Rebecca Wood
Rebecca Wood
Be Nourished

Healing with Food Article

Vegetables — Best Raw or Cooked?

Accompanying recipe: Rainbow Salad

As you might have guessed, both cooked and raw vegetables have their own benefits. Let's examine them.

Water-soluble B and C vitamins and some minerals are drawn from vegetables when the're cooked. Just as the red color from a cut beet can leak onto your fingertips, some nutrients leach into cooking water. So drink vegetable cooking water, or pot liquor, for its intact, water-soluble nutrients.

Heat does destroy enzymes, indoles (cancer-fighting nutrients), and heat-sensitive thiamine and vitamin C.

But fortunately, most nutrients, including fiber, carbohydrates, protein, fat, various micronutrients and all of vitamins A, D, E and K, remain when vegetables are cooked. Some nutrients, like beta carotene, become more bioavailable when food is cooked.

What cooking does do is transfer energy from a heat source to the food and, typically, makes the food more digestible. That's why an infant's delicate digestive system welcomes pureed yams, not raw yams.

Thus a cooked food is more warming than a raw food, and in some ways, it's also more energizing. For example, consider how a baked potato imparts more vigor than a raw potato. Eating raw celery, however, gives a different kind of energy than does cooked celery.

Cooking also enhances flavor. While shredded carrots may be tasty in a salad, the flavor of carrots when stir-fried, baked or roasted is intensified. Then there's carrot soup, carrot pickles, and don't forget carrot cake.

Undeniably, there's something quite wonderful and inimitable about a fresh garden salad. Rather than worry about which is best--raw or cooked vegetables—enjoy them both ways. Note, however, that people who tend to be hot better tolerate raw foods than people who tend to be cold or frail. People with strong digestion better assimilate raw foods than people with weak digestion.

Exactly how nutritious is pot liquor? Flavor is a good guideline, as flavor and nutrition are mutual indicators. If your pot liquor is sweet and rich tasting, it's going to be more nutritious than one that tastes thin. Its flavor and nutrition depend upon these four factors:

• The quality of the vegetables. For example, a fresh, organic cauliflower grown in rich soil with ample moisture and sunlight boasts more nutrients—and flavor—than a lesser quality cauliflower.

• Cooking time. Thiamine and vitamin C are heat sensitive and their content decreases in proportion to cooking time. So vegetables should be added to the pot when the water reaches a rapid boil, and they should be removed as soon as the're cooked.

• Amount of cooking water. If you wish to concentrate the flavor of pot liquor, use a minimal amount of cooking water.

• The surface area of the vegetables. The greater the surface of the vegetable, the more nutrients are leached. So thinly sliced cauliflower will lose more nutrients to water than chunks of cauliflower.

In addition to these factors, common sense is another guide. Taste it. When pot liquor is ambrosial, stop everything, sit down and savor it as a tonic. Or use it in a sauce or soup stock. I toss out pot liquor when it has an unattractive color (like purple cabbage liquor) or too strong a flavor (like artichoke, asparagus or spinach liquor).

Yes, cooking does destroy some nutrients, but not to worry. Refined foods, like sugar and white flour products, are the real nutrient robbers. So favor whole foods, enjoy a wide variety of produce prepared in different ways and guzzle pot liquor. For the pleasure that raw foods offer, as well as for optimum thiamine and vitamin C, enjoy some raw fruits and vegetables.

To obtain a tumbler of pot liquor see accompanying recipe. Bottoms up.

May you be well nourished,

Rebecca Wood

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