- 5 Secrets for Making Raw Veggies Actually Taste Good
- Don’t hate, marinate.
- Think garnishes, not main event.
- Do the chew.
- Choose the right veggies.
- Cheat (a little bit).
- Veggies to eat raw
- Veggies to cook (and how to cook them)
- Fruits and vegetables you should never eat raw — and the ones you should
- What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
5 Secrets for Making Raw Veggies Actually Taste Good
Getty: Larissa Veronesi
Kale salad belly: It’s a thing. If you’ve ever dove head-first into a raw kale salad, you’ve no doubt also experienced that dreaded post-lunch bloat. There are definitely health benefits to incorporating raw foods into your diet, as explained by Jamie Vespa MS, RD and Cooking Light’s assistant nutrition editor: “Certain heat-sensitive nutrients, such as B-vitamins (including folate) and vitamin C, start to break down and suffer nutrient loss at temperatures above 118°F.” But it’s also undeniable that raw veggies aren’t as enticing as, say, a bowl of buttery glazed carrots. They can also be tough on digestion, causing bloating, distention, and discomfort.
Wellness is not achieved through extremes, so while you won’t win any health medals (or friends) by going totally raw, you can find a balance by incorporating a variety of produce items into your mealtime routine. The trick is seeking ways to make them work with you, rather than against you. Here are 5 ways to find equilibrium with raw foods.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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Don’t hate, marinate.
There’s a reason those kale salads taste better after hanging out in the fridge for a day or two: The combination of oil and vinegar in the dressing works to break down the kale’s cellular structure (and yes, massaging the leaves gently with oil first helps too). This makes the kale—or other hardy greens much easier to digest, because some of the work has already been done for you. Unlike tender salad greens, like spring mix, that get soggy, raw brassicas actually benefit from being dressed in advance. Give the vinaigrette an hour to two to work its magic before digging in, or make in advance and store the salad in the fridge for up to three days.
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Think garnishes, not main event.
Hey, nobody said you have to eat 100% raw. A salad made with raw lacinato, shaved Brussels sprouts, chopped carrots, AND untoasted almonds is enough to wreak havoc on anyone’s stomach. Instead, aim to incorporate one or two simple elements of a raw food into a cooked meal. Add a handful of massaged and marinated kale to a spinach base, or include grated—not chopped—raw carrot into a grain bowl (grating makes it easier to chew and digest). The saying “Go big or go home” only applies here if you finish it with the phrase, “…and experience gastro distress for the next four hours.”
Do the chew.
Your stomach doesn’t have teeth, so you’d better believe your mouth has to do the majority of the work when eating a raw meal. Chew your food thoroughly, and it’ll be much easier to digest once your internal juices start flowing. And there’s another sneaky benefit, too. Vespa says, “From a mindfulness perspective, raw foods us to slow down and be more present for our meal.”
Choose the right veggies.
When it comes to raw, not all vegetables were created equal. Some produce will just never taste good uncooked (think potatoes and hardy root vegetables, like parsnips). But here’s a tip that’s applicable to most other produce: The younger the vegetable, the better it will taste… and the easier it will be to digest from a raw state. Radishes, for example, are less spicy and more tender before they reach maturity. And there’s a reason those monstrous green leaves are often labeled as “cooking spinach”—its baby counterpart is much more enjoyable in salads and sandwiches. Ditto for Brussels sprouts, carrots, and beets.
Cheat (a little bit).
Okay, so you’re not ready to go totally raw? It’s okay cheat just a little bit! Many restaurant and catering cooks know that lightly steaming vegetables for a crudité platter “takes the edge off,” making them more pleasant to eat. You don’t have to douse your produce in oil and crank the oven to make it taste good, but if you’re not into the idea of rabbit food for supper, this is a clever way to feel more satisfied with a big plate of vegetables. Vespa explains, “In most cases, the higher the temperature and longer the cook time, the greater loss of nutrients.” So while a quick steam will zap a few nutrients, it will preserve more than a long roast time.
To steam veggies, add an inch or two of vegetable stock to the bottom of a double-boiler, bring to a boil, then fill the top with your chopped and prepped veg. Reduce to a lively simmer, cover, and steam for 2-3 minutes, until just barely touched by the heat. They’ll be softer, sweeter, and… almost irresistible.
Living your life according to the “eat the rainbow” motto requires getting a little creative in the kitchen. Sure, spiralizing, roasting, and Instant-potting are all delish options, but according to dietitians how you cook (or don’t cook) your veggies alters their nutrient profile—for better or for worse.
