You may have heard some veggies, like spinach and tomatoes, release more nutrients when they've been cooked. But is that really true? Well, kinda.
The Italian chefs and grandmothers were on the right track by cooking plump, ripe tomatoes -- such as Sunday gravy -- all day, because it makes the fruit heart-healthier and boosts its cancer-fighting ability. How? Cooking significantly raises the phtyochemicals compounds in tomatoes, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, say Cornell food scientists. But at the loss of vitamin C.
Vitamin C levels decrease the longer tomatoes are heated. However, the research revealed that the beneficial trans-lycopene content of tomatoes cooked for 30 minutes increased by 164 percent and antioxidant levels increased by 62 percent. Lycopene, a carotenoid responsible for the red color in tomatoes and other fruits, has long been known as a powerful antioxidant that decreases cancer and heart-disease risk. Antioxidants protect the human body from cell and tissue damage, which occurs when harmful molecules called free radicals, released as oxygen, are metabolized by the body. In other words, antioxidants protect us from cancer, making lycopene a good nutrient to have on a regular basis.
Spinach, known to provide a heaping helping of fiber when consumed raw, provides a boost of beta carotene when cooked. In fact, one study found cooked spinach can provide as much as three times the beta carotene over raw spinach. Beta carotene is an antioxidant and a form of vitamin A.
More good news about cooked spinach over raw - how easy it is to consume a large amount in a meal. Anyone who has ever prepared raw spinach into a cooked dish knows you fill the pan with big leaves only to have a small amount of wilted spinach in the end. So, that means cooking may make spinach consumption more plentiful therefore reducing a person's risk of chronic disease.
There are pros and cons to vegetable preparation. Quick, easy ways to cook veggies while retaining nutrients include stir-frying, sauteting, steaming and microwaving. Sometimes eating raw veggies is more enjoyable and convenient. Ultimately, it may come down to what is a palate pleaser in your home - cooked, raw, or a bit of both. Your family will reap health benefits either way and what really matters is making sure you are eating enough vegetables everyday, cooked or raw.