By Mary Parsons, MS, RD
Raw and cooked plant foods are both good sources of fiber, so fill your diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to meet your quota.
A: While cooking can modify the structure of the fibrous cell walls in plant foods, loss of fiber when cooking is not a real concern. Fiber is tough stuff; it’s the portion of the plant that our bodies are unable to digest (even with all of our specialized enzymes and strong stomach acids), and it’s similarly undisturbed by cooking. Although the cellulose and other indigestible materials in plants are not broken down by cooking, they can become softened; this is why some people who have difficulty digesting raw vegetables may have an easier time with more tender cooked veggies. A technique that can reduce fiber, however, is peeling; removing the skins from certain fruits and vegetables, like apples or potatoes, can cut fiber by 1 gram or more per serving.
In addition to being essential for digestive health, fiber is good for you because it lowers blood cholesterol, reduces the risk of certain cancers, and yields a myriad of other health benefits by feeding the good bacteria in your gut. But how much do we need? The Institute of Medicine recommends that men and women consume 38 grams and 25 grams of fiber each day, respectively.
Raw and cooked plant foods are both good sources of fiber, so fill your diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to meet your quota. You don’t need to worry too much about raw versus cooked; just make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy fiber-rich foods!