It's not just what you eat, it's how you eat it! Some people believe that the healthiest way to eat is the raw food diet, where no foods at all are cooked. Eating such an extreme diet will mean you miss out on a lot of healthy foods, so while you shouldn't go to those lengths some foods do have greater benefits if eaten raw. Eat these foods raw for maximum nutrition:
1. Olive Oil
You probably think that olive oil is much healthier than vegetable oil, and automatically use it when cooking. Olive oil contains omega fatty acids and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat and we know that monounsaturated fats are better for us than trans fats and saturated fats like dairy products. However, many of the benefits of olive oil are lost when it's heated. The problem is that heating reduces the strength of the phenolic compounds; these have antioxidant benefits and may even offer protection against cancer and other ailments such as heart diseases. This means that heating olive oil makes it no better or worse than any other oil. Indeed, some 'olive oils' are not pure and are actually blended with other oils. Even worse, heating the oil beyond its smoke point can create smoke with harmful compounds. So instead of using the oil to cook with, save it for dressing salad or drizzling over cooked dishes.
Nuts offer a number of health benefits, such as protecting the heart and reducing cholesterol. They're an excellent source of healthy fats; we do need some fat in our diet, so you should eat them regularly (although not too many, as they are high in calories). They also contain antioxidants and various minerals, which makes them a great all-rounder and an ideal snack if you're feeling peckish between meals. Always choose the unsalted variety to make them even healthier. However, heating the nuts can destroy these healthy fats and turn them into free radicals, which cause damage to the body's cells. Another benefit of eating raw nuts is that they are higher in iron. So eat your nuts raw to get maximum disease-fighting benefits from them. An ounce a day should be enough to give you all the health benefits of the nuts.
3. Red (bell) Peppers
Red peppers, or bell peppers, contain plenty of vitamin C - more even than oranges, so they're an excellent food to include in your diet. However, vitamin C is heat sensitive and also water-soluble, so much of it will be lost if the peppers are heated. To ensure that you get maximum benefit from the vitamin content, peppers are best served raw. The sweetness of red peppers makes them ideal for salads or snacks. Try serving the peppers sliced with dips or homemade hummus, or simply eating on their own. But vitamin C isn't the only health benefit of peppers. They are also high in antioxidants, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. What's more, they are high in fiber, which will help you feel fuller. Chili peppers also have lots of health benefits, but for obvious reasons you should be careful how much you consume!
4. Onions & Garlic
If you can tolerate onions and garlic raw (some people find they upset their stomach), the health benefits are much greater. Garlic and onions contains an enzyme called allinase, which helps create allicin. This has a very short active life, meaning that for maximum benefits these vegetables needs to be consumed raw. Allicin is helpful for preventing cancer and heart disease, so while this may not make for very fragrant breath (try chewing parsley afterwards), it's well worth trying to consume raw garlic or onions regularly. Garlic even has antibiotic and antiviral properties, so you can use it to try to prevent colds and flu. It's most effective if it is eaten crushed as well as raw; after crushing, you should then leave it for 5 or 10 minutes so that the allicin has time to be produced. If you can't bear to eat the garlic on its own, add it to a green juice.
5. Leafy Greens
We're always being told that we should eat more leafy greens like kale, chard, collards and spinach. In fact, kale is touted as a superfood because of its role in preventing cancer and heart disease. However, what we're not told is that these leafy green vegetables are more nutritious when eaten raw, or only very lightly cooked. Not everyone likes the taste of raw leafy greens, but it's worth trying them to see if any of them work for your taste buds. So wherever possible, eat your greens in the form of a salad or made into a juice - juicing is a great way to down your greens if you don't care for them raw. However, do be cautious if you have a medical condition such as kidney stones or an underactive thyroid, as raw greens may be a problem for people with these conditions.
6. Bean Sprouts
If you're making a stir-fry, you might grab some bean sprouts to throw in. However, this classic ingredient of Chinese cooking doesn't need to be cooked, so try adding them after cooking or eating them in salads instead. Sprouting beans and seeds increases their nutrient levels and are high in antioxidants. It's easy to grow your own sprouts, so keep some on the go - all you need is a little space on the kitchen windowsill or worktop. Be sure to buy seeds that are labeled suitable for home sprouting and use a jar or container that has been thoroughly cleaned in hot soapy water. If you buy sprouts, look for ones that are labeled ready to eat; these can be eaten raw. Then just add them to salads or sprinkle on top of a meal, but be sure to eat them raw if you want the maximum health benefits.
It's a rare person that doesn't love chocolate, and so any hint that it's actually good for us sounds like very good news. The snag is that it's only really healthy when taken in the form of raw cacao, not with added sugar and processed! Raw cacao is high in magnesium, which the body needs to make energy in the cells, and plenty of other minerals as well. Another plus point is that raw cacao may increase your levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which increase our sense of well-being. Add cacao's antioxidant properties to all that, and that's all the reason you need to include it in your diet. But while you might be tempted to grab a chocolate bar, pass it up, and don't think that plain chocolate is any better than milk chocolate - it still has plenty of sugar and has been processed. Try some raw cacao nibs or powder instead; you can use them to make smoothies with fruit and other sweet treats.
Are you going to try some of these raw instead of cooking with them?