You’ve read up on nutrition, you’ve planned your meals and you’ve spent your hard-earned money on fresh, healthy groceries, now it’s time to cook! You don’t want to waste all the time and effort you’ve put into planning and prepping for your meals by cooking food the wrong way. Some cooking methods are better than others at maintaining the optimal nutritional value of foods, while some cooking methods can actually result in some pretty harmful by-products. Here are a few tips to help you in the kitchen.
BEST COOKING METHODS
Sauté in oil at low temperature or stir-fry quickly at high temperature
Either keeping the temperature low or raising the temperature for a short period of time helps to keep cooking oil from changing nature and producing harmful substances. It’s also best to use an oil with a higher smoke point (the oil can be heated to a higher temperature without changing or burning) like coconut oil to prevent this deterioration.
This can be done with a bamboo basket or heat-resistant colander over a pot of boiling water or broth (to impart flavour) without allowing the foods to touch the liquid. Steaming (as opposed to boiling) helps to retain nutrients in the foods rather than allowing them to be leached out and thrown away with the boiling water. Now, if you’re also planning to have the cooking liquid (e.g. in a blended soup), then boiling is less of an issue.
Baking foods in the oven is a great way to prepare foods that require a longer cooking time (e.g. squash, whole chicken or fish). It also helps you to control the amount of fat required for cooking. Worried about food drying out? Wrap all ingredients in a parchment paper, fold the ends closed and place on a cookie sheet in the oven, all the juices will stay in the parchments wrap and make a sauce!
WORST COOKING METHODS
The fact that deep frying is unhealthy should not come as a surprise. For deep frying, oil is heated to a higher temperature and kept high for a longer period of time. This causes changes in the nature of the oil (so even a healthy oil can become unhealthy) and produces by-products that are detrimental to health. In addition to the potential effects on lipid levels, deep fried foods can cause and aggravate inflammation. A good alternative is to “oven fry” by using a small amount of olive or coconut oil (e.g. using a spray bottle), or none at all, and placing foods on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in the oven until cooked, then broiling for a couple of minutes until food is golden and crispy.
When food is submerged in boiling water, nutrients can easily be leeched out and discarded with the water. A better way is to steam vegetables by placing them in a sieve or steam basket over boiling water, this way, nutrients stay inside the food. Another option is, if you boil vegetables, to consume the water by blending it into a soup or other food preparation.
When you darken foods on a BBQ/grill you are creating something called a ‘product of incomplete combustion’, that is, it’s ‘burnt but not all the way’. Through this process, the amino acids (building blocks of protein) found in foods react with creatine to form something called heterocyclic amines. These substances are considered carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents. Because of this, it is best to limit as much as you can the amount of charred food that you eat. When grilling foods, it’s best to cook meat in smaller pieces to reduce cooking time on the grill so you can avoid charring your food. Also, consider partially cooking your food in an oven before you take it to the grill, again, this will reduce your grill time. Finally, stick to leaner cuts of meat as excess fat that drips onto the flames tends to cause flares, which will increase the charring effects on the food.
Frequent use of a microwave to cook or reheat foods can have a negative impact on health in a few different ways. Microwave radiation can change the nature and composition of foods and the nutrients they contain. In addition, this radiation can directly affect our health from long and/or frequent exposure. The packaging materials and tupperware used in the microwave can also leach chemicals into the foods inside. For these reason, microwave ovens should be used sparingly and for short cooking times. They should be well maintained and replaced if damaged. It is also best to avoid direct or close contact with the microwave oven during cooking time. And finally, use only glass/porcelain containers in the microwave, and avoid plastics and “browning packaging”.
*** Stay tuned for an upcoming article on cookware, the good, the bad, and the unhealthy.