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Cooking or Ruining your Food?

Learn more about the different cooking methods and see if you are making the best decisions when it comes to preparing your meals.

Cooking methods have different effects on your food and their components: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The cooking methods that I will mention here include: baking, frying, stir-frying, grilling, roasting, boiling, barbequing, steaming and stewing.

Effects of Preparing Food for Cooking

Perhaps you never put much thought into this, but the way you prepare your food has an effect on its content.

Antioxidants Cutting, slicing, chopping or peeling fruits and vegetables will expose the surface of the food to oxygen. This reduces some of their antioxidant content. To avoid reducing antioxidant capacity, cut food in bigger chunks with a sharp knife and do not peel if not necessary.

Nutrients

As many nutrients are found in the peel, wash your vegetables very well and avoid peeling when possible

The more finely you shred or chop your vegetables, the more quickly they should be eaten. To decrease spoilage, don't cut up fresh vegetables any further ahead of time than absolutely necessary. Though should you prepare food in advance, store the pre-cut food in the fridge to slow spoilage Store produce in the refrigerator (except potatoes & avocados) to preserve nutrient content


Cooking carbohydrates

When we cook carbohydrate-rich food, such as grains and tubers, at temperatures higher than 70°C we help neutralise the anti-amylases they contain, which prevent our digestive enzymes to work. In starchy vegetables and foods this may be a disadvantage as increased absorption of simple sugars causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.


Cooking proteins

High protein foods such as legumes and meat become more digestible after cooking. This is because cooking helps to break down complex protein structures into smaller, simple structures.


Cooking fats

Unlike proteins and carbohydrates, cooking fats generally does not enhance their nutritional value. Fats are vulnerable to heat.


Cooking with fats at high temperatures Your best choices are: coconut oil, butter / ghee Cooking at medium temperatures

You can choose from: avocado oil, olive oil, peanut oil NOT recommended for cooking

Sesame oil

Sunflower oil

Canola oil

Corn oil

How to reduce nutrient loss when poaching, boiling or steaming

Use as little water as possible for poaching or boiling to reduce the loss of water-soluble vitamins and some nutrients.

When steaming, keep the lid on so that you retain all the great minerals and vitamins.

Reduce the cooking time as much as possible, ideally under 7 minutes. When cooking vegetables, only let them boil or steam until they are tender, not soft.


How to reduce nutrients when grilling, barbequing, baking, roasting and stir-frying

Roasting:

  • Covering the meat, poultry or vegetables with parchment/baking paper can protect the meat from turning excessively brown and it cooks in its own juice

  • Refrain from using gravy made from charred meat drippings

Baking:

  • Place food in a container of water (Bain Marie) which modifies the heat so that the food cooks more slowly, does not overheat or overcook

Grilling:

  • Keep food as far away from main source of heat as possible

  • Add marinades to protect the food

Barbequing:

  • Avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface

  • Reduce cooking times (especially at high temperatures)

  • Continuously turning meat over on a high heat source can substantially reduces anti nutrients

  • Do NOT eat the charred portions of meat

  • Always eat grilled or barbequed foods with vegetables and salads to provide the extra antioxidant nutrients necessary to buffer the effects of anti nutrients in food

  • Using a marinade or rub made of garlic, rosemary, and other herbs and spices may lower anti nutrients

Stir-frying:

  • Use oils with a high smoking point (see top list above)

  • Avoid using most oils derived from nuts and seeds as they are not stable

  • Adding a little water or lime juice to the pan can keep the oil cooler and decrease cooking time as food “steams”

Reduce AGEs* in your diet

*Advanced glycation end products are harmful compounds that are formed when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Your preferred cooking methods should be poaching, steaming, stewing, and boiling.

Try to shorten cooking times and keep the temperature to the lowest setting. Some non-starchy vegetables, such as fennel, onion, celery, red cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, courgettes, radish, cucumber, tomatoes and peas can be eaten raw or slightly steamed

Frozen food

Fresh fruits and vegetables are always preferable of course, but frozen fruits and vegetables are acceptable when cost, time, or availability is an issue.

Freezing foods will not affect their nutrient content, but they may lose nutrients, texture and flavour on defrosting, depending on how they've been handled. If your freezing food yourself, then get it into the freezer as soon as you can. If you are buying, check that it has been frozen within a short period of time (for example, within 2-3 hours). Eating frozen foods is always preferable to canned foods.

A note on Raw Food diet

Raw food diet consists of uncooked (or food heated to temperature below 48°C) fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted beans. According to this diet, heating food destroys essential enzymes, making it less digestible and nutritious, as well as having a negative effect on how food is digested, absorbed and used in the body. While I do agree to some extent that certain foods are better eaten raw, I tend to think that every body is different and specifically in certain times of the year, we are more drawn to warmer and hotter meals. Interestingly, Ayurveda - a natural system of medicine, which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago - does not encourage heavy consumption of raw foods or cold foods. According to this approach, raw foods are harder to digest for the body. And even though Ayurvedic practitioners agree that some vitamins, minerals and enzymes get lost in the cooking process, they believe that if our bodies can't digest them either, these vitamins and minerals would be of no use in our system either way. I like to think that the best approach is to eat seasonal and fresh, whether it's raw or cooked, depending on how you are feeling. If you found this content useful and would like to learn more about working with me, please email martadecarlinutrition@gmail.com and you will receive the full cooking method support tools.


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