People tend to think that eating raw food can make you sick and that cooking food makes it lose some of its nutrients. However, that’s not always the case. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis — some foods you would shudder to try raw (brussels sprouts? what?) can shine without any cooking.
But how to decide? Few people would ever look at a strawberry and say, that would be GREAT to throw on the grill. Similarly, if I showed up to your dinner party with a tupperware full of raw steak and egg, you might smile politely before eating exactly none of it.
Let’s get the proverbial elephant out of the room right away. Raw meat itself won’t make you sick, but the pathogens in it can. Cooking meat is crucial in killing bacteria like E. coli and preventing food poisoning. And beyond that, Harvard researchers have shown that cooked meat provides more energy than raw meat, so we are able to get more nutrients out of cooked meat compared to raw meat.
Although, some meats can be eaten raw if proper care is taken to minimize their chance of making you sick. If you’re a connoisseur of French restaurants and love a steak tartare (or its Ethiopian cousin, kitfo, or any other number of regional variants), you might not have ever thought about making it at home.
Go for it. Seriously.
Make sure to buy your beef from a reputable source and keep it frozen if you’re going to store it for any longer than a day. As far as eggs, try to get them as fresh as possible. Use CHOW’s guide — and be aware, any raw meat can make you sick (even with the best safety precautions), and it’s up to whether you’re willing to take the risk.
Meat’s good buddy raw fish also contains bacteria and larvae that, left unchecked, can wreak havoc.. When fish die, these parasites spread throughout its body and penetrate tissue that is eaten.
However, freezing, heating or gutting the fish within 12 hours of being caught can kill the larvae. If you choose to cook the fish, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggest baking or broiling it as opposed to frying.
Once again, eating raw fish is not unhealthy or unsafe — but like meat, there is an implicit risk involved with consuming raw fish. When eating raw fish, make sure you are eating in a good, clean, and reliable place in order to minimize the risk.
On the other side of the spectrum, we don’t need to tell you that many vegetables are delicious eaten raw. When cooked, steaming them is the best way to retain their nutritional value, while boiling, baking, roasting, frying, or sautéing vegetables will cause them to lose more nutrients.
Most vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and cucumber are better eaten raw because their nutrients are heat-sensitive. However, vegetables like tomatoes, spinach and kale are better eaten cooked because cooking them improves their ability to absorb protective nutrients.
As fruit goes, cooking fruit can be delicious (see: jam, jelly, compotes, reductions) but bear in mind that removing the juice from fruit and leaving the fibrous flesh can also remove most of what is nutritionally sound about fruit in the first place. Fiber is an incredibly important part of our diet, and foods like raspberries, blackberries, and pears are chock-full of it — but not when reduced to juice and strained of their “roughage”.
Here’s the skinny: raw can be beautiful, it can be delicious, and it can be better than cooked. Know your safety protocols going in, and you should be fine. For other resources, try groups like Rawmazing or Choosing Raw, written by people that have adopted a raw-food lifestyle and know the benefits and pitfalls.