Raw vs. Cooked Broccoli

Raw vs. Cooked Broccoli
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Which results in greater phytonutrient absorption: raw broccoli, steamed, boiled, or microwaved?

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Are nuts healthier raw or roasted, though? And what happens to all the goodness in vegetables when you cook them? Well, a tell-all paper was published earlier this year. You tell me: which is healthier, raw broccoli or fried broccoli? Thought I’d start out with an easy one. Who says raw broccoli? Who dares say fried? 

Of course, raw broccoli healthier than fried. Six times more nutrition in fresh; measured in total glucosinolate content—the cancer-fighting cruciferous compounds. So just kick back, and enjoy.

Steamed versus boiled; each for two minutes. Who says steamed is healthier? Boiled? Interestingly, though, it’s not the heat. Steam is actually hotter than boiling water. But just like much of the nutrition in dark green leafy leaves of green tea leaches into the water (which is good), the nutrition in boiled greens doesn’t disappear; it’s just transferred to the cooking water. So, as long as we’re making dairy-free cream of broccoli soup or something, feel free to boil away; just don’t boil, then throw away the liquid.

Let’s kick it up a notch for this final question: raw, steamed, or microwaved? Which is healthier, based on the amount of cancer-fighting nutrients absorbed into our bodies? Who thinks raw is healthiest? Steamed? Nuked? If you’d been keeping track of these numbers, you’d know… Starts out neck and neck, but then steamed takes the lead!

Wait a second, how can something gain nutrition when you cook it? Because it’s not what you eat; it’s what you absorb. And cooking can boost the absorption of many important plant nutrients. So while even light steaming can partially destroy some nutrients, the absorption of the remaining fraction is so boosted that it may even be healthier than raw, based on the latest research.

But, you can overdo it. Look at the microwaving. Microwaving destroys more nutrients than steaming, but has that same absorption-boosting effect, so we’re basically right back up here where we started. Microwave five minutes, however, and you really do see a detrimental impact on nutritional quality.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Are nuts healthier raw or roasted, though? And what happens to all the goodness in vegetables when you cook them? Well, a tell-all paper was published earlier this year. You tell me: which is healthier, raw broccoli or fried broccoli? Thought I’d start out with an easy one. Who says raw broccoli? Who dares say fried? 

Of course, raw broccoli healthier than fried. Six times more nutrition in fresh; measured in total glucosinolate content—the cancer-fighting cruciferous compounds. So just kick back, and enjoy.

Steamed versus boiled; each for two minutes. Who says steamed is healthier? Boiled? Interestingly, though, it’s not the heat. Steam is actually hotter than boiling water. But just like much of the nutrition in dark green leafy leaves of green tea leaches into the water (which is good), the nutrition in boiled greens doesn’t disappear; it’s just transferred to the cooking water. So, as long as we’re making dairy-free cream of broccoli soup or something, feel free to boil away; just don’t boil, then throw away the liquid.

Let’s kick it up a notch for this final question: raw, steamed, or microwaved? Which is healthier, based on the amount of cancer-fighting nutrients absorbed into our bodies? Who thinks raw is healthiest? Steamed? Nuked? If you’d been keeping track of these numbers, you’d know… Starts out neck and neck, but then steamed takes the lead!

Wait a second, how can something gain nutrition when you cook it? Because it’s not what you eat; it’s what you absorb. And cooking can boost the absorption of many important plant nutrients. So while even light steaming can partially destroy some nutrients, the absorption of the remaining fraction is so boosted that it may even be healthier than raw, based on the latest research.

