“You Are What You Eat”
Consuming nutrient-rich foods improves our health and boosts our energy levels. The way we cook our food greatly affects the nutrients contained in it. Various cooking methods affect the nutritional content of our food differently. Cooking via the application of heat is the most common form of preparing food, and it has major effects on the number of nutrients present. While vitamins are one of the most common nutrients present in our foods, they are heat sensitive, and exposing your food to heat for a longer period of time can have damaging effects on them.
However, you don’t have to eat everything raw. In this article we will explain the effect of heat on vitamins and minerals by discussing different cooking methods. You will get to know how various cooking methods affect the nutrient content of your food, then select the best cooking methods to help preserve the vitamins and minerals.
What’s the effect of heat on vitamins and minerals?
The nutrients that are lost while cooking food include water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and the B vitamins), fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), and minerals (potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium). The effects of heat on vitamins and minerals vary with the method of cooking you are using to prepare your food. Every method affects the vitamins in the food differently, so let’s discuss one by one.
1- Grilling and broiling
Grilling and broiling involve cooking your food by using dry heat and are considered the most popular cooking methods because of the amazing flavor they provide to the food. However, the decline in B vitamins and minerals while grilling and broiling is found to be up to 40% because the nutritious juice leaches out of the meat.
Researchers have found that grilled food contains cancer-causing chemicals polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The most important factor that contributes to the production of PAHs in grilling was found to be smoke, formed from incomplete combustion of fat dripped onto the fire. However, minimizing smoke by removing fat drippings can decrease the production of PAHs by 41–89%.
2- Boiling, poaching, and simmering
Boiling, poaching, and simmering involve cooking food in hot water at temperatures of 212°F (100°C), 180°F (82°C), and 185–200°F (85–93°C) respectively.
Water-soluble vitamins found in most vegetables leach out into the water while boiling, and exposure to heat enhances the loss of vitamins, depleting vegetables of their nutrients. Vitamin C in particular is more prone to get destroyed in these cooking methods. Vitamin C content in vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and spinach can decline up to 50% or more when boiled.
B vitamins found in meat are also heat-sensitive, and up to 60% of these are lost when meat is simmered and its juices run off because much of the nutrients are contained in the meat juices. However, if you consume the liquid drained from meat then you can have 100% of the minerals and 70–90% of B vitamins. On the other side, the omega-3 fatty acid content is found to be retained in boiling fish rather than frying or microwaving.
See also: 10 Benefits of Green Vegetables
Microwaving is a safe and convenient method of cooking, especially when you have very little time to prepare food. As the food is exposed to heat for a short time, microwaving helps preserve the nutrients in food. The antioxidant value of vitamins A and E are found to remain intact in microwaved foods.
Research studies have found that microwaving is effective in retaining the antioxidant activity of garlic and mushrooms. Vitamin C loss during microwaving is found to be 20-30%, which is way less than other cooking methods.
One of the best methods for retaining nutrients in your food is steaming. It is found to be effective in preserving heat-sensitive water-soluble vitamins in your food. Research studies have shown that loss of vitamin C while steaming vegetables is only 9–15%.
5- Roasting and baking
Roasting and baking is a method of cooking food with dry heat in the oven. With this cooking method, the loss of vitamin C is found to be minimal. However, the loss of B vitamins in roasted meat is found to be 40% because of cooking meat at high temperatures for a longer period of time.
Frying is the method of preparing food in a large quantity of oil at high heat. It is a popular method of cooking food because of the great flavor it gives to the food. Frying has been shown to retain vitamin C and B vitamin content in food and enhances the amount of fiber present in potatoes by transforming their starch into resistant starch. In contrast, frying tuna can degenerate its omega-3 content by up to 70–85%.
However, researchers have shown that cooking food in oil at high temperature for a long period of time can lead to the production of toxic substances called aldehydes. Aldehydes are found to be carcinogenic, increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Sautéing is the process of cooking food at medium or high heat in a pan with a small quantity of oil or butter in it. Generally, this is considered a healthy way of cooking food. Preparing food without water and in a short time prevents the loss of vitamin C and B vitamins, and adding extra fat in the form of butter or oil enhances the absorption of plant compounds and antioxidants. One study has shown that blood lycopene levels of people eating tomatoes sautéed in olive oil increased by 80%.
Tips to enhance nutrient preservation while cooking
Here are some tips to reduce nutrient loss while cooking:
- Try to cook your food in a short time whenever possible because the longer food is exposed to heat, the more it loses its nutrient content.
- Always use minimum water while boiling or poaching your food and try to consume the liquid left after boiling as it contains nutrients.
- Try eating food, particularly vegetables, raw, which gives you all of their nutritional content. Try consuming vegetables by making salads or by juicing them.
- Avoid peeling your vegetables before cooking to ensure the retention of the majority of the nutrients during the cooking process.
- Try to cut your food into larger chunks to reduce surface area.
- Eat your cooked vegetables within a day or two of preparing because vitamin C continues to decrease in the cooked food when it gets exposed to air.
- Avoid using baking soda to retain the color of vegetables because vitamin C content declines in the alkaline environment produced by baking soda.
- You should avoid reheating your food as it will further decline the nutrient content.
- Try to use steaming over boiling for cooking your food.
- Use an instant pot as pressure cooking is considered the best cooking method for preserving nutrients.
How can an instant pot preserve most of the nutrients?
An instant pot is a smart multi-purpose electric pressure cooker that is safe and convenient to use. The instant pot is designed to build pressure and heat safely inside the pot for creating a highly pressurized environment. It then raises the boiling point of water faster and therefore decreases the cooking time. This shortened cooking time is the product of increased pressure and not increased temperature at all. So an instant pot cooks food at a lower temperature than any other cooking method. Generally, a shorter cooking time and lower temperatures correlates to the great retention of vitamins and minerals.
Many research studies showed that pressure cooking is the best cooking method as it can retain more nutrients than any other method. A study published in the Journal of Food Science has found that broccoli cooked by using an instant pot retained 90% of its vitamin C as compared to 78% and 66% preservation from steaming and boiling respectively.
Researchers have found that pressure cooking is effective in increasing antioxidant activity. Food prepared by pressure cooking is easier to digest, enabling your body to absorb more nutrients from the food. One study showed that pressure cooking using an instant pot is quite effective in destroying anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are compounds that inhibit the ability of the body to absorb and utilize nutrients.
However, a few studies found that pressure cooking can destroy nutrients and can reduce the antioxidant activity of food, but there aren’t enough pieces of evidence against pressure cooking, and more studies are needed to confirm that.
See also: The Best Cutting Board with Containers.
The different cooking methods come with their pros and cons. It is now up to you to take into account the number of nutrients that will be lost in each method and find the one that best retains them. You need to choose the right cooking method to attain maximum nutrition from your meal. A perfect cooking method that will retain all nutrients does not exist. Generally, cooking your food at low temperatures for a shorter period of time using minimum water is found to be beneficial in retaining the nutrients in your food.