Raw or Cooked Food: Which Option Grants More Nutrients? 

by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.

There are many benefits to consuming raw vegetables, which give you plenty of micro-nutrients and antioxidants.

In contrast, deep frying destroys antioxidants and also poses a risk to your health: oils heated at high temperatures release free radicals, which can injure cells and DNA in your body.

Now, does this mean that we should eat only raw food and exclude cooked food all together?

Not necessarily.

Cooking is crucial to our health and raw vegetables are not always more nutritious.

To cook or not to cook

Let’s take the example of tomatoes.

Research shows that cooked tomato products have higher available levels of cancer-fighting lycopene and antioxidants than tomato in its raw form.

Cornell University researcher Rui Hai Liu found that lycopene levels rose 35% after cooking tomatoes for 30 minutes at 88 degrees Celcius.

Cooking vegetables also seems to have a positive effect on some antioxidants by increasing their bioavailability, particularly carotenoids found in carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, spinach, kale and asparagus.

On the other hand, studies show some veggies, including broccoli, retain more glucosinolate (a DNA-protective phytochemical) when raw or lightly steamed.

The query of raw or cooked food does not have a straightforward answer, as you’ll see.

So which option grants more nutrients?

Raw foodists contend that enzymes in raw foods enhance digestion and fight many chronic diseases. However, science isn’t so definitive on eating a diet entirely based on uncooked foods.

When it comes to cooking and nutrient retention, four of the biggest factors are that it largely depends on:

  • the actual food (e.g. carrots)
  • the length of cooking time (e.g. 15 minutes)
  • the cooking method (e.g. boiling)
  • the nutrient analysed (e.g. beta-carotene)

Let’s break it down and give you the facts. You’ll then have a clearer picture on which to make a decision.

Cooked food considerations

As we said, two of the biggest determinants of which is better rests on how you cook the food, and for how long.

Heat can break down and destroy 15-20% of some vitamins in vegetables – especially vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

The influence of cooking on antioxidant activity evaluated in 20 vegetables has shown that pressure-cooking and boiling lead to the greatest losses. What produced the lowest losses? Griddling, microwaving and baking.

In another study done on the health-promoting compounds of broccoli, all cooking treatments, except steaming, caused great losses of chlorophyll and vitamin C. Only boiling and stir-frying caused the loss of total carotenoids.

You also need to consider which specific nutrients you want to get more of. For instance, boiling carrots increases their carotenoid levels. However, they completely lose their polyphenols after boiling. So, if it’s the polyphenols that you’re after (rather than the carotenoids), you’re better off eating them raw.

Raw food reviews

It is said that raw vegetables are a ‘live food’. In other words, they contain life energy. Virtually all living things emit particles of light known as biophotons or ‘sun energy’, which contribute to the idea of live food. It’s worth a mention; however, since this is impossible to find in science-based published findings, we’ll leave it at that.

Here are three facts that we note to acknowledge that plant-based diet components, whether you eat them raw or cooked, can provide protection and reduction of certain health issues:

  1. Eating vegetables (raw or cooked) provide us with fibre, which absorbs bile acids and cholesterol. This reduces the risk of developing heart issues.
  2. Health benefits of vegetables also include disease-fighting phytochemicals, maintenance of bowel health, and in people with diabetes, fibre can help slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels.
  3. Enhancing your diet with plant foods can lower the risk of developing certain cancers.

Expand your nutrient density and diversity

It is a challenge to present one definitive answer to the enquiry of cooked versus raw. There are many, many variables that do not provide an apples-to-apples comparison, if you will.

As a matter of fact, one of the major studies guides us to recognise that none set out to directly compare the effects of the same vegetables eaten in their raw versus cooked state.

One common thread in quite a few of the publications and studies included this recommendation:

The public should be encouraged to increase their vegetable intake and to consider eating some of them raw.

It might be a wise choice to expand our micro-nutrient density, absorption of plant protein, and our nutrient diversity by including conservatively cooked food in our diet.

A general conclusion from a majority of the studies? The best vegetables will be the ones that you eat!

How about you? Have you you found success with either raw or cooked food? Or do you include a blend of both cooked and raw in your diet?

Let us know in the comments below! And if you know someone who is confused by the raw or cooked food dilemma, please share this with them!

The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right Alex Ruani, Doctoral Researcher, leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where her team of accomplished scientists and PhDs are training a new breed of over 100,000 highly-specialised nutrition professionals who are leveraging the latest personalisation strategies to help their clients. She is a Harvard-trained scientist and UCL Doctoral Researcher who is fanatical about equipping health professionals with the latest science-based tools so they can succeed in their practices – from identifying the unique nutrient needs to building highly personalised nutrition programs. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition biochemistry, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free email updates.

