A wide array of fruits and vegetables are available in Israel. A wide array of fruits and vegetables are available in Israel. Cooking some foods, instead of eating them raw, actually enhances their vitamin content. (Photo: fotofreaks/Shutterstock)

6 foods that are more nutritious when cooked

Raw food diets are not for everyone. Learn what foods are more beneficial to your health in their cooked form.

Cavemen didn't have ovens, but they did have fire. So it's safe to say that, when combined with the numerous artifacts collected by archaeologists, humans have been cooking their food for thousands of years.

And we imagine that was for good reason: some foods just taste better cooked. But did you know they can also be more nutritious? Indeed, there are several vegetables, fruits and legumes that are actually healthier when they’re cooked; the heat either releases more of their nutrients or kills naturally occurring toxins.

Here are six such foods, as well as some ways to cook them to extract their utmost potential.

Tomatoes

The Tomaccio tomato was developed by laboratories in Israel, the result of cross-breeding with the Peruvian tomato species to create a sweet, snackable tomato with a longer shelf life.The Tomaccio tomato was developed by laboratories in Israel, the result of cross-breeding to create a sweet, snackable tomato with a longer shelf life. (Photo: Tom Wang/Shutterstock)

Lycopene, a red pigment found in tomatoes, has been scientifically linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. Researchers found that cooking tomatoes actually boosts their lycopene content. In one study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, people who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene, but low levels of lycopene.

In another study, Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, found that the level of one type of lycopene, cis-lycopene, in tomatoes rose 35 percent after he cooked them for 30 minutes at 190.4 degrees. But how? He said the heat breaks down the tomatoes' thick cell walls and lets the body process nutrients more easily.


Beans

beans and riceBeans always remind us of underwater creatures. Except unlike underwater creatures, they don't bleed. (Photo: Mr. Boonrawd Muangsri/Shutterstock)

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eating as few as five raw kidney beans can result in illness. Uncooked or undercooked beans contain high amounts of glycoprotein lectin, a toxin that can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The severity of the symptoms is directly related to the amount of the toxin ingested.

So get cooking! Adding them to a salad, like our veggie quinoa recipe, is a great suggestion.


Potatoes

roasted potatoes with onion and rosemaryThis potato dish has just the right touch of onion, garlic and rosemary. (Photo: qanatstudio/Shutterstock)

You may have never eaten a raw potato, but in case you were planning to try one sometime soon ... maybe don't. A study out of Utah State University found that raw potatoes can have a high concentration of solanine, a dangerous toxin. In addition, the uncooked starch in potatoes can result in digestive problems, gas and bloating. For the most benefit and the least risk from your potatoes, it's best to bake, steam, saute or roast them. (And no, french fries don't count. Frying is a whole other animal. Google "free radicals.")

As our Israeli Kitchen can attest, they're also delicious as a filling for bourekas or fry pies.


Carrots

Roasted carrotsBeta-carotene is a predominant antioxidant found in carrots. (Photo: Stockcreations/Shutterstock)

According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, cooking carrots increases their levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene belongs to a group of antioxidant substances called carotenoids, which give fruits and vegetables their bright red, yellow and orange color. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.

So while grabbing a stick or two from the fridge for a mid-afternoon snack is perfectly fine, you might alternatively think about roasting them, as with this recipe we suggest from our Israeli Kitchen contributor Sarah Berkowitz.


Mushrooms

MushroomsMushrooms (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)

Though eating them raw is not inherently harmful, introducing a little heat brings out the potassium in mushrooms. And as you might already know, potassium helps build muscle, and it's a common supplement prescribed to people who don't have a healthy diet. According to WebMD, low potassium is associated with a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders and infertility.

And as it turns out, an impressive 25 recipes in our Israeli Kitchen collection use mushrooms as a key ingredient. Clearly there's enough potassium here to go around.


Spinach

spinach artichoke frittataSpinach turns any breakfast into a wholesome, healthy meal. (Photo: Jerry James Stone)

When it comes to eating spinach raw or cooked, there's a tradeoff to consider. Nutrients like folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium are more prevalent in spinach when it is eaten raw, but cooking increases vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium and iron. And like carrots, important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, are absorbed by the body more easily when spinach is cooked.

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