But, you can overdo it. Look at the microwaving. Microwaving destroys more nutrients than steaming, but has that same absorption-boosting effect, so we’re basically right back up here where we started. Microwave five minutes, however, and you really do see a detrimental impact on nutritional quality.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

More on broccoli cooking methods and nutrient absorption:
Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli
Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True

And for more on the protective properties of broccoli:
Sulforaphane: From Broccoli to Breast
Raw Broccoli and Bladder Cancer Survival
The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense
DNA Protection from Broccoli
Prolonged Liver Function Enhancement From Broccoli

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

28 responses to “Raw vs. Cooked Broccoli

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  1. Thank you, Dr. Greger! Great information! I was confused by a study I read
    “A critical review of the bioavailability of glucosinolates and related compounds” which stated: “Mastication of the raw or processed vegetable is the first step that is likely to release intact GLSs and myrosinase to form GLS-HPs. The exception are microwaved vegetables, in which myrosinase activity is completely abolished.” (p. 434 under Mastication) Is this true?

    1. Ooh, great question! The same thing happens with all cooking methods. The enzyme is denatured (inactivated) but the glucosinolates themselves remain intake (in other words are heat stable). So that’s why it’s actually a good idea to chop broccoli and other cruciferous (cabbage-family) vegetables 20 minutes or so before you cook it to maximize your intake of these wonderful compounds. The same actually goes with garlic, for a similar reason. Check out Becoming Raw from your local library for more info, though now that you mention it maybe I should make a video about it!

  2. Thanks for your answer! I’m aware that it is good to chop crucifers first – which, of course, begs the question of how MUCH chopping and how many nutrients we are leaving on the table by a rough chop. Blend everything? Sigh. A video on this would be great!
    Sorry to push the issue but the study seems to say that microwaving is never a good way of cooking these vegetables. Is this conclusion borne out by other studies? I’m a little confused.
    This is the study:
    http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleHtml/2004/NP/b204039p

    From the study:
    “GLS hydrolysis during mastication of thermally processed Brassica vegetables (cooked or microwaved) depends on the processing conditions. The latter determine the degree of cell disruption, the activity of GLS degrading enzymes and possibly the activity of ESP. A high degree of thermal cell disruption enables an extensive release of GLSs. Myrosinase is relatively heat stable and may survive blanching or even boiling of the plant material while ESP is heat sensitive, and the effect of thermal processing on nitrile formation is not clear. If myrosinase remains active after processing, this provides optimal conditions for enzymatic GLS hydrolysis and high yields of the corresponding GLS-HPs. In contrast, microwave cooking is extremely efficient at inactivating myrosinase.” BTW – there were no footnoted references for these statements.

    1. Sorry I wasn’t clearer. The myrosinase is the enzyme I’m talking about. If you prechop, the enzyme has a chance to do it’s job and so then can be completely inactivated by whichever cooking method and we still get the preformed glucosinolates (the liver detoxification boosting compounds) into our system. My favorite source, though, is broccoli sprouts, which you can make yourself and always fresh produce at hand for pennies a pound!

  3. Dr. Greger, this is really eye opening information. Thanks for posting. I do have a question, how does steaming broccoli compare to blending raw broccoli?

    1. I think it still counts as raw if there is no heating involved, but I may be wrong. I just see it as a juice version of the original product. If your juicing the food yourself you wont have to worry about harmful ingredients being added like extra sugar or salt or artificial sweeteners.

  4. About 5 years back the Australian Consumer Association “Choice” magazine reported that various studies demonstrated that microwaving veggies destroyed 90% of antioxidants compared to steaming (10%). Few now use microwaves for veggies.

    Here is another quote from ‘Health Day’

    “The first study found that the simplest cooking method was also the worst when it came to preserving nutrients. Broccoli lost 97 percent of flavonoids, 74 percent of sinapics and 87 percent of caffeoyl-quinic derivatives (three different types of antioxidants) when it was microwaved.

    When boiled the conventional way (i.e., not in a pressure-cooker), this green lost 66 percent of its flavonoids; when tossed in a pressure cooker, broccoli lost 47 percent of its caffeoyl-quinic acid derivatives.

    Steamed broccoli, on the other hand, lost only 11 percent, 0 percent and 8 percent, respectively, of flavonoids, sinapics, and caffeoyl-quinic derivatives.”

