Cooking and its effects on nutrition
Preparing healthy meals at home can be cheaper and offer better nutritional value than ready-to-eat processed foods, yet often we are convinced we lead such busy lives we have no time to cook. And let’s face it, some of us just don’t like the idea of cooking. However, for the best chance of making your groceries affordable AND healthy, cooking enters the picture. The good news is that no exceptional culinary skills are needed; most of us can pull a meal together in just 20 minutes.
The best cooking methods
Reconnecting with real food doesn’t just involve the preparation of meals from scratch, but also the actual cooking process. This determines taste and influences how healthy a meal turns out to be once it reaches the plate. How you cook makes a big difference to flavour and nutrition!
Boiling, roasting, baking, steaming, micro-waving and stir-frying are the most preferred methods, but all have a different impact on the nutrients in food. For example, heat diminishes vitamins and phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables; the longer they cook, and the higher the temperature, the greater the loss of nutrients. To retain nutrition keep a weather-eye open for any signs the vegetables you’re cooking are losing their bright colours, becoming duller; this is usually a sign of loss of nutrition. As a simple rule it’s fine to cook vegetables, just keep the duration limited to about 5 minutes if possible and only use moderate heat. And when it comes to maximising the ability to benefit from certain phytonutrients, chopping and cooking makes them easier for our bodies to absorb, while light cooking enhances absorption of carotenoids such as in tomatoes, squash, and dark green leafy vegetables and herbs, and isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.
How about a raw deal?
The amount of nutrient loss caused by cooking has encouraged some people to consume more raw foods, and overall this can be a positive step in many instances, assuming all fruit and vegetables are first washed. However, cooking is beneficial and can be essential in some circumstances as it destroys potentially harmful microorganisms that are present in the food supply, in particular in poultry and ground meats. These should always be thoroughly cooked.
Why home cooking doesn’t always deliver better health
Firing up the BBQ or grilling is a popular cooking method, primarily because of the wonderful taste it imparts to meats. However, this can create a health risk. Two separate types of carcinogenic compounds are produced by high-temperature grilling:
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Formed when meat is directly exposed to a flame or a very high-temperature surface. HCAs have been shown to cause DNA mutation and may be a factor in the development of certain cancers.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs form in smoke that’s produced when fat from the meat ignites or drips on the hot coals of the BBQ. These have also been shown to carry health risks.
Tips to reduce BBQ risks
- Select leaner meats – reducing the amount of dripping fat
- Prevent flare-ups and turn meat often
- Don’t overcook meats; ensure they are cooked through, but NOT burned to charcoal. Use a meat thermometer to check thicker cuts of meat
- Click on this Berkeley Wellness link for further tips
Many people ask if deep frying is healthy? My thought is while it is okay to occasionally have deep fried food it’s not to be recommended on a regular basis. The problem is deep frying breaks down important vitamins and minerals, especially in vegetables, reducing their nutritional value. Moreover, when oil gets hot enough for deep frying its chemical structure changes and it can turn unhealthy.
Favourite cooking methods
Stewing, steaming and roasting are some of my favourites, but always remember some foods require adequate cooking time to ensure safety. Roasting vegetables can be a good way to include a wider variety in our diets, as the flavours of roasting are superb. However, keep temperatures below the oil smoke point. For more information of cooking with oil and fat click here
Move beyond calories
Make eating real food Just Routine
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