Methods to maximize nutrition
Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP
Trying to eat healthy? The method you choose to cook your food has a tremendous impact. Here's a quick reference guide to healthy cooking methods and techniques..
Trying to eat healthy? The method you choose to cook your food has a tremendous impact on the nutritional value of your meal. Here’s a quick reference guide to help you make the healthiest choices for cooking.
Steaming is one of the simplest and healthiest cooking techniques. A small amount of water is heated in a covered pot, along with a steamer basket or colander full of food–vegetables are great cooked this way. To preserve nutrients, be careful not to overcook your food (vegetables should still be brightly coloured and slightly crunchy in texture when done).
Benefits: Preserves nutrients, easy to prepare, food tastes great.
Baking is a method of cooking inside the oven used to make breads, desserts, seafood, poultry, meats, and vegetables. Use parchment paper to line baking sheets instead of greasing with butter to making baking even healthier.
Benefits: Typically does not require the addition of excess fat.
Poaching is a wonderful cooking technique for fish, chicken, eggs, and other foods that would become too tough if boiled. Food and water are added to a pan and simmered at low heat on your stovetop.
Benefits: Quick, no unwanted fats, perfect for meat dishes.
Food is cooked in a wok over medium-high heat with continuous stirring of the ingredients, keeping them nice and crisp without burning. When using healthy oils such as olive oil to cook with, it’s best to cook over medium heat to prevent exposure to oxidized or rancid fats. To avoid oils all together, you can also use a small amount of broth (chicken or vegetable) to replace the oil.
Benefits: Incorporates healthy vegetables and proteins, uses healthy fats at medium heat threshold, quick to prepare and clean up.
Occasional Cooking Methods
Saute'ing is a method used to cook food quickly in a pan or skillet over high heat with a small amount of fat (oil or butter). However, any time fats are implemented into a cooking practice that uses high heat, the problem of oxidizing oils arises. To minimize this risk, you can replace oil with a broth. Alternatively, oils with high heat thresholds, such as coconut or grapeseed oils, can be used. Healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil or expeller-pressed canola oil can be used at lower heat points.
Benefits: Convenient method that poses few health issues.
Thumbs-Down Cooking Methods
Health hazards: Research has demonstrated that microwaving foods can decrease nutrient bioavailability, alter the structure of proteins (for example, in formula milk for infants) and cause damage to food molecules we ingest.
Grilling foods that contain fat is less damaging than frying, but browning or burning food creates free radicals. Try to avoid barbecued food, or at least ensure that what you eat is not charred.
Health hazards: Creates free radical damage that can be cancer-causing and inflammatory.
Deep-frying food is one of the worst ways to cook. In addition to exposing you to inflammatory oxidized fats, frying foods adds calories and produces cancer-causing chemicals. This type of cooking should be avoided.
Health hazards: Can cause inflammation, contribute to elevation of cholesterol, and clog arteries.
Take Home Point
There are several cooking options for tasty and easy to prepare food. Don’t be shy–experiment with broths, seasonings, and healthy oils to enhance the flavour of your healthily prepared meals.
When steaming or poaching, add a pinch of your favourite spice to the water to enhance flavour in the food. You can also substitute a vegetable, chicken, or beef broth for water to enhance taste.