Not all produce is nutritionally advantageous in its raw state. Cooking some vegetables actually breaks down their tough cellular structure and makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients. Heat may also boost certain nutrients such as beta-carotene and lycopene (not to mention it kills bacteria and helps you avoid food poisoning). Here are a few foods that have a slight nutritional edge when cooked.
Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, and Squash
These orange root vegetables get their gorgeous hue from carotenoids, a group of antioxidants that are important for vision, bone health, and immunity. These pigments live inside the cell walls. Cooking helps release them, making them more bioavailable and more readily absorbed by the body.
A landmark study published in 2002 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry first showed that a powerful antioxidant called lycopene is released from tomatoes when they're cooked. Lycopene has been shown to help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and macular (eye) degeneration. In addition, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that folks following a long-term, strictly raw-food diet had lower levels of lycopene.
Cooking up asparagus will supply higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants to the body. Asparagus is rich in ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant that may prevent bone degeneration, certain forms of cancer, and diabetes (in addition to protecting your skin from sun damage when applied topically). This compound is released from cell walls only when asparagus is cooked.
Choose the middle of the two extremes: Don't eat exclusively raw foods, and don't eat exclusively cooked foods. Instead, eat them both in equal harmony whenever possible. Comparing the healthfulness of raw and cooked food is complicated, and there are still many mysteries surrounding how the different molecules in plants interact with the human body. They key is to eat more fruits and veggies in whatever shape, form, or preparation best suits you and your family.