People with inflammatory bowel disease frequently are told to eat cooked vegetables over raw because they’re gentler on the gut. This begs the question, “are cooked vegetables as nutritious as raw vegetables?”
Some vegetables are healthier cooked whereas others are better raw. For someone with a healthy gut, they’re almost always nutritious and worth eating no matter how they’re consumed. Deep fried vegetables excluded.
Cooking vegetables breaks down the insoluble cellulose fiber, the major component of the cell walls of plants. Breaking down these thick cell walls makes more of the plants’ nutrients available to us. Besides cellulose, plants have other ingredients that can sometimes interfere with our absorption of nutrients. Cooking can also break these down.
Carrots and tomatoes are top examples for choosing cooked over raw. Both have important cancer-fighting ingredients that are better absorbed when these foods are cooked.
Cooked carrots have higher levels of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A and a powerful antioxidant. Cooked tomatoes and tomato products are higher in lycopene, a powerful cancer-fighting ingredient that also supports heart health. Studies have shown that people who follow a strict raw food diet have low levels of lycopene.
Broccoli, on the other hand, has higher levels of cancer-fighting glucosinolates when consumed raw versus cooked. Note that broccoli is still beneficial when cooked just as carrots and tomatoes are raw. However, someone on a low-roughage/low-fiber diet is always better off with the cooked version.
Some of you might have heard that cooking destroys the plant enzymes that we need to break down or digest the food. Yes, cooking breaks down the plant enzymes but these enzymes were not created for us. They’re for the plants. We produce our own digestive enzymes.
Too often we lose focus of what’s really important. Most of us do not eat nearly enough vegetables, despite the convincing evidence that people who eat more vegetables live longer, healthier lives and have fewer and shorter IBD flares.
For those of you who tolerate fiber, go ahead and choose a variety of raw and cooked vegetables that you enjoy. Lightly steam or sauté vegetables for maximum nutritional benefit.
If you’re avoiding roughage then include a variety of cooked vegetables with the understanding that they are still, and sometimes more, nutritious.