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Home/Blog/20 Vegetables that Are Healthier for You When Cooked

20 Vegetables that Are Healthier for You When Cooked

By Joe Boland

June 21, 2024

Cooked vegetables

The debate between raw and cooked foods is a common one among nutrition enthusiasts. While raw foods maintain their natural enzymes and certain vitamins, cooking can increase the bioavailability of other nutrients, making them easier for our bodies to absorb.

Understanding the benefits of cooked vegetables can help you make informed decisions about your diet, ensuring you can get the maximum nutritional benefit from your food.

Cooked vs. Raw Vegetables

Cooking vegetables can break down cell walls, making nutrients more accessible and easier to digest. This process can enhance the availability of certain vitamins and antioxidants, which are crucial for maintaining good health.

Here's a closer look at why some vegetables are more nutritious when cooked:

1. Enhanced nutrient absorption

Certain nutrients, such as lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots, become more bioavailable when cooked. Cooking helps release these nutrients from the plant cells, making them easier for our bodies to absorb.

2. Reduced antinutrients

Some raw vegetables contain antinutrients like oxalates and phytates, which can interfere with the absorption of minerals. Cooking can reduce these antinutrients, enhancing the overall nutritional value of the vegetables.

3. Improved digestibility

Certain vegetables contain complex carbohydrates that can be difficult for our bodies to break down when raw. Cooking can soften the fiber in vegetables, making them easier to chew and digest.

This is particularly beneficial for individuals looking for foods that are easier on their digestive system.

4. Nutrient loss

It's important to remember that cooking isn't always the hero. While it unlocks hidden nutrients in some foods, it can also diminish or destroy others, particularly water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C.

The key is finding the right balance. Luckily, many cooking methods — like steaming, stir-frying and quick boiling — can minimize nutrient loss while maximizing absorption.

Top 20 Vegetables that Are Healthier Cooked than Raw

1. Tomatoes

Cooking tomatoes increases their lycopene content, an antioxidant that helps support healthy immune system function. Lycopene becomes more bioavailable when tomatoes are heated, making cooked tomatoes a better choice for maximizing this nutrient.

One note: Cooking tomatoes does decrease its vitamin C content a bit.

2. Carrots

Cooked carrots have higher levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for vision, healthy immune system function and skin health.

Cooked carrots also greatly increases the antioxidants they provide, particularly when you boil them. Avoid frying them, however (and that goes for the rest of these vegetables as well).

3. Spinach

While raw spinach is nutritious, cooking reduces its oxalate content, which can inhibit calcium absorption. Cooked spinach provides more accessible calcium and iron, along with magnesium and zinc.

In addition, steaming spinach helps it retain its folate.

4. Mushrooms

While technically not a vegetable, mushrooms are one of those foods that is more nutritious cooked than eaten raw. Cooking mushrooms enhances their potassium content and makes their antioxidants, such as ergothioneine, more available. Heat helps break down the cell walls, releasing these beneficial compounds.

Cooked mushrooms also have greater levels of niacin and zinc.

5. Asparagus

Asparagus retains more antioxidants, such as ferulic acid, when cooked. Cooking also helps soften the fiber, making it easier to digest.

It also makes it easier to absorb this veggie’s vitamin A, E, B9, K and C content.

6. Bell peppers

Cooking bell peppers increases their vitamin C levels and enhances the availability of carotenoids — such as beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, capsanthin and lutein — which are powerful antioxidants.

Boiling or steaming peppers does make it lose some vitamin C, so roasting is the best option.

7. Broccoli

Cooked broccoli provides more indole and sulforaphane, compounds that have potent health-promoting properties. Steaming broccoli also preserves its vitamin C content better than other cooking methods.

8. Kale

While raw kale is a nutritional powerhouse, cooking breaks down its tough fibers, making it easier to digest and absorb its iron and calcium content.

Cooking kale reduces its goitrogen and isothiocyanates content, which can interfere with proper thyroid function. Cooked kale is also easier to digest.

9. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which becomes more bioavailable when cooked. This nutrient is essential for maintaining healthy vision and immune system response.

Cooking potatoes also lowers their antinutrient content and breaks down their starch so it’s easier on the stomach.

10. Green beans

Cooking green beans increases their levels of antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for eye health. Research shows it's best to bake, griddle or pan-fry green beans instead of boiling them.

11. Zucchini

Cooked zucchini provides more carotenoids, which are antioxidants that help maintain healthy cells. Cooking also improves its digestibility.

12. Cauliflower

Cooking cauliflower increases the availability of indole and sulforaphane, compounds that show plenty of promise in helping boost proper immune system function. Steaming is the best method to preserve its nutrients.

13. Eggplant

Cooked eggplant offers more antioxidants, including nasunin, which helps promote healthy brain cell membranes. Cooking also makes the fiber in eggplant easier to digest.

Steaming and grilling seem to some of be the best cooking methods for eggplant, increasing its chlorogenic acid, while boiling it helps it retain delphinidin, another antioxidant.

Bonus: Cooking also softens eggplant and reduces its slight bitterness.

14. Pumpkin

Pumpkin is high in beta-carotene, which is more readily absorbed when cooked. This nutrient is important for maintaining healthy skin and vision.

15. Cabbage

Cooking cabbage reduces its goitrogen content, making it safer for those interested in supporting their thyroid health. It also increases the availability of its antioxidants.

16. Beets

Cooking beets can help reduce their oxalate content, which can interfere with mineral absorption. It also makes the betalain pigments, known for their antioxidant effects and ability to help with a healthy response to inflammation, more readily available.

17. Butternut squash

Cooking winter squashes like butternut squash makes them sweeter and easier to digest. Similar to sweet potatoes, cooking winter squashes like butternut squash also enhances their beta-carotene content.

18. Brussels sprouts

Cooking mellows out the strong flavor of Brussels sprouts and makes their nutrients more accessible. It also produces indole, a compound that can support a healthy immune system.

That's not all. Steaming or roasting these miniature cabbages unlocks their health-promoting glucosinolates.

19. Artichokes

Cooking unlocks the heart of this artichoke, making it easier to eat and digest its nutrients. For instance, steaming or boiling artichokes increases their antioxidant levels by several factors.

However, boiling them can cause it to lose some water-soluble vitamins, so take note of that.

20. Celery

While research shows celery's nutrition can increase when it's cooked, only certain cooking methods actually help. Boiling, for instance, can lower its antioxidant content, while pressure-cooking, griddling, pan-frying and baking actually increase the antioxidant status.

Incorporating cooked vegetables into your diet can significantly enhance your nutrient intake. By understanding which foods are healthier cooked than raw, you can make better dietary choices that promote overall health and well-being.

Remember, the method of cooking also matters — steaming, roasting and sautéing are generally better than boiling, as they help to preserve more nutrients. So, cook vegetables wisely, and enjoy the health benefits they bring.

As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.

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