“Heat can alter the nutrient composition in vegetables. For some, that’s a good thing, and for others, it may mean you’re losing precious nutrients,” explains Nora Minno, RDN, a registered dietitian and personal trainer in New York City. Below, Minno and Sonya Angelone, RDN, break down exactly which produce should be cooked to vitamin-packed perfection, and which are better adornments for a crudité platter.
Veggies to eat raw
“Some vegetables can loose their nutrients when cooked, especially those containing the water-soluble B-group vitamins and vitamin C,” Minno says. “For example, studies have shown that the majority of Vitamin C found in fresh spinach can be lost when cooked at high temperatures.”
In case you’re wondering why these vitamins matter anyhow, here’s the gist: B-group vitamins (include B6, folate, B12, and more) help with critical processes like converting nutrients into energy, aiding neurological function, and assisting with DNA repair. And vitamin C has been found to protect aging memory and boost immunity.
With that in mind, here are the veggies to enjoy au naturel
• Leafy greens like lettuce, arugula, kale, and spinach
• Red Bell Pepper
Veggies to cook (and how to cook them)
On the opposite end of the vegetable spectrum, Minno says that some produce actually gets a nutrient upgrade when it’s cooked. “This is because heat can change some nutrients into a more active form or even break down cell walls, releasing certain nutrients,” she tells me. “For example, when tomatoes are cooked, their thick cell walls are broken, releasing more nutrients and making lycopene more readily available.”
Here are some vegetables best served hot
• Sweet Potatoes
When you go to whip these up into glorious side dishes or the main event, Angelone recommends skipping a basic boil technique since “minerals leach into the water, which is typically thrown away along with the nutrients.” Instead, roast, steam, or microwave them for optimal good-for-you-ness.
Of course, both experts note that consuming produce in any form is a win for your bod. So if the thought of eating your broc raw makes you want to gag, go ahead and roast it in a zesty spice blend to mask the flavor. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Period,” Minno emphasizes. “You’ll still be getting lots of important nutrients and at the end of the day, eating a carrot dipped in hummus will provide more nutritional value than a cracker or a chip dipped in hummus.”
Instant Pot-ready French girl squash? Yes, please. And yes, it’s totally safe to eat the skin.
Beyond nutrition, however, raw vegetables can simply be hard to digest. Anybody with irritable bowel syndrome knows this. You can chew and chew, but cold, hard raw food can upset the digestion, especially when it isn’t working at optimum capacity.
When you have a completely intact, strong digestive system, you can eat your big salad at lunchtime (I never recommend raw food at dinner because of lower digestive strength at night). But for now, hold off on that and opt for cooked veggies instead. Steam them, sauté them, or poach them, but give your digestion that extra boost. Cooking them in ghee makes them even more digestible because ghee increases your digestive fire.
If you love salad for lunch, you don’t have to give it up altogether. Instead, try tossing it in a warm skillet for a minute or two before you eat it, just to warm it up and wilt the greens slightly. Warm salads are delicious. Try a roasted root vegetable salad, or wilted greens with roasted vegetables.
At the very least, consider warming your salads during cold weather. When summer comes and your digestion is strongest, then you go back to those cold crispy lettuces you love — but just at lunchtime when your digestion is the strongest.
As for beverages, just say no to ice. Drink your water warm or at room temperature, and avoid chilled beverages of all kinds. No ice-cold lemonade, no ice-cold beer, no ice-cold soda, and no ice water.
If room-temperature water and herbal teas are your beverages of choice, your digestion will run more smoothly. Just think about what happens when you stick your hands in cold water or snow. Your fingers turn white because cold reduces blood flow to the area and vessels clamp shut. When you drink cold liquids, such as iced tea or ice water, the same thing happens to your digestive tract: blood vessels constrict and blood moves out of the area. The channels that move nutrients in and waste out then close up.
This is exactly the opposite of what you want. You want blood to flow to your digestive tract, to help facilitate healthy and efficient digestion and carry out waste easily. Warm liquids open up channels and encourage flow.
So keep drinking that warm tea, but leave the ice out of your water.
Fruits and vegetables you should never eat raw — and the ones you should
Depending on how we prepare our favourite vegetables and fruits, some can lose their nutrients if they are cooked for too long.
“The best methods for cooking and retaining the most nutrients in your veggies include steaming, microwaving and roasting veggies. Cooking with low heat, or steam breaks down food into an easy-to-absorb form and releases the nutrients,” says Registered dietitian Anar Allidina of Anar Allidina Nutrition.
Boiling and pressure cooking some veggies can get rid of vitamins B and C, and deep-frying in high heat adds more fat and calories to your meals, she says.
Shahzadi Devje, a registered dietitian based in Toronto, adds she always advises her clients to avoid over-cooking vegetables, especially in too much water.
