Cooking Methods 101
Most of us know many ways with which to cook our meats and vegetables. What we don’t know, we consult cook books which tell us how to steam, bake, boil, fry, saute, microwave and so on.
However, what the cook book don’t usually say is that these different cooking methods can enhance, retain or subtract the nutritional value of our food. In fact cooking techniques like deep frying may actually cause more harm than good to our health.
Frying or Deep Frying
This technique cooks food with oil over high heat for a prolonged period. It is one of the common ways of cooking and, unfortunately, one of the least healthy. Prolonged frying over high heat can destroy nutrients in food. And the oil is absorbed by the food, so you are adding more fat to your meals.
You should also pay attention to oil temperature. While oil reaches a very high temperature it becomes toxic and free radicals are produced. When oil smokes, you should throw it away. If you absolutely have to deep fry, use lots of kitchen towels to absorb excess oil from foods like french fries, fish, calamari etc.
Stir Frying or Sauteing
Stir frying or sauteing is probably the healthiest way to fry since it involves very little oil. Used extensively in Asian cooking, this technique involves cooking food quickly with very little oil over high heat. Because it is one of the fastest ways to cook, vegetables high in vitamins, such as broccoli and carrots, retain more nutrients, as well as maintain their texture and color.
This technique uses even less oil than stir frying. Sometimes no oil is required at all, especially when you use non stick pans. However, some nutrients may be lost due to prolonged frying.
Boiling has a bad reputation in the cooking community as not only does it suck out nutrients, it just about kills all the taste in food. Boiling is only ideal when you’re making soup, since you’ll be drinking the nutrient-enriched boiled water!
This is when food is cooked by placing on a rack or special steaming equipment over boiling water, or in a covered pan with boiling water. It is just about the healthiest way to cook as steaming preserves the vitamins and minerals in food. It also uses little or no fat and even helps melt some of the excess fats in foods. When you steam food, you also eliminate the danger of consuming carcinogens that are present in blackened/fried foods.
The most controversial cooking technique of our times, microwaving involves heating food by altering the magnetic polarity of their atom – the positive pole id made negative and then positive, and vice versa. Conventional cooking, on the other hand, heats foods by friction.
As far as nutritional value is concerned, microwaving does retain a good percentage of nutrients, though not as great as stir frying or steaming. However, there is contention that this cooking method may affect immunity and blood cells. The jury is still out on exactly how safe or damaging microwaving is.
Slightly less common in local households, pressure cooking reduces cooking time by up to 70%. Since food cooks fast and little or zero oil is used, this method of cooking brings out the flavor with minimal nutrient loss.
Baking or Roasting
Food is cooked by dry heat generated in an oven. Since little or no oil is used in baking, it is a relatively healthy way to cook.
Grilling or Barbecuing
Both methods require foods to be placed on racks and roasted over coals, under a flame, or in an electric unit. Fat is usually melted by the high heat and drained away. However, due to the blackening or “burning” of the food, carcinogens may be present in the cooked food.
The Bottom Line
Comparing cooking methods, it looks like steaming and stir frying provide the best ways to cook without losing out on nutrients. These cooking methods also require little or no oil, so you don’t add extra fat to your food intake.
There are ways to control the amount of fat you get through oil absorption in food. For example, you could reduce the amount of oil absorbed by eggplants simply by flattening them with a heavy weight first. This squeezes the air out of the eggplant and makes it less prone to soaking up oil.
Leafy vegetables with small stems absorb slightly more oil than those with large stems, as do “hard” vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.
In ensuring healthy cooking, you should also consider the type of oil you use. Where possible, stick to mono saturated oils like canola and olive oil, which are kinder to heart health. However, do note that olive oil is not suitable for deep frying.
All said and done, perhaps the best way to enjoy food is not cooking it at all! After all, raw fruits and vegetables provide the most vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Eat more salads, drink more juice and just lightly cook meats to gain optimum health benefits.