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Navitas Organics Blog

Ask the Chef - Cooked vs. Raw Superfoods

Posted by Julie Morris, Navitas Organics Executive Chef on Oct 13, 2014 4:13:26 AM

Q: From a health aspect, are superfoods better used in raw or cooked recipes?

A: Before looking at specific superfoods, the bigger question here is what happens to nutrients when they are cooked. And, well, the (not so) simple answer is different depending on the nutrient itself. The subject may be a complex one, but here's the core to keep you in the know!

Macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat): The content of all macronutrients stays the same regardless of cooking/non-cooking method. Note that some fats oxidize more quickly than others - cooking with superfoods that contain high quantities of omega fats like chia, for example, is fine as long as the temperatures are not too high (experts disagree on the exact temperature, but it is generally regarded that 400° F or less is best for maximum Omega content).

Vitamins - This class of micronutrients is generally more heat sensitive. Some fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, are relatively heat stable, and can withstand boiling water, for example. Other vitamins, like water soluble vitamin C, are very sensitive to heat and are degraded quickly when exposed. Note that the level at which these nutrients will also depend upon the temperature and the method of cooking - simply placing a vitamin C-rich food in a skillet for 2 minutes will not necessarily “kill†all of its vitamin C immediately - only a percentage.

Minerals - The easiest micronutrient group to understand (if, arguably, more difficult to obtain outside of very nutrient-dense foods/superfoods), you have to love minerals! They are not effected at all by heat or any method of cooking. Simple!

Antioxidants - Here is where nutrition gets complex: some antioxidants break down quickly when exposed to excessive heat, such as polyphenols. Others, like lycopene, actually have increased levels of absorption when heated … which is why it's widely regarded that cooked tomatoes are actually “healthier†than raw.

Understanding how heat effects different nutritional components is key to determining whether to cook a superfood or use it raw to best take advantage of its nutritional potential. For example, camu powder is most celebrated for its massive vitamin C content, meaning it is best used in unheated applications. Cacao offers an impressive mineral content, as well as high polyphenols - so although high heat can diminish some of its antioxidant potential, it still offers many benefits whether cooked or raw. Maca is primarily rich in minerals so it can be used in just about any method.

The bottom line here is that there really is no “better†method when looking at cooked versus raw and its effect on nutrition as a whole. You'll find many varieties of cooking methods in our extensive bank of superfood recipes - from Black-Eyed Pea Stew (with chia seeds) to Sweet and Sour Apple Salad (with Goldenberries). Enjoy the spectrum!

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