Who wins the battle: Cooked vs. Fresh Produce


There is a lot of conflicting information regarding what the best foods are to eat. One thing that is debated is “cooked produce worse than raw produce?”  There are many concerned that when you cook a food there is nutrient loss and therefore it is generally thought that fresh fruits and vegetables are better than cooked.  However, we must remember that for many people it is impossible to eat raw fruits and vegetables all the time.  Let us take a look at some things to keep in mind when purchasing fresh, cooked, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables. Cooking may actually improve the nutrients of some foods. When tomatoes are cooked it has been shown that their levels of the antioxidant, lycopene increase. Lycopene is present in fruits and vegetables with a red flesh.  Lycopene is thought to lower your risk of cancer and heart disease.  When carrots are cooked it is thought that the levels of beta carotene increase.   Beta carotene is considered a carotenoid and it helps give fruits and vegetables a yellow, red, or orange color.  Beta Carotene is converted to vitamin A and plays an important role in many body functions.

Deep frying vegetables are not the best way to get the nutrients. Foods that have been fried have increased levels of free radicals due to oxidation of the oil when heated. Free radicals can damage living cells in the body.

Vitamin C levels in foods can lower as a result of the cooking process. Foods that are high in vitamin C, like tomatoes and citrus fruits do not have as high of levels after cooking. However, this should not be a reason to never cook a vegetable.  Vitamin C is plentiful in many foods, therefore as long as you eat some fresh citrus, strawberries, and raw broccoli with your cooked vegetables you should be fine.

Frozen food can be a way to get optimal nutrients if the process is done correctly. When fresh produce is frozen it needs to be done quickly, packed in a container that allows minimal air, and stay frozen until ready to be prepared. Many fruits and vegetables may be frozen shortly after harvest and may have more nutrients than fresh produce.  In winter months when some areas of the country are unable to grow fresh produce locally, frozen produce may be one of the best ways to have foods with optimal nutrients.

The transit of some fresh fruits and vegetables may contribute to loss of nutrients. When fruits and vegetables are not grown locally they may be harvested weeks before they are consumed and depending upon the conditions of transfer they may lose some nutrients by the time they arrive at a grocery store for purchase. Produce contains a high percentage of water and once harvested water loss, energy loss, and nutrient loss occur.  Therefore, depending upon the time of year and where you live, frozen or canned produce may provide a better nutrient profile than fresh.

There really is no clear-cut winner in the battle of cooked vs fresh produce. The winning idea is that everyone should include plenty of fruits and vegetables in their diet, whether they are cooked or fresh.  Despite all of the conflicting information about diet one thing that has remained consistent is that fruits and vegetables are always part of a healthy diet.

Additional sources of information used as reference in preparing this post: