It seems there is a large population that believes raw foods are more nutritious than cooked foods. During my Christmas family dinner marathon, I encountered two different family members who believe raw milk is more beneficial to health than pasteurized milk. I was raised off of unpasteurized cow’s milk from my grandmother’s dairy and I can tell you that I do not have any special powers, nor perfect health. In general, there has been a large raw food movement with diets that focus on eating like a caveman, juices, and cleanses, even to the point of selling and promoting “raw water.”
Going against the science of pasteurization and treated water is as good an idea as eating tide pods. There are as many diets in the world as there are people and everyone wants a black and white answer to how to eat healthy and safely, but there is not one right way to eat. The secret to health is not so secret, yet people are constantly overlooking a balanced plate of food and overthinking their food choices.
Cooked or Raw
There are no added benefits of consuming raw milk or water, only increased risk of illness. However, it is important to note that there is no such thing as a zero-risk food. The nutrition in many vegetables is actually increased by cooking. It depends on whether the vitamin is water soluble or fat soluble. When cooked, water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and folate will leech into the water. But, you can turn around and use that water for soups or whole grains like brown rice or quinoa. The heat of cooking can also increase other nutrient amounts available to be absorbed by your body by breaking down the cell walls of the plant. Vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, iron and calcium all increase with cooking. Steaming, microwaving, or sautéing are great cooking methods to minimize the loss of heat-sensitive vitamins.
Fresh, Canned, or Frozen
If you were asked which form of produce would be the most nutritious, most people would say fresh (raw) produce. Truthfully, all three sources are equally as healthy. Nutrients in fruits and vegetables start to break down after harvest. Frozen and canned foods are picked at the peak of freshness and then quickly frozen and preserved to “lock in” maximum nutrition and flavor. The freshest produce available can be found locally at farmer’s markets or produce stands, likely picked that morning. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables from fresh, frozen and canned sources that fits within your budget and time schedule.
Eating fruits and vegetables raw are still a very nutritious way to get your daily recommended five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables. Without heat to kill bacteria, raw foods need to be washed and stored properly to prevent cross-contamination and spoilage. Here are some basic food-safety measures to take to eat raw produce safely:
• Always wash your hands for about 20 seconds with hot soapy water before preparing food.
• Wash produce with cool water just before eating.
• Cut away damaged areas on produce, and remove the outer leaves on lettuce heads.
• Never prepare produce on the same cutting boards as raw meat or poultry.
The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, health, wellness and nutrition, contact me at 910-997-8255.
Janice Roberts is the family and consumer sciences agent with the Richmond County Cooperative Extension office.