It’s heartening to see how many people have recognized that what we eat is vitally important to our wellness and longevity. But it is also true that how we eat- including how we prepare and store our food- is also important to our overall health.
The Making of a Meal
You’ve taken the first step, and you are taking advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season by cooking at home more often. Congratulations! You have made strides into improving your health and the health of your family, as well as enjoying delicious foods not generally found in the take-out line.
However, did you know that the vitamin and mineral value of many of our garden crops has decreased over the years?(1) And that’s before we bring them home to the kitchen. The choices you make when storing, cutting, and cooking vegetables can further reduce their nutrition down as much as half. The best rule of thumb is that the less work you need to to while you’re in the kitchen, the more nutrient value your food typically will have. Reducing or eliminating cooking time, avoiding fried foods and well-done meats (if you eat meat) will go far in preserving the integrity of our fresh produce.
Six Simple Solutions
Some simple modifications to your food preparation methods will minimize nutrient depletion and make you healthier.
- Slicing and Dicing Purchase whole fruits and vegetables- the plastic containers of diced melon and chopped veggies seems convenient, but it’s much better to cut them up just before eating them.
- Raw or Steamed Raw or lightly steamed veggies generally contain more nutrients, but that is not always the case. For more info read this Scientific American article Fact or Fiction: Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones
- Frying Sautéing is actually in the middle ground when it comes to preserving antioxidants. Deep Frying, on the other hand, is the worst offender when it comes to food, exposing us to carcinogens and rancid oils. Deep-fried foods should be eaten only occasionally.
- Boiling Boiling is generally associated with the greatest nutrient losses in both meat and vegetables. Most of these nutrients are leached into the water, so I still can enjoy my homemade soup. :~)
- Microwaving We have a love/hate relationship with the microwave. Studies have shown that vitamin and mineral retention is ideal- due to less water and short cooking time. However, we need to pay attention to the fact that microwave ovens, like our computers, electric clocks, and telephones, are a significant source of EMFs ( electromagnetic field) My own decision? I still use my microwave, although I don’t stand in front of it and watch it while it’s on. (2)
- Grilling In the summertime, grilling is more than a way to prepare food, it’s a fun part of many outdoor parties and family gatherings. Besides, it tastes great! Unfortunately, grilling protein-filled foods such as meat, chicken and fish creates two kinds of chemical compounds that may contribute to cancer: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).(3) But that doesn’t mean you have to put the grill away. There are several techniques and tips for grilling safely and eliminating or significantly lowering your risk of being exposed to HCAs or PAHs. Cooking Light posted an excellent article 10 Tips for Healthy Grilling that I recommend highly.
1.Davis, Donald R. , PhD, FACN, Melvin D. Epp, PhD and Hugh D. Riordan, MD. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. J Am Coll Nutr December 2004 vol. 23 no. 6 669-682.
2. World Health Organization: Microwave Ovens as seen on July 9, 2012. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/info_microwaves/en/
3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts69.pdf
4. Wentz, Myron and Dave Wentz, The Healthy Home, Vanguard Press, New York, 2011.