People taking the educational tour at ECHO often ask, “Can this vegetable be eaten raw?” The unexpressed implication may be that raw vegetables are better for you. Delia Hammock, registered dietitian and nutrition editor for the Good Housekeeping magazine says this is not necessarily the case. “While it’s true that overcooking reduces the nutritive value of all foods and even moderate heat can destroy certain vitamins, raw food are not always more nutritious. Some raw foods contain natural substances that actually block the digestion of nutrients or interfere with the absorption or use of vitamins. Cooking inactivates these nutrient blockers.” There are also many examples of toxic substances in plants that are detoxified by cooking.
In addition, the digestibility of many foods is improved as heat alters their physical structure. “Cooking carrots breaks down the cell walls making more of the carotenes available for absorption by the body. While on average only 5 percent of the betacarotene is absorbed from a raw carrot, cooking makes 25-30 percent available. This is a 5-6 fold increase. Pureeing cooked carrots boosts absorption even more.”