that that item may have lost 15-60% of many vitamins. This is why buying from your local farm shop and growing your own veg is a very big positive. However, practicalities sometimes get in the way therefore there are other ways of getting the most out of your food:
2. Soak, chop, crush, blend:
- Cutting up fruit and vegetables generally frees up the nutrients by breaking down rigid plant cell walls
- Crushing and chopping onion and garlic releases allinase, an enzyme in these foods that helps form a nutrient called allicin. Allicin, when eaten, helps form other compounds that may protect us against disease.
- Soaking grains and beans reduces physic acid, which may block your absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
3. Store fruit and veg the correct way:
Heat, light, and oxygen degrade nutrients. In order to slow down nutrient loss:
- Store all non-root vegetables in the fridge
- Store all fruit except berries (this includes tomatoes and avocados) at room temperature away from direct light.
- Store all cut fruits and vegetables with a squeeze of lemon juice on them and in an airtight container.
4. Eat most sources of water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients raw:
Heat breaks down vitamin B1, B5, folate and vitamin C, therefore you get more of these when you eat certain foods raw:
- For example. sunflower seeds, broccoli, avocado, spinach, bell peppers and cauliflower are examples of vegetables that are generally best eaten raw to maximise absorption of their nutrients.
- Raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach.
- If you do cook these foods, choose a cooking method such as:
5. Know which foods are best when cooked:
There is actually a wide range of nutrient loss from cooking – anywhere from 15-55%. In most cases you lose the most nutrients by boiling in water. However, some foods actually deliver the most nutrients when cooked.
- Cooking significantly increases the bioavailability of beta carotene, found in red/orange/yellow plants like tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Cooking denatures proteins in eggs and meat, making them much more digestible.
- Cooking makes iron and other minerals more available for absorption by decreasing oxalates, an acid that makes the minerals inaccessible by binding to them.
- Cooking reduces certain harmful food components, such as cyanide, and possible anti-nutrients (found in grains and beans) making way for the good stuff those foods have to offer.
6. Pair food strategically to maximise nutrient absorption.
Putting the right foods together doesn’t just taste great, it also helps you absorb all the nutrients better.
Here are some examples:
- Tomatoes and avocados:
- Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a pigment-rich antioxidant known as a carotenoid, which reduces cancer risk and cardiovascular disease. Fats make carotenoids more bioavailable, a fact that makes a strong case for adding tomatoes to your guacamole.
- Turmeric and Black pepper:
- A tangy yellow South Asian spice used in curry dishes, turmeric has long been studied for its anticancer properties, anti-inflammatory effects, and tumour-fighting activities known in nutrition-speak as anti-angiogenesis. The active agent in the spice is a plant chemical, or polyphenol, called curcumin.
- “Adding black pepper to turmeric or turmeric-spiced food enhances curcumins bioavailability by 1,000 times, due to black pepper’s hot property called piperine,” says Kennedy. “This is one reason it’s thought that curry has both turmeric (curcumin) and black pepper combined.” Translation: You’ll get the benefits of turmeric if you pepper up your curries.
- Pair fats with fats
- Eat foods that contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K with dietary fats, which help dissolve the vitamins and ready them for absorption. Therefore foods such as:
- sweet potatoes, carrots and squash (vitamin A)
- eggs and mushrooms (Vitamin D)
- Spinach, Swiss chard and asparagus (Vitamin E)
- Kale and broccoli (Vitamin K)
all go better with:
- mixed nuts
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- Pair iron with vitamin C
- To absorb non-heme iron from plant based foods, pair them with foods rich in vitamin C:
- kale with a squeeze of lemon juice
- lentils with chilli peppers
- spinach and red pepper salad
- Pair iron and zinc with sulphur
- Sulphur binds to these minerals to help absorb them better
- Eat liver, beef, turkey (rich in iron), oysters (rich in zinc), with garlic, onion and egg yolks.
7. Keep it Simple
- Water soluble vitamins (B and C) lose the most nutrients when cooked
- Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) lose the fewest nutrients when cooked.
- Just eat lots of vegetables!!!
8. Monitor your Tolerance
Nutrients don’t do you much good if you have an undetected food intolerance that keeps you from absorbing them. Unfortunately, not everyone tolerates raw foods very well even if they’re technically ‘better for you’ sometimes.
If you have symptoms of an intolerance, such as bloating, consider an elimination diet to figure out what you’re not tolerating. Once you eliminate the foods that affect you most, you can better optimise the nutrients you are getting.