Cooking food: what happens to the nutrients?

Imagine being served raw potatoes with raw meat for dinner. Losing your appetite already? No doubt! Culinary art has more admirers than any other form of art for a reason - cooking foods is one of the best ways to enjoy them.


Have you ever thought what happens to the food when it is being subjected to the heat? Cooking food transforms simple raw ingredients into succulent meals, and, just like everything good in this world, it comes at a price. Cooking destroys some nutrients, transforms another, and makes you want to eat more.

Update: since I wrote this article, I found out about benefits of Macrobiotic cooking. Read about macrobiotic methods of cooking that make nutrients more bio-available.

Destroying nutrients

There is no doubt nutrients loss occurs. Research results only vary on how much nutrients is lost as a result of cooking.

  • Cooking drastically reduces amount of vitamins B and C, that help to build new cells and the genetic material DNA, aid with conversion of carbohydrates to energy, amino-acid metabolism, immune and nervous system functions:

    - Thiamin (Vitamin B1) – up to 96% (if cooked for prolonged time)

    - Biotin – 72%

    - Folic Acid – up to 97%

    - Vitamin C – 70-80% loss.

  • Oils get damaged by heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed to these elements for too long, fatty acids in the oil become rancid (oxidized). Cooking not only destroys their health benefits, they may become carcinogenic. Polyunsaturated oils, including the omega 3 fats, should be consumed cold. Omega-6 oils can be heated to 212F.
  • Enzymes in food get killed by boiling for 3 minutes. Enzymes don’t just help to digest the food – they are living proteins that help repair our DNA, make hormones, prevent clotting. One could assume enzymes in food don’t matter because our bodies produce their own enzymes. However, with age and under stress enzyme amount depletes as they are used to repair the damage caused by the illnesses. Many prominent enzymes researches believe that supply of enzymes from the food helps to preserve your own enzyme pool and keep the body healthier longer.
  • Phytonutrients are plant chemicals with disease-preventing properties. Cooking them alters their structure and bioavailability. While in most cases it gets reduced, it is proven that there are positive transformations, too: for example, lycopene is absorbed better from cooked tomatoes than from raw (Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, 2001, vol. 21, no. 1).
  • And, finally, some good news. I found little evidence that cooking destroys minerals, however it does disrupt mineral absorption due to coagulating bioactive mineral and protein complexes.

One step from healing to damaging

Reduced supply of vitamins, phytonutrients and enzymes in food affects body’s ability to fight disease and deal with inflammation. In addition to this, most oils become carcinogenic and mutagenic as a result of heating. Cooking may transform fungicides in food into the cancer-causing compounds. We are left to wonder what happens to the pesticides, herbicides and food additives under the influence of heat as science doesn’t have a definite answer yet.

Seconds? Yes, please

So what is the most optimal way to get nutrition that your body craves? Body cells do not just need food – they demand nutrients. If the food doesn’t provide enough of those, feeling of hunger will persist and you will inevitably eat more. One has to eat about 50-80% more of cooked food than raw to achieve the same effect. This explains why it is easy for the raw foodists to maintain an ideal weight and why the rest of us typically overeat.


Cooking destroys or reduces the very components in food that fight disease and assist in achieving health and longevity. On the other hand, there are benefits in cooking your food, like making some phytochemicals easier available or enjoyment factor. Body requires more cooked food that raw in order to extract necessary nutrients, however it also benefits from variety.

Does it mean we all should go on the diet of carrots and celery? Everything is good in moderation. The food eaten with pleasure gets absorbed much better – so forcing raw food down your throat like medication may not be a good idea after all.

Introduce more raw food in your diet. Enjoy delicious recipes , explore new foods, tastes and textures and cook to preserve nutritional value of food. The result? You will surely enjoy higher quality of life and pave the road to your health and longevity.


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1. Gabriel Cousens, M.D. Spiritual Nutrition

2. Brenda Davis, R.D and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D. Becoming Vegan. The complete guide to adopting a healthy plant-based diet

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