    The underlying theory was that microwaves induce the rapid vibration of the fluidic molecules inside the plant and so destroy the molecular structural integrity of the vitamins and antioxidants.
    Someone has it badly wrong here, but who?
    It probably depends on which molecules are being tested.
    Is there any definitive evidence here yet as there is a huge disagreement on this important issue?

    1. Sabre, I have read articles that will twist studies around sometimes. If you could please post the studies themselves (or atleast the references) then we can scrutinize both sides.

  5. Hi Dr. Greger,

    I hope you can clear this up for me. In regards to sulforaphane in broccoli …  I understand steaming is the best way to absorb and boost broccoli’s nutrients, but is this true of the cancer-fighting sulforaphane? I tried finding the answer online, but keep reading conflicting reports.Should we continue to eat broccoli raw or start steaming to get the most sulforaphane?

    1.  Hi Jo,

      cooking does in fact inhibit sulphorophane creation under the condition that you do not chop your vegetables before hand. If you chop the broccoli then the sulphorophane is retained.

  6. The fact that absorption of nutrients is a little worse when eating broccoli raw is not necessarily a disadvantage. The beneficial lactobacilli, which thrive on the surface of green vegetables, are killed by the steaming or microwaving. Also, the part that we fail to absorb becomes food for the beneficial bacteria, which they ferment to manufacture many beneficial chemicals, including propionate, acetate, butyrate, and lactic acid, which inhibits the bad bacteria by attacking them with hydrogen ions (acid).

  7. What was the temperature setting when microwaving? Anyone with full access to the article please clarify.

  8. So where is the question about roasting nuts that begins this video answered? I’m curious about raw vs roasted nuts and nutritional values/bio-availablity studies.

  9. Thank you for the enlightening information. I would like to say know if there is any difference between broccoli parts and if any of them are better/wrose than the other in terms of where it carries most nutrition. Are there more nutrients in the stem or in the florets, or are they the same? Thank you!

  10. Daisy, your comment shows your understanding that variety is so important for healthy nutrition. Yes, indeed there are differences between what the stem or the florets of the broccoli can provide you. I can’t answer exactly which one is better, but I can refer you to some research which has investigated the nutrition in various parts of broccoli
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866744 This study looked at total phenolics and sulforaphane contents, and antioxidant and anticancer activities as measured in the leaves, leaf stems, and stems No specific part was singled out as better, but it’s clear each part provides different benefits and for ultimate nutrition we want to eat all parts. Dr Greger’s video summarizes the importance of eating a variety not only of plants, but different PARTS of the plant:
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/apples-and-oranges-dietary-diversity/ Hope this is helpful.

    1. Dear Joan,

      Thank you for taking the time to address my question. I cannot go by without expressing my deepest appreciation for all of the staff members at nutritionfacts.org. You all do a truly wonderful job and while some people don’t care about health and whole foods, the ones who do are very supportive and thankful to you all. I assure you.
      I had seen Dr. Greger’s video (the one you referred) and I read the study. Thank you for providing the materials, but indeed… perhaps it’s one of those cases where “The whole food is greater than the sum of its parts”. No part is better than the other and nutritional benefits vary depending on the type of broccoli and its time of harvest. Quite interesting!! Luckily, I do eat all of the different broccoli parts, mainly because I didn’t want to waste them but now that I know of their properties, even better!
      I highly advise people to try and eat the broccoli stem. For me it’s ALMOST better than the florets. No joke.

  11. Hi there Stephen,

    I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. Thanks so much for your question.

    Baked broccoli seems to keep its antioxidant capacity very well, so go ahead and eat all the baked broccoli you want, ideally finding a way to avoid the unnecessary oils if you can.

    I hope this helps, and enjoy your broccoli!

  12. “Are nuts healthier raw or roasted?” is the very first sentence in the video and then it continues with broccoli… So what is the result Dr. Greger? I found the original study online but it’s beyond a paywall.

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