Want to get the most nutritional value out of cooked food? As a rule, rapid cooking techniques are better for retaining nutrients than slower methods. For healthiest results, most experts recommend cooking food thoroughly but rapidly. Try the following healthy cooking methods, described by Catherine Reade, MS, RD, owner of Healthfull Living™ in Littleton, Colorado, to preserve the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
- Healthy Cooking Method #1: Pressure Cooking. A pressure cooker—a pot outfitted with a locking lid—cooks food quickly and healthfully by creating steam under pressure, thereby raising the cooking temperature. This method works well for foods like beans, grains and vegetables. When preparing veggies in a pressure cooker, timing is essential since they can become overcooked in seconds. It is also important to use precisely the amount of liquid called for in the recipe. When cooking grains or beans, allow enough room for them to expand; do not fill the cooker more than half full. To prevent beans and grains from foaming over, add a few teaspoons of oil.
- Healthy Cooking Method #2: Steaming. This method retains most nutrients, since the food is not immersed in water. Almost any food that can be boiled can be steamed, especially any type of vegetable. Invest in a metal steaming basket or bamboo steamer, or improvise using a metal colander in a pot topped with a tight-fitting lid. A large steamer pot is ideal since it provides ample space for the steam to circulate, cooking the food most efficiently. Water will boil away as the food is cooking, so be sure to start off with enough liquid in the pot.
- Healthy Cooking Method #3: Stir-Frying. Stir-frying is a rapid way of cooking small, uniform-sized pieces of food, most commonly mixed vegetables. Thinly sliced pieces of beef, chicken or shrimp can also be stir-fried in a wok or large, nonstick frying pan. Stir-fried meals are healthful because the food cooks rapidly at relatively high temperatures. Very little oil is needed, just enough to form a thin film on the pan. If desired, broth, wine or nonstick cooking spray can be used instead of oil. (Just be sure to add more liquid to the pan as it evaporates.) Gradually add the oil or broth to the pan, heating until hot but not smoking. Then toss in the food and stir constantly until meats are thoroughly cooked and vegetables are just tender and crisp.
- Healthy Cooking Methods #4 & 5: Broiling and Grilling. These two cooking methods expose food to direct heat, leaving it crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and intensely flavorful. Broiling and grilling work well with meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables and even fruit! Try sturdy vegetables whole (like baby carrots or mushrooms), thickly sliced (like red potato wedges) or cut in half (like eggplant). You can either marinate the veggies and cover them with aluminum foil or brush them lightly with oil and put them in a wire basket, which you can turn easily during cooking. Place the vegetables about 4 inches from the heat source and, as they cook, baste them once or twice with broth, marinade or juice. When they begin to brown, turn them over to brown the other side lightly.
With roasting, foods like meat roasts, whole chicken and turkey are cooked slowly in the dry heat of an oven. Roasting temperatures are typically higher than baking temperatures. Almost any kind of fatty or lean meat can be roasted, although the method works best for larger cuts. Sturdy vegetables can also be roasted to intensify their flavors. Whereas vegetables can be roasted on a baking sheet, it is best to roast meat in a broiler or in a roasting pan with a rack so that fat can drip away during cooking. To judge whether the meat is thoroughly cooked, you must insert a good meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the cut.
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