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  • Anna Martin

    Reply Reply August 28, 2014

    Me and my family eat a combination of raw food and steamed veggies. When we eat steamed veggies we add them into raw soups or into glutenfree pasta or salads.Since I have started to add green smoothies and homemade raw juice and raw veggies in our lifestyle we have seen a big difference in our life such as: we get less infections, the skin is glowing, my overweight husband lost 50kg in 2 years and is so much healthier then before and our cravings for sweets and fastfoods stoped.
    If you have difficoulties eating all raw or veggies in general, try to implement green smoothies in your daily life, that’s how we started because my husband and one of our girls hated veggies 3years ago but now they can’t be without it :-) . We also dehydrate a lot of our veggies and make kale chips, banana crisps, onionpowder, beet root chips, raw veggie pies and fruit pies, berry powder and granola.
    So we had a big success eating raw food and steamed veggies and it’s sooooo good :-) .

    • Alex

      Reply Reply August 28, 2014

      Anna, I’m so impressed with your family’s formidable transformation, well done for having steered that! And 50kg is a HUGE number, what a wonderful example for others to follow!

  • Carrie

    Reply Reply August 28, 2014

    We love both raw and cooked vegetables in our family. Most all of the cooked veggies are done in the over until just al dente. Our diet is mostly plant biased. I have a daughter have has a couple food allergies so soy, wheat, and eggs are usually left out of my cooking. We do eat fish twice a week and chicken once a week but those are the side, while vegetables are the main.

    I purchased a Spiralizer a couple months ago and we have stopped using most pastas, instead, using zucchini, butternut squash, or tubers for “pasta” We still get our whole grains with brown rice, forbidden rice, whole grain bread (not for the child with the allergy), and hot cereal.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • mirjam

    Reply Reply August 30, 2014

    Steaming is a great way to prepare vegies,
    Potato, orange potato, it is fast, keeps all the nutrients,
    Best way to keep cholesterol down is with a lot of
    Plant fiber!
    I also like juicing vegies, fresh carrot juice is super.
    Fun article, congrats, Mirjam.

  • susan, nutrition coach

    Reply Reply August 30, 2014

    I’m with Anna, enjoy a mix of raw veggies in a delicious and crunchy salad, using seasonal vegetables like radishes, carrots, fennel, beetroot etc. or steam them to accompany your favourite meal.
    Then use the water for soups, stocks or fruit and veggie smoothies. That way you can also enjoy any nutrients that have transferred to the water.

  • Gillian Stearn

    Reply Reply September 11, 2014

    I have only just subscribed to The Health Science Academy organisation. What an absolutely fantastic website. I have already received my first email with a number of articles. Having read raw verses cooked food and the article on differences and information on oil I am so pleased I came across this website. I am suffering with Fibromyalgia and am seeking natural ways of helping this awfully debilitating condition. I absolutely love cooking and try as much as possible to include a really good variety of veg. My son is a Chef and he is very knowledgeable with regard to food but I know he will learn so much from this website so I have forwarded the link to him. As for the spiralitzer, I bought one for him a couple of months ago and now after reading the item above, I will now buy one for myself so I can produce the veggie spaghetti instead of pasta which I find makes me bloated and have stopped eating altogether. This is honestly the best website I have ever found. Its brilliant. I’m seriously considering to purchase one of the study courses this website provides. Thank you

  • Melanie

    Reply Reply October 3, 2014

    I combine raw and cooked vegetables with salad, quinoa, cous cous and bulgar (cracked wheat). It brings out more flavour and smell in the food then some garnishings of herbs, nuts and fruits (dried or fresh).

  • Enya

    Reply Reply October 14, 2014

    Being on an enforced break from training (following an accident) – I needed to put my focus onto something else. On one of my last turbo-training sessions I turned the telly on a 06:00 and was greeted by a shopping channel extolling the virtues of the Nutribullet.

    For an hour I pedalled as I watched the presenters blend and taste all sorts of combinations. I was intrigued. I wrote down the recipes and had a go myself – but soon realised that my 300 watt blender was no match for the 600 or 900 watt version of the Nutribullet.

    After downloading a couple of ‘Jason Vale’ books to my Kindle, I bought a ‘whole-fruit’ juicer.
    It was novel to be reading a book where I was only interested in the recipes and nutritional facts, as the book is geared towards weight loss.

