Raw Vegetables Hard To Digest? A Doctor Explains Ayurvedic Eating & Why Cooking Them Is Key
I'm going to start with some advice that may sound strange, especially if you're partial to eating salads: According to Ayurvedic medicine, you might not want to eat too many raw vegetables. You can eat raw fruit (except for apples, which should be cooked), but other than that, most of the solid food you eat should be cooked.
While eating vegetables themselves paves the way for a healthier diet, traditional Ayurvedic medicine states that eating raw vegetables might be hard to digest for some. Here's why.
Why should we eat our vegetables cooked?
Cooking our food does two important things:
- It warms the food, which can increase blood flow to your gut and improve digestion.
- It can make food easier to digest by breaking down some of the cellular matrices so that nutrients are more bio-available.
One study analyzed the effect of cooking on nutrient availability in vegetables and found that cooking in water (such as steaming or boiling) better preserved antioxidant content, especially of carotenoids but also of vitamin C. Plus, antioxidant capacity was improved in all cooking methods. The study surmised that this was “because of matrix softening and increased extractability of compounds.”
Beyond nutrition, however, raw vegetables can simply be hard to digest. Anybody with irritable bowel syndrome knows this. You can chew and chew, but cold, raw food can upset the digestion, especially when it already isn’t working at optimum capacity.
Do you have to give up raw foods entirely?
If you just can't seem to give up raw vegetables, feel free to eat a big salad at lunchtime (I wouldn't recommend raw food at dinner because of lower digestive strength at night). But if you can, you might want to hold off on those raw vegetables entirely and opt for cooked veggies instead. Steam them, sauté them, or poach them—give your digestion that extra boost. Cooking them in ghee can make them even more digestible, because ghee can increase your digestive fire, according to Ayurveda.
If you love salad for lunch, you don’t necessarily have to give it up altogether. Instead, try tossing it in a warm skillet for a minute or two before you eat it, just to warm it up and wilt the greens slightly. Warm salads are delicious! Try a roasted root vegetable salad, or wilted greens with roasted vegetables.
At the very least, consider warming your salads during cold weather. When summer comes and your body is already warm, then it might be better to go back to those cold crispy lettuces you love—but again, it's best at lunchtime when your digestion is the strongest.
As for beverages, if you want to follow Ayurveda, you might want to drink your water warm or at room temperature and avoid iced beverages of all kinds. No ice-cold lemonade, no ice-cold beer, no ice-cold soda, and no ice water.
According to Ayurveda, if room-temperature water and herbal teas are your beverages of choice, your digestion can run more smoothly. Just think about what happens when you stick your hands in cold water or snow. Your fingers may turn white, because the cold reduces blood flow to the area and vessels can clamp shut. When you drink cold liquids, such as iced tea or ice water, the same thing can happen to your digestive tract: blood vessels constrict and blood moves out of the area. The channels that move nutrients in and waste out can close up.
Rather, warm liquids open up channels and encourage that flow. You want blood to flow to your digestive tract, to help facilitate healthy and efficient digestion and carry out waste easily. While there is limited scientific evidence on this process (and much more research is needed!) it's a long-held belief in Ayurvedic principles and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
So what's the bottom line?
While it's always best to follow what works for your body, if you find that raw vegetables and cold beverages are harsh on your digestive system, Ayurveda may have a great reason why. It also may depend on your individual dosha: If you are vata, you might benefit from some warming foods, whereas a pitta may be able to tolerate cooling foods.
As always, consult your doctor before eliminating any food groups from your diet. For now, keep drinking that warm tea—but you may want to ditch the ice in favor of room-temp water.