The Hazards of Overcooking Your Food
Everyone knows the importance of eating more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. But the way they are processed can significantly affect their nutritional value. Often making small changes in how we cook our foods can make a big difference in the health benefits they deliver. The higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time utilized in food preparation, no matter the method, zaps the vitamins and minerals from even the most healthy of ingredients. Turning the heat way up when cooking or baking foods for a long time inactivates the vitamins and minerals packed in food because heat changes their very nature, making them not as easily absorbed by the body.
Baking and grilling are two dry heat methods that significantly deplete food’s nutrition due to long cooking times and high heat exposure. These methods are especially destructive to heat-sensitive nutrients such as vitamin C, some B vitamins, and trace elements. While still employing high heat, even broiling may be a better option because of the shorter cooking time. So, what is a health conscious cook to do? Obviously, the best way to preserve nutrients is the eat fruits and vegetables raw and fill up on salads. Unfortunately, this is not either practical or palatable to a lot of people. Luckily, making a few relatively simple changes to your cooking methods can significantly impact the nutritional punch you deliver to your table. Here are a few suggestions:
Avoid Crispy and Overcooked Foods
Many people find crunchy or browned foods to be more pleasing to the eyes and palate. However, to achieve that texture often requires long cooking times or heat intensive grilling or frying which makes the food less nutritious. Meat cooked in this way is literally transformed when it’s seared and browned, effectively burning it, so its protein cannot be as easily absorbed by the body.
Choose Gentler Cooking Methods
Wet cooking methods can be just as destructive to vitamins and minerals as baking and grilling. Water becomes just another source of loss for all the water-soluble nutrients. However, steaming foods in just a little water or above the water, prevents that nutrient leakage from occurring. Re purposing the liquid used can even further increase your nutritional intake. As long as you keep the cooking time short and don’t douse your veggies with fat-laden sauces, this is a great healthy alternative to raw foods. Keep the lid on the pot and steam just until tender to maximize the health benefits.
Poaching is a quick, gentle, low-fat cooking method that is great for people who don’t think they have time to cook. You can produce healthy, elegant selections in no time by starting with high-quality, fresh ingredients and reducing the liquid to make an intensely flavored sauce. Both meats and vegetables can be briefly simmered in a small amount of liquid of you choice (water, broth, fruit or vegetable juice) until just cooked. Season the leftover liquid and continue to cook it until it’s reduced by half, then pour it over your food for a light sauce. This method works especially well for delicate fish and fragile fruits.
One of the fastest ways to put a healthy meal on the table is with a heart-friendly stir fry composed of your favorite meats and/or vegetables with little or no added fat. With stir frying, the idea is to quickly cook your food at high heat so the vitamins and minerals are retained. It also helps keep the food intact so it doesn’t become limp and unappealing. A large wok or saute pan can be used to cook any number of colorful, nutritious combinations in minutes. The key is in the prep work. Cut all ingredients into similar sizes and start with the longer-cooking items first. Cook just until vegetables take on just lose their crispness and take on an intense color to achieve the most nutritious results. Adding a few tablespoons of water, wine, broth or fruit juice can help round out the flavors in this low-fat and fast cooking method.
The Bottom Line
Anytime food is cooked, no matter by what means, nutrition is lost. So the vitamin C you thought you were getting from that broccoli you cooked last night might not pack the nutritional punch you thought you were getting. When choosing cooking methods, some are more destructive than others. Generally, the less time and lower heat you cook foods with, the more nutrition they retain. Try these easy, quick recommendation for food preparation to ensure you are giving your family the most nutrition…