from Fine Cooking #117, pp.38-39
I enjoy raw food tremendously. What could be better than a fresh, perfectly ripe peach, for example, with its heady floral scent and dripping juice? But as a cook, I also get excited about what happens when that peach meets a hot pan and, say, some cinnamon. In just minutes, it’s transformed into something equally luscious yet different; it becomes warm and comforting with a deeper, richer flavor.
But many of my readers ask if cooking that peach, or any fruit or vegetable, destroys its nutritional value. Is it better to eat it raw? A growing contingent of raw-food advocates says yes. They claim that heating produce destroys what’s healthiest about it, turning it from a “living food” full of active enzymes and nutrients into something basically devoid of benefits. While they do have a point, there’s no need to ditch your stove. The answer isn’t in the all-raw or overcooked extremes. As usual, it lies happily in the middle.
|Broccoli Stalk, Celery, and Radish Salad|
Raw food is whole food
Eating produce raw means that you’re consuming it in its unprocessed form, which is usually a good thing from a health standpoint. Take an apple, for example. Eaten fresh, it’s full of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When you peel it and cook it down to applesauce, it loses much of its nutritional value but still has some benefits. Take it a step further by smothering it in pastry and sugar for a pie and you have another ball game entirely—tasty yes, but not nearly as good for you. The main reason raw foodies find they feel better and lose weight is that they eat more unprocessed, whole foods and less pie and the like.
|Brazilian Chicken Salad Sandwich with Raw Celery & Grated Beets||No-Cook Zucchini & Squash Ribbons with Daikon, Oregano & Basil||Arugula, Carrot & Raw Celery Root Salad with Almonds||Raw Asparagus Pesto|
Cooking has pros and cons
Even in the most healthful recipes, the very act of cooking destroys many nutrients, since some, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, are heat sensitive. Heat also kills enzymes in foods like the cruciferous vegetables broccoli and cauliflower. Since these enzymes activate the antioxidants in the vegetable, destroying them likely reduces the vegetable’s healing power.
On the other hand, cooking actually concentrates and activates some antioxidants, making them more potent and more easily absorbed. That’s why tomato sauce has considerably more antioxidant oomph than fresh tomatoes, and cooked carrots are richer in beta-carotene than raw. Heat also breaks down the food’s cell walls, releasing many nutrients held inside and making them more available to our bodies for digestion.
The bottom line is that both raw and cooked produce offer distinct benefits. So mix things up to cover your bases and enjoy all of the culinary possibilities.
Photos: Scott Phillips