    I tried the three-day dettox of juicing various combinations and fruit and/or vegetables, and generally liked the juices. I downloaded smoothie recipe books, and more books on juicing, gradually building a database of those which I liked.
    I now combine one or two juices/smoothies a day with a regular cooked meal and feel mostly exhilarate.

    Surprisingly, some of the vegetables that are ‘strong’ tasting when cooked, such as sprouts, spinach or spring greens are very mild or masked in green smoothies or shakes. I have even taken to eating avocados in these smoothies as injection of proteins and essential fatty acids.

  • Mary

    Reply Reply December 31, 2014

    could you provide links to the scientific studies you refer to above. it’d be good to read the full reports or at least the abstracts.
    thanks, Mary

    • admin

      Reply Reply December 31, 2014

      Mary, welcome! We always link to the science sources in our articles, each and every time, our readers love that :-) Just click on the green text bits leading to the studies and abstracts and enjoy exploring more! Maria (Research Analyst)

  • Mary

    Reply Reply December 31, 2014

    thank you, Mary

  • cody spencer

    Reply Reply January 10, 2015

    I became a vegan 2 years ago because I was 120# overweight. Because I live alone, I ate and eat mostly frozen veggies, unless the farmer’s market is open. I lost that 120# in 2 years and am now at my normal weight. My blood glucose numbers went from a high of 180 to, presently, low 90’s – high 80’s. My LDL and CDL are right where they should be, and my other biomarkers are great. I feel and look good, and at 75 years I am usually mistaken for someone 10-15 years younger. Getting rid of fat, salt, sugar, refined everything, processed everything and junk food is the trick to losing weight. Balancing protein/carbohydrates and portion control are also key. It took me a month go get on the vegan diet, but I can recommend it without reservation to those overweight/pre-diabetic as the unarguable answer to those problems. Above all, read the labels. Namaste.

  • Gisela Goncalves

    Reply Reply January 12, 2015

    As a Professional of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I mostly advise my patients to have mainly steammed vegetables as raw food can be a source of damp to invade the body and disrupt joints, respiratory track etc… However, it should always adapted accordingly to weather/seasons/locations e.g. watercress salad is a great source of iron but salads are only advised during warm weather. Also the human disgestive system stopped being ready only for raw food since Mankind discover fire and started cooking food. All the complex biochesmestry of human body suffered an evolution accordingly to factors surrounding us.

  • Jessica

    Reply Reply January 22, 2015

    I am a vegan so I do tend to eat a lot of fruits/veggies. I try to combo both raw and cooked ones depending on the taste I am going for. Mostly when it comes to leafy greens I will leave them raw but I find that just eating more vegetables in general whether they are baked, steamed or raw make me feel good!

    • Yoanna

      Reply Reply November 26, 2016

      Hi Gisela,
      Following from your post, I have recently became interested in Ayurveda, and to my great surprise one of the first recommendation I received from my Ayurvedic physician was to minimize the intake of raw vegetables. Some veggies such as carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes are completely off the diet sheet, as both me and my 3-year old boy have aggravated vata (more air in the body). Interestingly enough, she recommended that my sun eats mostly cooked food and also minimise his intake of veggies, fruit and nuts. How would you comment on that form TCM point of view? Thanks!

      • Yoanna – I just wanted to jump in and clarify that “aggravated vata” is not a medically or scientifically recognised condition. If any of your/your son’s health symptoms are a concern, it’s important to seek the advice of a Licensed Medical Doctor who can carry out the necessary tests (such as blood glucose, cholesterol, vitamin/mineral levels in the body, hormonal profile, digestive health, immunity, allergies, and so on). I know the medical system isn’t perfect and Licensed Medical Doctors only have 6 to 12 hours of nutrition training (which is a big problem) but the medical system is still critical in early detection and prevention for anyone carrying any abnormal bio-markers. Wishing you the best of luck! Maria (THSA team)

  • Juliana

    Reply Reply February 9, 2015

    I have always loved veggies and struggled with fruit. Around here due to my husband having some serious bad eating habits, most of our veggies are cooked. I have been able to move from boiled or fried to steamed or baked. Since last year both of us have each lost 7 kilos and managed to introduce some fruit portions per day. I joined this course to help both of us in improving our nutrition and we seem to have been doing well.

  • Melanie

    Reply Reply February 9, 2015

    I found a recipe how to make curly kale crisp. I thought this could be useful for soup/salad/omelet as garnish or eating on its own.

