For this week’s blog I thought I’d explore a topic that can seem a bit daunting and discouraging but is an important aspect of a healthy diet – cooking your food.
Meal preparation and cooking can make it or break it when it comes to eating a healthy diet, but it’s not black and white. There are many things that you can do to influence how healthy the food that you eventually put in your mouth is and how nutritious those meals become.
Understanding what happens to your food during the cooking process can be interesting, but also quite complex in terms of different nutrients behaving in specific ways. Luckily you don’t need to understand the science to make a difference to your own diet.
If you want to ensure best vitamin and mineral composition in your food, it all starts with preparation. I’m not going to go too much into detail here so that you don’t get too worried or confused but think of this as a good ground rule – fresh is best. Minimising contact with air (oxygen) makes a difference; so cut your vegetables and fruits up just before you plan to use them and if you store them chopped, freezing or air locking them can help preserve the nutrients. Buying whole vegetables or frozen, cut up vegetables are good choices as then you can decide when to expose them to oxygen – which is preferably just before you plan to eat them.
When you are considering cooking your vegetables for a meal, consider this – what you do to them in terms of heating, using oil and the cooking method all impact the outcome and nutrient levels of your food. So again, fresh is best but unless you want to eat a raw diet, this might not be an option. Instead, think of how you could cook the vegetables in your meal to different levels. Don’t worry, here’s an example:
Vegetables used for recipe: Carrots, peas, tomatoes and baby spinach
Order of cooking, first add the tomatoes, let simmer on low heat for 5 minutes, then add chopped carrots, after 5 minutes add the peas, and again after 5 minutes, add the baby spinach on top and take off the heat immediately.
By adding your vegetables in at different times, you can preserve the important vitamins that can be destroyed by intense or prolonged heat. Also by adding vegetables in step by step, your food ends up with a lot more texture and colours.
Preferably always start with the tomatoes, as these make an exception to the rule of heating-destroys-vitamins. According to research, a phytochemical called lycopene occurs in higher levels in cooked tomatoes than in any other food. This compound (which gives tomatoes their distinctive red colour) acts as an antioxidant in the body. Good stuff, huh?
When it comes to making these choices for a healthier diet, it’s important to realise that if you’re just changing your diet from an unhealthy one to a balanced diet – don’t worry about these details at first. Just focus on the overall balance of your diet, once you’re settled into a healthy routine, you can start to focus more on the details, such as food preparation and cooking. The most important thing is to understand that you always have a choice! That choice might come with a little bit more planning and preparation but it’s a choice you can make. It’s a choice for a healthier, more balanced life – and it’s worth every little effort!
Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry" in April 2002