Raw Is Not Always Better—These 4 Vegetables Are Healthier When Cooked

Attention raw-food fanatics: We're sharing healthy cooked vegetables, plus two that you should keep enjoying raw.

"Eat your veggies," they say, and the more the merrier. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 2½ cups (about three servings) per day, so if you love snacking on raw carrot sticks, don't let us get in your way.

But "they" usually don't elaborate on how to eat your vegetables, and their nutritional value varies with how they're prepared and served. While most veggies offer the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients when consumed raw, some cooked vegetables are actually healthier than their raw counterparts.

"Cooking vegetables can make it easier for your body to absorb their nutritional benefits," says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, author of The Better Period Food Solution. Here are four types of veggies Beckerman advises we consume cooked (rather than raw) to fully reap their nutrients—and two that are healthier raw.

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Roasted Tomatoes With Shrimp and Feta
Christopher Baker

While slurping a raw fresh tomato straight from the garden is one of summer's simple pleasures, cooking them offers additional benefits. "Cooking tomatoes does something remarkable to their cellular makeup," Beckerman says. "It breaks down their stubborn cellular walls so the body can mop up valuable nutrients, such as lycopene, which is a superstar antioxidant." Lycopene can help fight off colds and keep you protected during flu season.

However, not all cooking is ideal. Be careful not to burn or char your tomatoes (or any food for that matter) because cooking at a high temperature can diminish useful vitamins and minerals.

02 of 04


Pork Burgers with Crispy Carrot Fries
Antonis Achilleos

Raw carrots are fine, but cooked carrots are better for you. Cooking carrots allows beta carotene, an antioxidant compound that gets converted to vitamin A in the intestine, to absorb more easily in the body, explains Beckerman. This helps your body soak up even more health benefits, like boosting your immunity and promoting eye health.

An ideal nutrition combination is carrots with an iron-rich grain, such as sorghum or buckwheat. Research shows that beta carotene significantly enhances the absorption of iron by protecting it from diminishing.

03 of 04



Contrary to popular belief, cooking spinach boosts the amount of iron in the final product when compared to raw spinach. Cooking also increases the bioavailability of other nutrients like vitamin A, E, and zinc.

As a bonus, adding vitamin C to your meal (like lemon juice or orange segments), significantly enhances iron absorption in your body. No vitamin C-rich foods handy? Get a similar effect by taking a multivitamin that has vitamin C with your meal.

04 of 04


Fettuccine With Asparagus, Leeks, and Mint
Victor Protasio

Cooking asparagus helps to break down the thick cell walls of the asparagus stalk and helps our body absorb disease-fighting vitamins like A, C, and E. According to Beckerman, sautéing asparagus (or other veggies) in a drizzle of healthy oil (like olive oil) also helps increase the bioavailability of asparagus' key nutrients.

Veggies That Are Better Raw

Celery, Cucumber, and Pineapple Smoothie
Levi Brown

On the flip side, cucumber and celery are nutritionally superior when consumed raw because they have delicate water-soluble nutrients in the form of vitamin B and C. When cooked in water, these valuable nutrients readily leach out, causing the vegetables' nutritional value to sharply plummet.

Additionally, a delicate antioxidant in cucumbers called fisetin—known for its anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting, and neuroprotective properties—dissolves when cooked in water.

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  1. Raiola A, Rigano MM, Calafiore R, et al. Enhancing the health-promoting effects of tomato fruit for biofortified foodMediators Inflamm. 2014;2014:139873. doi:10.1155/2014/139873

  2. Ghavami A, Coward WA, Bluck LJ. The effect of food preparation on the bioavailability of carotenoids from carrots using intrinsic labellingBr J Nutr. 2012;107(9):1350-1366. doi:10.1017/S000711451100451X

  3. Stuetz W, Gowele V, Kinabo J, et al. Consumption of dark green leafy vegetables predicts vitamin A and iron intake and status among female small-scale farmers in TanzaniaNutrients. 2019;11(5):1025. doi:10.3390/nu11051025

  4. Lane DJ, Richardson DR. The active role of vitamin C in mammalian iron metabolism: much more than just enhanced iron absorption!Free Radic Biol Med. 2014;75:69-83. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.07.007

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