  • Soloni Freitas

    Reply Reply March 21, 2015

    I love eaten both raw and cooked vegetables and lots of them. WhenI cooked them stir fried is my first choice. Raw or cooked I always make sure to put a lot of garlic as well what makes it smells great.

  • Lisa

    Reply Reply July 21, 2015

    We do need to keep in mind that certain vegetables if eating raw does block the thyroid function. I found this out the wrong way. I used to make smoothies with raw kale and had a very bad experience. whether you have a healthy thyroid or not, you still need to be careful with these type of vegetables, from kale, cabbage family, spinach, broccoli, etc. I have hypothyroid. So, please be mindful and make sure you get informed. These vegetable can be consumed, but not everyday, just sparingly.

  • Hi! I just wanted to let you know that we recently published a Science Report on a related topic, “Can We Survive On Raw Food Alone?”, which can be found here: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/science-reports/raw-food/ Thanks! Maria (THSA team)

  • Andrea

    Reply Reply January 24, 2016

    I eat a high plant based raw diet and find that’s how I function and feel at my best. I still love cooked veggies, especially in the winter as I live in Ireland and we get a lot of cold, damp weather! But I transformed my health on raw foods. My under-active thryoid condition cleared up and I came off meds, my acne rosacea cleared up and I no longer suffer with painful periods, in fact I barely notice them at all! I also rarely catch colds or bugs, which I did a lot before I went raw. When I’m eating high raw, during the summer, my energy levels are high and I look and feel clearer, more vibrant, energised and leaner. But I also think reducing or eliminating dairy, wheat, sugar and processed food is a big part of it. I did largely eliminate dairy and wheat prior to going raw, but it was only after I increased the raw did I notice the biggest healthy benefits.

  • Yoanna

    Reply Reply November 26, 2016

    Thanks very much for the article.
    Could you please provide some more info on the following – is cooking in a pressure cooker generally healthy or not? The article states that in general this is one of the methods preserving the least nutrients in a meal, but there is a lot of information online that this is a myth. Thanks!

  • Carla

    Reply Reply December 7, 2017

    I have been eating mostly raw foods for close to 10 years now and I love it! I still enjoy some cooked foods (like quinoa, sweet potatoes and lentils) and truly believe that life is made out of balance. I used to be extremely strict with the raw food diet for the longest time and although I felt great, I found myself stressing over food a lot. Once I learned how to tone it down a notch I feel so much better! I still eat mostly raw and never get sick! I always get compliments on my skin and how shiny my hair is, when all I do is eat healthy.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Naeem

    Reply Reply February 22, 2018

    I believe in balance so for me it’s both raw and cooked vegetables. I’m of the view that most fruits are enjoyable raw anyway, so that’s the raw factor in my diet to help balance the fact that most of the vegetables are eaten cooked.

  • Sarah

    Reply Reply February 23, 2018

    If you boil vegetables and then eat the water that they’re boiled in as a soup, do you still get the nutrients or are they destroyed by heat?

    • Hi Sarah! Yes, you still get the essential minerals, proteins, starches, etc. but to a lesser extent vitamins and omegas which may have degraded due to the heat. You may also find some beneficial phytochemicals in the water, like chlorophyll :-) Hope this helps! THSA Team

  • Jacqueline Bourne

    Reply Reply February 26, 2018

    It was interesting reading this raw versus cooked food section. I love the books by Dr Norman Walker who strictly adheres to a diet of raw natural foods, eaten complete and juiced. I try to follow his advice but it’s difficult in terms of time constraints i.e cutting and preparing and frequent juicing. I do feel extremely well, but my partner was suffering from awful stomach bloating until I cut a lot of the raw salads and veg from his diet. The condition has eased quite a lot.
    Alex, do you think that all the years that Dr Walker has spent studying the effects of his raw salad and juice diet on probably hundreds of people might be the equivalent of a scientific study ? I don’t know about all of his results of course but he seemed to be extremely sure of the benefits.

    • Hi Jacqueline! We’re investigating all this for our upcoming Raw Food Nutrition Specialist certification, you can go here to get notified when it goes live.

      Typically, scientific studies require strict control conditions like double-blinding and randomisation so we doubt this would be more than just anecdotal evidence. That’s why is better to stick to peer-reviewed scientific research from high-impact journals :-)

      Here’s a recent study you might enjoy: Plant foods and alkaline water for reflux?


      THSA Team

  • Sandra Butler

    Reply Reply March 7, 2018

    What about air frying – I’ve read that it retains many of the nutrients as it does not deconstruct in the same way as other cooking methods. I’m feeling doubtful. Any advice?

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