Raw Food Debate: Are Tomatoes More Nutritionally Potent when Cooked?

Cooked Tomatoes vs. Raw: Is One Better for You?

Comparing the nutritional content of cooked tomatoes vs. raw, a study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry unequivocally concluded, over 15 years ago, that cooking increases the nutritional bioavailability of tomatoes. This may come as a surprise to the popular notion that fruit and vegetables in their raw form are inherently more nutritious than when cooked.

Understanding Tomato Nutrition

It’s true that cooking causes certain nutrients to leach out of the tomato. Water-soluble vitamin C oxidizes in the heat, its content declining over cook time. The 2002 study found that just two minutes of heat reduced vitamin C content by ten percent; after a half hour, vitamin C content saw a total reduction of 29 percent, in cooked tomatoes vs. raw tomatoes. While vitamin C content fell, lycopene content increased in cooked tomatoes vs. raw. At the two minute mark, lycopene increased by six percent. After half an hour, it increased to 35 percent.

Lycopene is a carotenoid plant pigment and heart-healthy antioxidant that may be released by the cell matrix of the tomato as it breaks down in heat. According to the lead researcher of the study, Rui Hai Liu, lycopene processes ten times more free radicals than vitamin E, earning cooked tomatoes their place in an antioxidant-rich diet. “The research dispels the popular notion that processed fruits and vegetables have lower nutritional value than fresh produce,” said Liu in a press release to Cornell University, where he works as an assistant professor of food science with a research focus on diet, cancer, and chronic disease.

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