Cooking food can improve its taste, but it also changes the nutritional content. Interestingly, some vitamins are lost when food is cooked, while others become more available for your body to use. Eating primarily raw foods is the path to better health and nutritional benefits.
Boiling, simmering, and poaching is similar methods of water-based cooking.
These techniques differ by water temperature:
- poaching: less than 180°F (82°C)
- simmering: 185–200°F (85–93°C)
- boiling: 212°F (100°C)
Vegetables are generally a great source of vitamin C, but a large amount of it is lost when they’re cooked in water. In fact, boiling reduces vitamin C content more than any other cooking method. Broccoli, spinach, and lettuce may lose up to 50% or more of their vitamin C when boiled. Because vitamin C is water-soluble and sensitive to heat, it can leach out of vegetables when they’re immersed in hot water. B vitamins are heat sensitive. Up to 60% of thiamine, niacin, and other B vitamins may be lost when meat is simmered and its juices runoff.
However, when the liquid containing these juices is consumed, 100% of the minerals and 70–90% of B vitamins are retained.
Broiling entails cooking food under high, direct heat for a short period of time. Broiling is a great way to cook tender cuts of meat, but may not be ideal for cooking veggies, as they can dry out easily. The hotter temperature also tends to degrade the enzymes in the produce, causing more nutrient losses
In terms of getting maximum nutrition without sacrificing flavor, grilling is a great cooking method. It requires minimal added fats and imparts a smoky flavor while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender. While these are definitely healthy benefits, not everything about grilling is so peachy
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 and keep dark meats on the rarer side.
While this method does require some oil in the pan, it should only be a moderate amount just enough to get a nice sear on your meat and veggies. It’s effective for bite-size pieces of meat, grains like rice and quinoa, and thin-cut veggies like bell peppers, julienned carrots, and snow peas. Cooking veggies in a little bit of olive oil may increase the antioxidant capacity of the food. This may come as no surprise, as olive oil is a large part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
No Cooking (Raw)
Raw food diets have gained tons of attention and for good reason. there are benefits to incorporating more raw foods into the diet. Since the diet is mostly plant-based, more vitamins, minerals, and fiber are consumed with no added sugars or fats from cooking. And while some raw items might be super healthy, cooking can actually amplify some nutrients, like lycopene in tomatoes and antioxidants in carotenoids such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and peppers.
Tips to Maximize Nutrient Retention During Cooking Food
Here are 10 tips to reduce nutrient loss while cooking:
- Use as little water as possible when poaching or boiling.
- Consume the liquid left in the pan after cooking vegetables.
- Add back juices from meat that drip into the pan.
- Don’t peel vegetables until after cooking them. Better yet, don’t peel at all to maximize their fiber and nutrient density.
- Cook vegetables in smaller amounts of water to reduce the loss of vitamin C and B vitamins.
- Try to eat any cooked vegetables within a day or two, as their vitamin C content may continue to decline when the cooked food is exposed to air.
- Cut food after rather than before cooking, if possible. When food is cooked whole, less of it is exposed to heat and water.
- Cook vegetables for only a few minutes whenever possible.
- When cooking meat, poultry, and fish, use the shortest cooking time needed for safe consumption.
- Don’t use baking soda when cooking vegetables. Although it helps maintain color, vitamin C will be lost in the alkaline environment produced by baking soda.
It’s important to select the right cooking method to maximize the nutritional quality of your meal. However, there is no perfect cooking method that retains all nutrients.
In general, cooking for shorter periods at lower temperatures with minimal water will produce the best results. Don’t let the nutrients in your food go down the drain.