Saturday, April 13, 2024

How to get the most nutrients from your food

Everyone knows that food always tastes better the next day? Why so?

The longer the marinates, masala, herbs are left to be soaked up by the meat or vegetables, be it in the raw or cooked state, the more they get absorbed by the meat or vegetables making food more flavoursome.

With the percentage of working women on a rapid increase, often weekends are spent shopping for groceries and cooking meals for the week ahead, a way to ease up life Monday to Friday. A lunch tiffin and ready dinner, the only thing needed is reheating.

Why do we cook our food or rather why should we cook our food?

Even though nutrient content is often altered during cooking, a lot of products need to be cooked to help digestion and increase the absorption of nutrients.

An example of a simple food like eggs, the protein in cooked eggs is one hundred and eighty times more digestible than that of raw eggs.

The way you cook your food has a major effect on the retention of nutrients. Cooking methods do indeed affect the nutrient content in food; they can enhance or reduce nutrient value.

1- Boiling, simmering, and poaching are similar methods of water-based cooking, they differ only by water temperature —

  • Poaching: less than 180°F (82°C)
  • Simmering: 185–200°F (85–93°C)
  • Boiling: 212°F (100°C)

It is important to know that Vitamin C and Vitamin B are water-soluble and sensitive to heat, hence when vegetables or meat are cooked in water by any cooking method such as boiling, poaching or simmering, they may lose up to fifty to sixty percent of Vitamins. So do not throw away the water or au jus, drink it up, they have all the nutrients.

2- Grilling, broiling, roasting and baking are methods of cooking with dry heat, grilling is heat from below and broiling is heat from above, an oven is usually used for these methods of cooking. Vitamin B is lost during the process but can be retained in the juice that drips from the meat. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) a cancer causing substance formed from charring and smoke is something to be cautious of and can be decreased by collecting the drippings before they burn.

3- Sautéing, stir-frying, frying, deep frying are methods of cooking using a saucepan, oil and heat ranging from medium to high, the difference between each method is the temperature level, the cook time and measure of oil. The less the heat, oil and cook time, the healthier the food, in fact cooking without water for a short time prevents loss of vitamin B and the addition of fats improves the absorption of plant compounds and antioxidants. If you are using this method of cooking, remember to always use the healthiest of oils, (no refined oil preferred, cold pressed non-refined is excellent) and never over cook the food.

4- Steaming and microwaving are the two best methods of cooking to preserve nutrients in food, including water-soluble vitamins, which are sensitive to heat and water. Microwaving is short cook time, reduced exposure to heat, safe, easy, and convenient preserving most nutrients. Disperse all myths of it being unsafe.


Know that—

-Food must cool down completely before it is stored in airtight containers and refrigerated to prevent it from spoiling often the cause of food poisoning. Usually two hours from the time it’s cooked, is when it is ready for refrigeration.

– The more food is heated, the more nutrition from food is lost, take out only the amount you will consume to reheat instead of the entire quantity.

– Cooked refrigerated food must be consumed in maximum four to five days.

– Frozen food lasts three to four months, again freeze in small quantities its easy with the defrosting.

– Defrosting can be done by transferring the product from the freezer to the fridge and kept overnight or using a microwave.

– Texture and flavor could get compromised every time you reheat food especially if it is not completely thawed.

– If food is improperly reheated, it could cause food poisoning. Reheat food till it is steaming hot; it should reach and maintain a temperature of 70 degrees for two minutes.

-Food should be stirred occasionally while heating to ensure even heating whether in a microwave or on a stove.

– Do not heat leftovers more than once.

– Do not refreeze food once defrosted.

– Serve reheated food immediately.

– The type of oil, temperature, and length of cooking time affect the amount of aldehydes (a toxic substance produced when heating oil to high temperatures) reheating oil also increases aldehyde formation. Aldehydes are a risk for cancer.

– While the mineral content of food isn’t affected by microwaving, the vitamin content does take a bit of a hit when food is reheated. (Vitamin C and the B vitamins are especially affected.) Still, the microwave isn’t the villain that it’s often made out to be.

Studies show —

  • Only 20-30% of vitamin C in green vegetables is lost during microwave cooking, which is less than any other method of cooking.
  • Steaming broccoli, spinach and lettuce reduces their vitamin C content by only 9-15%.
  • Antioxidants in Garlic and mushroom are retained through microwave cooking.
  • The absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than raw ones.
  • Tomatoes sautéed in olive oil increases blood lycopene by eighty percent.
  • Stir-frying reduces the amount of vitamin C in broccoli and red cabbage.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are very delicate and prone to damage at high temperatures, fatty fish the best source of omega-3 fatty acids is better consumed as fish curry, than fish fry.
  • Frying potato with its skin preserves vitamin C and B and increases the fiber in potato by converting starch into resistant starch.


The Verdict—
Does heating food destroy nutrients?

Some minerals and vitamin A are also lost during cooking, although to a lesser extent.

Fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K are mostly unaffected by cooking.

Boiling results in the greatest loss of nutrients, while other cooking methods more effectively preserve the nutrient content of food.

Eating nutritious foods can improve your health and energy levels.

The following nutrients are often reduced during cooking—

  • Water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and the B vitamins — thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12)
  • Fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Minerals: primarily potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium

To maximize nutrient retention during cooking—

  1. Use as little water as possible when poaching or boiling.
  2. Consume the liquid left in the pan after cooking vegetables.
  3. Add back juices from meat that drip into the pan.
  4. Don’t peel vegetables to maximize their fiber and nutrient density, if you have to peel, do so after cooking them.
  5. Cook vegetables in smaller amounts of water to reduce the loss of vitamin C and the B vitamins.
  6. When cooked food is exposed to air their vitamin C content declines. Try eating any cooked vegetables within a day or two.
  7. When food is cooked whole, less of it is exposed to heat and water, cut food into pieces after cooking whenever possible.
  8. Cook vegetables to a minimum whenever possible.
  9. Use the shortest cooking time needed for safe consumption of meat, poultry, and fish.
  10. Vitamin C is lost in the alkaline environment produced by baking soda. Don’t use baking soda when cooking vegetables. it only helps maintain color.

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 so make choices of cooking methods where food is cooked for shorter periods at lower temperatures with minimal water will produce the best results, remains safe for consumption and appealing to eat.

 Don’t let the nutrients in your food go down the drain.


Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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