“You are what you eat”
To have a healthy body, one needs to eat good food prepared in a loving and caring way, using good quality ingredients. Research shows that specific cooking methods work differently with different ingredients, either helping extract maximum nutrition or adversely affecting our health.
According to ayurveda, the two most important ingredients in any meal are love and kindness. Without these the ojas or the energy in the food is diminished and all the good properties of the food is lost. Food preparation is an art and in this article we will also be discussing the science behind it.
Why do we cook (objectives of cooking food)
- To improve the quality of food - Cooking of food improves flavor, texture and appearance making it more palatable and easily digestible. For example, roasting of coffee beans brings in more flavor, pulses and legumes are hard in texture and need to be cooked to make it more palatable and easily digestible and make it more bio-available.
- To kill microbes - microorganisms are present everywhere and under cooked foods are a home to vast variety of microbes and their toxins. For safety and hygienic purpose, it is recommended to eat freshly cooked food. Also cooking destroys anti-nutritional factors, enzyme inhibitors which are present in food making it more accessible to the body.
- To make the food more palatable - proteins are generally flavorless, hence cooking by adding various spices makes the food more acceptable and palatable.
Different methods of cooking and their impact on food
- Cooking in Air - Grilling, roasting and baking
- Usually used to cook meat, starchy foods like potatoes and flour
- Cooking is done on a hot surface adding little fat source.
- Such foods have very little nutritional value since it is exposed to air.
- Over roasting causes the formation of acrylamide and nitrites which have found to be cancerous.
- Cooking in water - Boiling, simmering or stewing
- Boiling vegetables in water or simmering in water causes loss of water soluble vitamins and minerals.
- Keeping the lid covered and using minimal water in a vessel with flat and thick bottom helps in retaining nutrients
- Cooking in steam - steaming and pressure cooking
- Steaming vegetables is the best possible method of cooking, retaining maximum nutrients, flavors and colors in the process.
- Pressure cooking fastens the cooking process but the high temperature and pressure destroys some part of the natural flavors and heat sensitive nutrients. However pressure cooking is best suited for pulses, millets and legumes where the loss of nutrients is minimal.
- Cooking in fat - sauteing, shallow frying, deep frying
- Small amount of fat in cooking hastens the cooking process thereby retaining the flavour and nutrients.
- Deep frying at a high temperature causes loss of fat soluble vitamins. Oil heated till the smoking point release free fatty acids which are one of the factors contributing to development of plaques in the arteries. For this reason, always select oil which has high smoking point especially for deep frying e.g peanut and sesame oil.
- Microwave cooking - is the most controversial cooking method. Microwave cooking is ten times faster than cooking by conventional methods. Since it uses less time to cook, the food cooked in microwave retains most of its nutrients. However the safety aspects of the food cooking in microwave is debatable and not much data is available to prove any theory.
Bottom line - The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Keeping this in mind the best cooking methods would be -
- Steaming or sauteing - for vegetables
- Pressure cooking - for meat, pulses, millets and legumes
- Shallow frying/roasting for seafood like fish and prawns
- Boiling for cereals like rice