We’ve got to admit that we aren’t eating like our ancestors did; straight from the field and cooking our produce just a little, if at all.
And to add to our contemporary woes, we pressure-cook, microwave, deep-fry, re-heat and re-fry. It’s the taste that matters today. Nutritional values can piss off.
But have you ever wondered why chips are labelled junk food but a serving of boiled Irish is considered a healthy meal?
“Depending on the cooking method and what things are cooked in, the levels of some nutrients can be affected, both positively and negatively,” explains Clare Lamwaka, nutritionist.
She says heating can destroy some nutrients, while others are leached out in the water that the vegetables are cooked in.
Deep-frying vegetables is a bad idea
While deep-fried vegetables such as French fries often wet our appetites, they should be highly limited and not just to benefit our waistlines.
These foods, according to Lamwaka create chemical compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which have been linked to an increased risk of developing age-related diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke.
“In particular, people with conditions such as diabetes or chronic renal disease should limit their intake of deep-fried foods,” she advises.
It takes a lot of over-cooking to destroy proteins, so don’t hesitate to boil your fish fillet until it is perfectly cooked. While the right amount of cooking makes protein easier to digest, over-cooking does just the opposite.
Fats are sensitive to heat too
When oils are heated to very high temperatures as during frying, the fatty acids can convert to carcinogenic substances. “Oil should not reach smoking point as it produces compounds which are dangerous to health”.
Also if you must re-use oil, make sure that you don’t heat it unnecessarily, she further advises. “After the first use, cool it immediately, and remove all particles and store in the refrigerator. Don’t use repeatedly as subjecting it to prolonged heat in this way causes it to spoil.”
Boiling is quick, easy, and all you need to add are water and a touch of salt. But the high temperatures and the large volume of water can dissolve and wash away water-soluble vitamins and 60 to 70% of minerals in some foods, especially certain vegetables, recommends Lamwaka. “But boiling is the best way to preserve nutrients in carrots and broccoli.”
“Cooking anything from fresh veggies to fish fillets this way allows them to stew in their own juices and retain all their natural goodness,” says Alex Kigozi, a nutritionist. “And no need to adding fat. It’s better to add a little seasoning first, whether that’s a sprinkle of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice.”
In terms of getting maximum nutrition without sacrificing flavour, grilling is a great option. It requires minimal added fats and imparts a smoky flavour while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender.
But while these are definitely healthy benefits, not everything about grilling is so good for you, says Kigozi. “Some research suggests that regularly consuming charred, well-done meat may increase risk of pancreatic cancer and breast cancer,” he adds
Cooking at high heat can also produce a chemical reaction between the fat and protein in meat, creating toxins that are linked to the imbalance of antioxidants in the body and inflammation, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
This doesn’t mean BBQs are forbidden; just stick with lean cuts of meat that require less cooking time.
No cooking please
Raw food diets have gained a great deal of attention recently, and for good reason.
Many studies suggest there are of benefits of incorporating more raw foods into the diet.
Studies have shown eating the rainbow consistently reduces the risk of cancer.
“Since the diet is mostly plant-based, you end up eating more vitamins, minerals, and fibre, with no added sugars or fats from cooking,” explains Kigozi
But while some raw items might be super-healthy, studies have found that cooking can actually amplify some nutrients, like lycopene in tomatoes and antioxidants in carotenoids such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and the peppers.
Make it the natural way
If home-cooked food is to score above fast food, it’s important that we don’t cook the way restaurants do, by re-heating, re-frying, and freezing all the time.
If you do eat like this and your body seems to be taking it; it’s probably because you are young and healthy. “Young, healthy individuals with a high metabolism rate take longer to show the ill-effects of a nutrient deficient diet”. “In time, everyone has to pay the price of a bad diet,” he keenly adds.
“People may not even relate the problems they are suffering from to their diet.” “It’s the little things such as skin problems, lowered immunity or simply fatigue.” But this is only the beginning.
“Poor nutrition makes one susceptible to not just overweight and obesity but also many diseases ranging from heart disease, diabetes to cancer,” advises Kigozi.