When it comes to vegetables, asparagus is the ultimate treat — it’s a delicious and versatile nutritional powerhouse.

Given that it’s usually served cooked, you may wonder if eating raw asparagus is equally viable and healthy.

This article explains if you can eat raw asparagus and presents some of the pros and cons of eating it both raw and cooked.

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While many people believe that you need to cook asparagus before eating it, that’s not the case.

In fact, it can be a nutritious addition to your diet without cooking it at all.

That said, cooking asparagus softens its otherwise tough plant fibers, making the vegetable easier to chew and digest (1).

However, with the right preparation, raw asparagus can be easy to chew and just as tasty as any cooked version.

First, remove the woody ends of the spears — just as you would if you were preparing to cook them.

At this point, you could bite directly into them, but the experience is not likely to be pleasurable.

Instead, use a vegetable peeler, grater, or sharp knife to cut or shred the spears into fine pieces. The thinner the pieces, the easier they’ll be to chew.

You may also consider tossing the pieces in a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar to tenderize the tougher parts of the stalk. Doing so is likewise a great way to add a dash of flavor.

Summary

Asparagus may be eaten raw or cooked. When enjoyed raw, slice it thinly to make the otherwise tough stalks easier to chew.

A softer texture might not be the only advantage to cooking asparagus.

Asparagus boasts a rich supply of chemical compounds known as polyphenols, which are well known for their potent antioxidant capacities (2, 3).

Research suggests that a diet rich in polyphenols may help reduce stress, inflammation, and the risk of several diseases, including heart disease and diabetes (2, 3).

One study found that cooking green asparagus increased its total antioxidant activity by 16%. Specifically, it boosted its content of
beta carotene and quercetin — two powerful antioxidants — by 24% and 98%, respectively (4).

Another study found that the antioxidant activity of cooked white asparagus was nearly three times higher than that of the raw version (2).

Cooking affects the nutritional value

While cooking may enhance the availability of certain compounds in asparagus, it may reduce its content of other nutrients.

For example, one study found that cooking green asparagus reduced the content of vitamin C, a particularly heat-sensitive vitamin, by 52% (2).

How certain nutrients in vegetables are affected by cooking depends on the cooking method, duration of heat exposure, and type of nutrient (2, 5).

A good rule of thumb is to opt for cooking methods that limit water and heat exposure, such as steaming, sautéing, quick-blanching, and microwaving. Additionally, avoid over-cooking your vegetables and aim for a crisp-tender texture instead.

Summary

Cooking asparagus may significantly increase its antioxidant activity, but it may also lead to a loss of certain heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C.

Including asparagus in your diet is a healthy choice, regardless of how you prepare it.

Whether you cook it or eat it raw is a matter of personal preference. Both options add fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients to your diet (6, 7).

For maximum health benefits, mix up your meal routine and experiment with both cooked and raw preparation styles.

Try adding shredded, raw asparagus to pasta dishes and salads. Alternatively, enjoy the spears lightly steamed or sautéed in a frittata, or as a stand-alone side dish.

Summary

Asparagus is a nutritious choice, regardless of whether it’s cooked or raw. Try eating a combination of the two for maximum health benefits.

Asparagus is a highly nutritious vegetable that can be eaten cooked or raw.

Because of its tough texture, cooking is the most popular preparation method. However, thinly sliced or marinated raw spears can be equally enjoyable.

Cooking may enhance antioxidant activity in asparagus, but it can also contribute to nutrient loss. This is especially the case with heat-sensitive vitamins like vitamin C.

To reap the greatest health benefits, consider incorporating both cooked and raw asparagus into your diet. That said, from a nutritional standpoint, you can’t go wrong with either choice.