Healthy cooking to increase the nutritional value of food
Healthy cooking is fun and easy. Whole foods are usually your most healthy 'raw ingredient' as they have the most nutritional value.
So, how do you retain the nutritional value of foods during heating? And which methods are best? Keep reading to find out.
First of all, here's four great reasons to use healthy cooking methods.
1. If grains are cooked incorrectly, the glycemic index will increase because the carbohydrate structure breaks down. Bad for regulating blood sugar and weight loss!
2. If some oils are overheated or reused, they can create unhealthy trans fats. Trans fats are linked with many health conditions.
3. Overcooking fruit and vegetables can reduce these food's
#1: Choose your oils to suit the cooking temperature.
#2: Buy organic fruit and veg and use light cooking methods to retain and even increase the antioxidant vitamin and mineral content.
#3: Soak whole grains before use and cook properly to retain maximum nutritional value.
#4: Soak legumes overnight and cook properly to destroy harmful lectins.
#5: Choose fresh meat, poultry, eggs or seafood and cook properly to minimise harmful bacteria. Fresh meats/fish/poultry have little smell, while potentially bad ones might smell strongly.
Choose the ratios of these foods from the four main food groups show in my new food pyramid
on my healthy food tips page.
1. Healthy Cooking Oils
• If you’re into cooking light, then cook in a little bit of water most of the time, and then add healthy oils for flavour at the very end of your cooking.
• Use only heat-stable oils for high-heat cooking (see table below).
• Store oils and fats at the correct temperature (see table below) and ensure they come in a tinted glass or plastic containers, because light damages the oil structure.
• Nutritional supplement oils should not be shaken as their structure is very fragile and shaking will damage them.
• Buy certified organic, cold pressed oils where possible.
• Rancid oils or fats are toxic and should be thrown away.
The healthy cooking oils table shows you a list of oils and suitable uses and storage.
2. Fruit and Vegetables
• Fruit and vegetables may be treated with pesticides and herbicides. Buy organic where possible, or rinse well in clean water.
• Buy fresh fruit and vegetables and use them within three days of purchase. Locally grown vegetables have less travel and storage time, so are likely to be fresher (and cheaper). Or even better, grow your own vegetables and/or herbs and pick just before use.
• Fruit and vegetables should be eaten raw or lightly cooked to maximise the nutritional value of food. Light cooking leaves vegetables crisp and bright in colour.
• Choose canned or frozen foods carefully. These have already been heated slightly so if you're going to cook canned food, keep the cooking time short.
• Healthy cooking methods that retain the most nutritional value of fruit and vegetables include blanching, steaming or sauteeing. These methods use moderate heat and shorter cooking time. The cooking water is potentially a rich source of antioxidants (2), so use the water from blanching or steaming to make stock or soups.
• Cooking methods that retain the least nutritional value of fruit and vegetables include boiling, baking, frying and worst of all, microwaving (see below for more info). These methods use high heat and/or longer cooking time.
• Try waterless cooking to retain nutritional value (see below for more info).
• Avoid adding salt during cooking as it may leach nutrients from the vegetables. Add salt if desired at serving time.
Grains include cereal crops like wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice and quinoa.
• Whole grains are always the most nutritious choice, but they contain oils that can go rancid over time. Purchase small quantities and refrigerate or freeze them.
• Grains are grown as monocultures (larges fields of a single species) and this type of agriculture is more susceptible to pests and diseases. That means that grains are typically treated with pesticides and herbicides. Choose organic grains wherever possible.
• Before cooking grains, soak them in water overnight and then drain and rinse thoroughly before use.
• To cook grains, bring them to the boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat, then simmer without stirring until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and stand, still covered, for ten minutes before serving. See table below for cooking times and yield.
Legumes are also known as pulses and include different types of beans, peas and lentils.
• Dried beans should always be unprocessed and organic. Avoid canned beans if possible
• Legumes should be soaked in water overnight in water and rinsed before cooking. This will help to remove some of the harmful lectins, which are found in many foods. Lectins are ‘sticky proteins’ which can stick to the gut wall and cause damage, and contribute to diseases like Crohn’s disease, colitis, auto-immune conditions and IBS.
• Healthy cooking of legumes involves simmering for 2 – 3 hours, stirring only occasionally.
5. Meat, fish and poultry
• Meats retain most juices, flavours, enzymes and nutrients when cooked quickly, at low temperature.
• Healthy cooking methods for meats include baking, grilling and steaming. Cooking until rare or medium leaves enzymes in the meat to assist with digestion. Pork is an exception – it should be cooked through with no pink meat in the middle to avoid bacterial or parasitic infection.
• Fish needs a very short cooking time, only a few minutes. The best healthy cooking methods are baking, grilling, poaching and steaming. Poaching liquid can be saved for stock.
• Shellfish must always be cooked to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Oysters are an exception.
• Poultry can be baked or stewed at low temperature. Water can be used for stock. All poultry needs to be cooked properly to minimize the risk of bacterial infection – it should be cooked through with no pink meat in the middle. As you can see, it's important to get your cooking temperature just right. Things like oils, fruit, vegetables and grains should be heated gently and for limited times to maximise nutritional value of these foods.
Legumes, meats, poultry and fish require adequate temperature and cooking time to minimise harmful chemicals (legumes) or potential bacterial problems (meat/fish/poultry).
Now, let's look at two specific cooking methods in more detail.
Waterless cooking is considered to be a healthy cooking method. It typically uses less than 1 tablespoon of water in cooking, so the food is cooked in its own juices at a much lower temperature.
Waterless cooking uses special stainless steel cookware with specific features; high grade stainless steel to protect food, flat bottom for efficient heat transfer, special sealed lid, steam valve, iron core to retain heat.
The cookware is expensive but usually lasts a lifetime and has a long warranty. I think it’s worth the money and own a set myself.
Some of the brands of waterless cookware that are available include Amway Queen Cookware (worldwide), IMCO (Australia), Classica (USA), Health Craft (USA), Vita Craft (USA, Europe, Japan), BIA Cordon Bleu (UK), Chaoan Chances (China).
There is much debate about the risks of microwave cooking.
Dr Mercola cites studies that conclude that microwave heating is different from both conventional heating of food and microwaves from the sun (1).
The studies claim that microwave cooking uses frictional heat which tears apart the molecular structures of food and deforms them, which means lower nutritional value and quality. In some cases, it also refers to the creation of carcinogenic or toxic compounds.
Some studies found that the antibodies in some raw foods like human breast milk were destroyed by microwave heating, lowering the milk’s disease-fighting capabilities.
And a study in Hong Kong showed that microwaving Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) caused much higher loss of vitamins compared to both steaming and boiling.
These and other studies indicate that there are potential problems with microwave cooking and that further investigation is needed.
However, there is apparently a lack of funding for such studies. Wonder why?
(2) Wachtel-Galor, S, Wing Wong, K, Benzie, IFF (2007). The effect of cooking on Brassica vegetables. Food Chemistry 110 (3), 706 – 710.