Vegetables You Should Avoid Eating Raw

There's nothing better than crunching into a hydrating celery stick on a hot day, or the taste of a baby carrot dunked in ranch dressing. Yet these are only two of a wide variety of vegetables many people enjoy raw. 

Whether cooked or uncooked, veggies are ripe with nutrients. However, we're often told that cooking can leach foods of their nutrients. While this can be the case for some food items, there are certain veggies whose nutrient content actually gets a boost when cooked (via Denver Health Medical Plan). Therefore, cooking certain vegetables, rather than eating them raw, allows you to get the most out of your produce haul from the grocery store. 

Additionally, some vegetables shouldn't be eaten raw because they may lead to tummy trouble or potentially dangerous adverse outcomes, reports Prevention. Here we'll break down the potential health risks of six different kinds of vegetables when eaten raw.

The risks of raw potatoes

Cooked potatoes may be soft and crisp, but if you were to bite into a raw potato, you'd be met with a hard texture and bitter taste. This is reason enough to avoid raw potatoes, but they can also cause gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, stomach pain, or diarrhea, explains MedicineNet. Raw potatoes are predominantly made up of resistant starch, which is difficult for the body to break down. Left to ferment in the gut, we pay the price in the form of digestive discomfort. 

Thankfully, resistant starch gets baked right out of a cooked potato. "For the most benefit and least risk from your potatoes, bake, steam, sauté, or otherwise cook them," Ashvini Mashru, owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts, told Prevention. Not only that, but green potatoes have large amounts of solanine. Even minor amounts of this toxic compound can, at worst, damage the central nervous system (CNS) or result in death. If you see any green areas on your potatoes, be sure to slice those chunks off before cooking. (Now that we know green potatoes are out, you might also be wondering: Is it safe to eat sprouted potatoes?)

Rhubarb leaves can be poisonous

Rhubarb is a vegetable whose nutrients may help manage cholesterol levels, support bone health, protect against constipation, and more, reports WebMD. However, rhubarb can come with downsides if eaten in excess. Rhubarb also should not be eaten whole; rather, just the stalk, which can be consumed cooked or raw. Eating rhubarb leaves, on the other hand, can be poisonous due to the plant's oxalic acid content. 

Signs of rhubarb leaf poisoning include mouth blisters, nausea, vomiting, kidney stones, trouble breathing, a raspy voice, and urine that appears red in color, explain experts at Mount Sinai. In severe cases, a person may experience a coma or convulsions. In the event of suspected poisoning, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Granted, rhubarb veggies you buy at the grocery store generally won't come with leaves in tact, but those who fancy gardening will want to be vigilant about cutting the leaves off of rhubarb plants if you've planted it in your personal veggie garden. 

Eating raw yuca can put one at risk for cyanide poisoning

Similar to potatoes, yuca is a root vegetable that contains toxins in raw form (via Healthline). Also known as cassava, you'll often find sweet yuca in the U.S., as opposed to bitter yuca, which is reported to be the more dangerous of the two (via Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal). A primary ingredient in tapioca, yuca root can also be used in the making of some baked goods. Predominantly found in the peel, raw yuca contains cyanide, making consumption of the vegetable potentially life-threatening if uncooked.

In a retrospective 2018 study, researchers analyzed 14 suspect cases of cassava food poisoning reported in the Philippines in 2015, two of which were fatal. Although the cases could not be confirmed due to a lack of thiocyanate present in urine samples (which is what the body breaks down small amounts of cyanide into), almost every case involved the consumption of boiled cassava. The researchers theorized that improper cooking of the vegetables had contributed to the cases and emphasized the need for public education efforts.

Cabbage and sprouts

Cabbage, as well as radish and alfalfa sprouts, are also best avoided raw. Cooked cabbage may be perfect for a hearty stew, but raw cabbage can increase the risk of salmonella or E. coli infection (via HealthShots). The same is true for uncooked sprouts, which also pose a risk for listeria infection. In a 2022 Salmonella outbreak involving more than 60 reported cases across eight states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traced the suspected source of the illness to a brand of raw alfalfa sprouts. Unfortunately, even raw sprouts served at a restaurant don't eliminate this risk, either.

Depending on the severity of the infection, food poisoning can lead to vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and potentially serious complications for vulnerable groups. To help reduce the risk of foodborne illness, cabbage and sprouts are two vegetables that should both be washed and thoroughly cooked before eating. "Sprouts should be purchased fresh — farm-to-market is best — and I recommend that young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are immune compromised avoid them altogether," registered dietitian Lisa Cohn told Prevention.

Other cruciferous vegetables some people may want to avoid eating raw

While cruciferous vegetables have a number of unexpected health benefits, they are better off cooked for some people. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. While they may not pose the same health risks as raw potatoes or rhubarb leaves, these veggies can cause gastrointestinal distress for people with certain health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to experts at Advanced Endoscopy & Surgical Center

For the 10% to 15% of American adults estimated to be affected by symptoms of IBS (via the American College of Gastroenterology), these sulfur-rich vegetables can prompt bloating and gas. They also contain sugars that are difficult for the body to process. However, cooking cruciferous veggies makes it easier for our digestive system to break them down. While a plate of raw veggies may not be a problem for some, if it causes you discomfort, go ahead and turn up the heat.