“This diminishes their nutritional value and they become tasteless and fade before your very eyes,” she says. “Instead, I would encourage steaming, blanching or sautéing vegetables lightly until tender-crisp to help retain colour, nutrition and taste.”
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She adds the majority of us aren’t getting enough vegetables in our diets to begin with, so eating them both raw and cooked are great ways to take in the most nutrients.
“By incorporating them into your diet raw and using different cooking methods will help to add variety, boost intake and add pleasure to eating.”
Below, Allidina and Devje share fruits and vegetables that are completely fine raw, and the ones we should always cook.
Vegetables you don’t need to cook:
Vegetables like broccoli are rich in vitamin C and tend to be most vulnerable to the cooking process, Devje says. “Vitamin C is water-soluble and leaches out into boiling water. The trick is to either eat them raw or cook them on low heat, with less water for a short period of time.”
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Although she adds there is some research that suggests cooking broccoli preserves and boosts its antioxidant levels.
When eaten raw you maximize on this veggie’s cancer-fighting properties, Allidina says. “Cooking onions at a high heat reduce the benefits of phytochemicals that protect against certain cancers such as lung and prostate cancer.”
This is also a tricky one, Devje adds. “On the one hand, cooking spinach boosts its antioxidant content, and on the other, polyphenols in spinach are prone to degradation when cooked. It depends on the nutrient you’re looking at.” Story continues below advertisement
READ MORE: Food you probably don’t need to refrigerate (and ones you do)
Red peppers are a great source of vitamin C, carotenoids, polyphenols, and other phytochemicals, Allidina says. “One cup of red peppers provides three times more vitamin C than an orange. It’s best to eat red peppers raw – the heat in the cooking process depletes the vitamin C content.”
Add sliced red peppers to salads for a pop of colour and crunch.
“Kale contains a host of nutrients such as has beta-carotene, vitamin C, and polyphenols,” Allidina continues. “Cooking kale significantly lowers vitamin C and overall antioxidants.”
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But, Devje adds, some people can get gas and bloating from eating raw kale — because of the high fibre content. “However, other people report no issues at all. We’re all different and it also depends on the amount we consume.”
Vegetables you should always cook:
As much as people love eating raw carrots with dip, you’re better off cooking them for nutrients.
“The cooking process releases more beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A in your body, which is beneficial to your eyes and immune system,” Allidina says.
Directly Above Shot Of Roasted Sweet Potatoes Served In Bowl
Foods rich in antioxidants like sweet potatoes are more nutritious when cooked vs. raw, Devje says. “And, not to mention, these vegetables are far more palatable when cooked. Research also indicates that steaming and boiling these vegetables increases their beta-carotene content.”
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Allidina adds potatoes also contain anti-nutrients and have to be peeled and cooked to remove them. “Also since potatoes are high in starch when eaten raw the uncooked starch in potatoes can lead to digestive problems, such as gas and bloat.”
READ MORE: Here’s what nutrition experts pack for lunch (and yes, you can too)
“Cook tomatoes to release higher levels of lycopene and overall antioxidants,” Allidina says. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in red fruits and veggies, and has been linked to lower rates of cancer.
“The heat in the cooking process breaks down cell walls, which makes lycopene more available for your body to absorb.”
Asparagus is another vegetable that should be cooked. “This process breaks down the fibre, making it easier to digest and absorb nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, E, and K. Cooking this veggie increases absorption of vital nutrients and antioxidants.”
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What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:
Does It Work?
You’ll probably lose weight on this diet, since most of its foods are low in calories, fat, and sodium, and high in fiber. One study found that people who followed a raw foods diet lost a significant amount of weight.
You’ll also get nutritional perks. Most of what you eat will be high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
But there are lots of drawbacks. The diet is difficult to follow and inadequate in many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and more.
Plus, contrary to the claims of many raw food fans, cooking does not make food toxic but instead makes some foods digestible.
Cooking also boosts some nutrients, like beta-carotene and lycopene, and kills bacteria, which helps you avoid food poisoning. There is no scientific evidence that raw foods prevent illness.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
It is not recommended for any specific health conditions. But losing extra weight is good for general health.
If you are considering a raw diet, talk to your doctor before starting the plan.
The Final Word
A raw food diet is low in calories, high in fiber, and based on primarily healthy whole-plant foods, so eating this way will lead to weight loss.
But the diet is a nutritionally inadequate and highly restrictive plan that will be hard to stay on for the long-term. The risk of food poisoning from eating raw or undercooked foods outweighs the benefits of this plan.
In general, cooking makes your food more easily digestible and safer.
There are some nutrient-rich super foods that can’t be eaten raw, such as beans, whole grains, and lean proteins.