Nutritionwise: Healthy Cooking Methods for Optimum Nutrition

Do you realize that the cooking methods you choose could negatively impact the nutritional benefits of your meal? The nutrients in our foods are very important to us.  They build and repair our tissues, regulate our body processes and are converted to and used as immediate energy…a miracle, spiritually speaking.  And our bodies look for them as we eat.  But, cooking  foods, especially vegetables and fruits using high heat, water, or both can destroy some of their nutrients. Heat, from a cooking method can break down and destroy about 15 to 30 percent of some vitamins in vegetables.  Raw foodists, who favor primarily unprocessed and unheated food, or food cooked to a temperature less than 104 °F to 115 °F, have believed this for a while and chooses to go the uncooked route for meals. They claim that uncooked food maintains all of it’s nutritional value and supports optimal health. But, don’t fret, other studies suggest certain foods actually benefit from some heating. With carrots, spinach, and tomatoes, for example, heat facilitates the release of antioxidants, which are the nutrients in our foods that breaks down and repair any damaging cell walls, whereby providing an easier passage of the healthy components from food to our body…keeping our immune system healthy. There are many cooking methods, but below are some of the healthiest.

Healthiest Cooking Methods

  1. Microwaving: Microwaving may be the healthiest way to cook because of its short cooking times, which results in minimal nutrient destruction. Microwaves cook food by heating from the inside out. The radio waves ‘excite’ the molecules in food, which generates heat, thereby cooking the food. If you find your food drying out just splash on a bit of water before heating, or place a wet paper towel over your dish…no need for extra oils and the best part is, you can microwave just about anything, from veggies and rice to meat and eggs. Just remember to use a microwave-safe container.
  2. Boiling: Boiling is quick, easy, and all you need to add are water and a touch of salt. But the high temperatures and the large volume of water required can dissolve and wash away water-soluble vitamins and a majority of the minerals, sodium, iron, potassium, etc,  in some foods, especially certain vegetables. But research actually suggests boiling could be the best way to preserve nutrients in carrots, zucchini, and broccoli …when compared to steaming, frying, or eating raw).
  3. Steaming: Cooking anything from fresh veggies to fish fillets this way allows them to stew in their own juices and retain all their natural goodness. And no need for fat-laden additions to up the moisture. It’s always good to add a little seasoning first, whether that’s a sprinkle of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice. 
  4. Poaching: Poaching is often called the cousin of boiling and is a great way to gently cook delicate foods like fish, eggs, or fruit. Basically, poaching means cooking the given food in a small amount of hot water … just below boiling point and a good way keep those nutrients in the food.
  5. Broiling: Broiling entails cooking food under high, direct heat, for a short period, minimizing the loss of nutrients and reduces fat and is a great way to cook thin, tender and uniform cuts of meat (trim excess fat)…. not ideal for veggies, they tend to dry out too easily using this method. 
  6. Grilling: Who doesn’t love that smoky flavor that grilling imparts in food all while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender? While these are definitely healthy benefits, not everything about grilling is so good for you. Some research suggests that regularly consuming charred, well-done meat may increase risk of pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. Wow…now this doesn’t mean BBQs are forbidden… just stick with lean cuts of meat that require less cooking time, and keep dark meats on the rarer side.
  7. Stir-frying: While this method does require some oil in the pan, it should only be a moderate amount … just enough to get a nice sear on your bite-sized pieces of meat and thin-cut vegetables like bell peppers, carrots and snow peas. However, traditional stir-frying, which needs very high heat, is difficult in a typical American kitchen and with a lower oil temperature this could negate the quick cook benefit of stir-frying. Performed properly, however, stir-frying is a reasonably healthful way to prepare food.
  8. Raw food: Eating raw food isn’t a totally new concept.  We’ve always eaten foods like salad greens and vegetables raw, but this method of food consumption has gained tons of attention recently… and for good reason. Some studies show that uncooked food maintains all of it’s nutritional value and eating the rainbow, consistently, reduces the risk of cancer. Depending on the type of lifestyle and results desired, raw food diets may include not only a selection of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but eggs, fish and dairy products also.

Now, as for vegetables, its still a toss up on whether raw or cooked is really best overall.  Where the raw diet is mostly plant-based … you end up eating more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, with no added sugars or fats from cooking, and cooking can actually amplify some nutrients, like lycopene in tomatoes and antioxidants in carotenoids such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and peppers.

As you can see,(see cooking methods above) there are plenty of ways to cook up juicy and flavorful food without adding tons of unnecessary extras, while still retaining, as many as possible, the nutrients our bodies need to live and grow.

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