Are there foods that are healthier when eaten raw? Absolutely. There are also foods that provide benefits when cooked, though, so below we’ve listed six foods that could be eaten raw at least part of the time to reap all the health benefits they offer.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a vitamin, not a food, but it is found in high amounts in various fruits and vegetables. Since vitamin C is partially destroyed by heat, it’s important to eat some of those fruits and vegetables raw. Not only does vitamin C break down when heated, it also tends to leak into the water when you boil foods, as it’s a water-soluble vitamin. Therefore, if you don’t drink the water in which the food was boiled, you lose some of the vitamin C.
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As vitamin C is found in so many fruits and vegetables, you don’t have to eat all of them raw, but be sure to eat a few raw ones every day so that you always get your daily recommended intake of vitamin C in its natural form!
Foods high in vitamin C include acerola, Indian gooseberries, sea buckthorn, guavas, black currants, red bell peppers, kiwi, and broccoli. Loganberries, red currants, cloudberries, papayas, strawberries, oranges, and lemons also contain relatively high levels of vitamin C. (2)
Eating 100 grams of raw broccoli will give you close to your daily recommended intake of both vitamin C and vitamin K. What’s more, raw broccoli contains high levels of sulforaphane, which may help fight cancer and stomach ulcers. If you boil broccoli, you’ll lose up to 50% of the sulforaphane in about ten minutes. Steaming or baking, on the other hand, do not appear to affect it. (3) (4) (5)
If you want as high levels of vitamin C and sulforaphane as possible, eating a little bit of raw broccoli isn’t a bad idea!
Blueberries contain vitamins C and K as well as manganese in moderate levels. However, what makes blueberries so special is the number of polyphenols they contain—it has some of the highest levels of antioxidants of all foods. Some of these are negatively affected by cooking, though not all (some are even positively affected). This means that blueberries (as well as other berries) should be eaten raw at least part of the time. (6)
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Garlic contains alliinase, which is the enzyme that helps create allicin. Allicin is an active compound that is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and an immune booster; it is believed to be beneficial in many other ways, though studies are incomplete. The alliinase releases when garlic is crushed or chopped. If you cook it straight away, on the other hand, you stop the activation process that would otherwise naturally continue if eating it raw. (1) (7)
If you want to cook it, you should chop it 45 minutes before use to make sure allicin has formed.
Raw cacao contains a lot of nutrients, but you don’t generally eat large amounts of it. Cacao is typically eaten for its high antioxidant value rather than for its mineral and vitamin content. It contains a high level of flavonoids—so high, in fact, that raw cacao has one of the highest antioxidant values of all foods (known as the ORAC value—Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Antioxidants are important, as they help fight off free radicals, which can cause cell damage. (8) (9) (10)
6. Coconut Water
When it comes to coconut, most of us are used to consuming it in its dried format, but fresh coconut water is actually a great drink. Many sports drinks boast of containing electrolytes, which are necessary to replenish water in the body (which is why doctors prescribe drinks with electrolytes when you lose a lot of fluids due to diarrhea or vomiting). However, they often contain other less beneficial substances. Fresh coconut water, on the other hand, naturally contains electrolytes without the harmful substances. It is worth noting that it contains fewer electrolytes compared to many of the man-made drinks and may not combat severe dehydration. (11) (12)
In Closing—Why We Cook Food
It’s easy to think that all foods are better raw, as nutrients are preserved, antioxidants aren’t being destroyed, and so forth. However, it’s harder for the human body to break down some foods when raw. In fact, it’s hard to get all the energy you need from raw foods alone. It is also true that some cooked foods are more nutritious. For example, cooking increases the levels of lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in carrots (though it completely destroys polyphenols, which have shown promise in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer).
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To ensure that you get enough raw foods in your diet, include raw salads, whole fruits, and freshly made shots of vegetable juice (oxidation destroys nutrients too, which is why juice should always be drunk straightaway). You can also make fresh fruit juice, but remember that fruits contain a lot of sugar. When consumed as juice rather than whole fruits, sugars will be broken down faster and can cause a sugar high if you consume too much at one time.