What is the Healthiest Way to Cook Food
If you’ve started eating healthier but you aren’t seeing the increased energy levels or other health improvements you were hoping for, you may not be using the healthiest way to cook your foods. Certain foods experience nutrient loss during cooking that can make the foods you thought were healthy not as healthy as you had hoped.
In this article, we will cover the basics of which is the healthiest way of cooking and why, so you can ensure your method of cooking is the best to retain the nutrients in your foods.
Why is it Important to Know Which Cooking Method is Healthiest?
We often like to tell ourselves that we are making healthy decisions even if subconsciously we know it isn’t the healthiest way to do something.
As an example, you can add a healthy helping of vegetables as a side to your chicken for dinner. However, if you’ve drenched your chicken in a sodium-filled marinade and the veggies in a buttery cheese sauce, they’re definitely not going to help you lose weight or improve your cholesterol.
The method of heating up your vegetables and meats has this same impact on how healthy the food you consume is. Generally, we know that frying our foods isn’t healthy, but sometimes we think that just switching the oil we use or air frying will be a healthier alternative, but medical studies suggest otherwise. Air frying actually increased cholesterol levels in a study.
Another thing is that certain methods of cooking will actually reduce the nutrients in our foods leaving them to be merely extra calories without the added benefits. This leaves us deficient in the minerals and nutrients we were trying to increase.
How to Improve the Quality of Your Food Before Cooking
The foods that we have become accustomed to are often riddled with extra fat, sodium, and sugar resulting in unhealthy addictions to these substances.
Fat, sodium, and sugar addictions are a leading cause of obesity and associated metabolic disorders.
There is a reward system in our brains that release dopamine and other neurotransmitters when we are exposed to certain stimulants. Some people’s systems are overactive which leads to addiction problems when they intake these stimulants like alcohol, drugs, and now even food types.
If we can help our bodies to rewire our brains through our gut microbes, we are able to fight this addictive response to unhealthy foods. The gut-brain axis has been shown to help improve all types of addiction cases (food-related and not).
Choosing healthier marinade options for our foods can be a first step in the right direction. Choosing more vinegar-based marinades can add extra flavor and health benefits unlike the sugar or salt-based counterparts. (You can learn more about marinade types in this article)
What Cooking Method is Best for Retaining Nutrients
This answer is going to be different between each food item but generally, there are a few good rules to follow based on the type of food.
- Meats should be cooked on low heat for longer periods of time (especially while grilling)
- Vegetables should be cooked for the shortest amount of time possible to retain the majority of nutrients
Healthiest Ways to Cook Meat
Meats are often high in fat and sodium just the way they are so your first step to healthier meat is to avoid adding more fat and sodium while cooking it.
Each cooking method has its positive and negative effects when it comes to meat.
Healthiest Ways to Cook Vegetables
Vegetables aren’t as straightforward as meats are when it comes to how best to cook them all.
Some vegetables need to be cooked so you have more nutrients available to you since their walls break down allowing your body to access them. While other vegetables lose all of their nutrients when they’re heated. This can differ based on the health of your digestive tract as well. Certain foods are easier to digest when they’re cooked and don’t cause as much gas or bloating when cooked (like garlic, broccoli, and onion).
- Leafy greens should avoid being cooked because they lose almost all of their nutrient availability when cooked.
- Tomatoes, when cooked in olive oil, actually end up with a higher nutrient content than when they’re eaten any other way. (Though tomatoes raw are extremely healthy too)
- Broccoli should be steamed to retain all of its healthy benefits.
- Some foods, like sweet potato tubers, will retain different benefits with different cooking methods so based on what you want from them, your cooking method will vary.
Generally speaking, when it comes to cooking your veggies, don’t overcook them and you should be okay no matter what method you use. Steaming will always be better than boiling because the less water there is the fewer nutrients your vegetables will lose.
How the Way You Cook Affects Your Gut Microbiome
Based on what nutrients are left in your foods after they’ve been cooked, your microbiome will be affected differently.
You’ll want to try and leave as much fiber as possible in your foods to feed your microbes so they can continue to be nourished and keep a healthy balance in your gut. This means leaving on the skins of most of your vegetables when they’ll be cooked. Cooking can sometimes reduce the amount of fiber in foods, so by leaving the skin on you’re feeding your bacteria more (which is a great thing).
Foods that end up with PAHs or HAAs in them after they’re cooked will feed the bad bacteria and end up releasing chemicals in your body that contribute to cancer and heart disease. Reducing your intake of these chemicals is essential to a healthy microbiome and body.
The best way to ensure you’re getting all of your nutrients is to eat a wide range of foods with limited sugar, sodium, and fat. Eating a mixture of raw and cooked vegetables will help you to get all the nutrients your body needs without the stress of knowing the needs of each individual food. Continue adding new foods and cooking methods to your lifestyle and you’ll find that you’ll be reaping the benefits you’ve been chasing.
Let us know your favorite way to eat each food type and how you ensure you’re getting every vital mineral and nutrient for a well-balanced diet.