Healthy Cooking Methods
Baking, roasting, broiling, grilling, frying, steaming, poaching, blanching, simmering, stewing, braising are all methods of cooking that treat food in a different ways. The way in which meals are prepared can make a huge impact on the nutrition of that food. Perfectly healthy food can become very unhealthy depending on the method of cooking.
Let’s discuss each method, it’s impact on food, and whether it is a healthy or unhealthy method. Let’s first assume that what we are cooking is starting off as a healthy choice such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains.
Baking involves applying a dry heat to cook your food inside some type of oven. Food gets brown on the outside while keeping moisture on the inside.
This method can be considered healthy because it requires little or no oil to cook the food. It helps keep fat content and calories down. It's great for cooking lean proteins such as chicken, pork or fish — vegetables such as white or sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and brussel sprouts — and fruits such as apples and pears. It's also a great method for creating healthy one-dish casseroles.
Roasting is very similar to baking as it uses an oven and dry heat. It is done at a higher heat then baking to make the food browner and drier on the outside.
Like baking, it is a healthier method of cooking. It's perfect for cooking vegetables to give them a nice flavor and crunch. The best way to do this is to cut and spread your chopped vegetables on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and drizzled with healthy oil such as olive or avocado. Add the vegetables to the pan, mix into oil, add salt and pepper, spread evenly across pan and cook on at least 425 degrees until nicely browned. Lower heat if necessary to cook through without burning.
This method also uses the oven and is similar to grilling. Broiling uses only the top heat source of the oven and therefore cooks quickly so food can easily be burned.
This is a good method to finish your food already cooked in the oven to get an extra brown finish. Just be sure to keep an eye on the food while it is broiling.
This is a fast, dry and very hot method of cooking, usually done on some sort of bbq or electric grill either indoors or out. It's a great way of cooking because you do not necessarily need to use oil during the cooking process. Since cooking is done with high heat, be cautious of over-cooking or drying out food so you can preserve some of the vitamins and nutrients.
When you grill, marinading food prior to cooking can make it more flavorful. Just be mindful of what you add to the marinade as it can add fat and calories. For your marinade options, think about using small amounts of oil mixed with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon, lime, fresh minced garlic, ginger and spices.
This can be one of many methods, including: Deep Frying, Stir Frying, Pan Frying, and Sautéing. Some are better than others, and some should be avoided all together.
Deep Frying is where food is completely submerged in super hot oil during the cooking
process. This method is one that I completely avoid. Anything you submerge in oil is going to become saturated with it, therefore creating a higher fat and calorie content. Foods that are deep fried can have a days worth of fat in just a few bites. Also, because deep fried foods are cooked in such high heat, a lot of the vitamins and nutrients are destroyed in the cooking process.
Stir Frying is where you cook the food very quickly at high heat in an oiled pan. This can be a good method of cooking dependending on how much oil you use. With just a drizzle of oil, this method can be very healthy. Even though you are cooking at a very high heat, you are cooking very quickly so that you can still retain a lot of the vitamins and nutrients in the food. It's perfect for combining lean proteins and vegetables in one dish. Be sure to cook meats first as they will take longer to cook. Add vegetables once the meat is cooked through.
Pan frying and sautéing are both methods of frying in a pan with oil. Pan frying uses some oil at the bottom of the pan while sautéing uses a small amount of oil to brown your food on both sides. These methods are better options than deep frying but still use oil. Just be mindful of how much oil is being used.
Steaming cooks food with the steam over boiling water. It requires a steamer to be added to your pot so that the food sits above the boiling water to cook — not in the water. This is probably one of the best cooking methods as it retains the most vitamins and nutrients and requires no oil. Meats, vegetables and fruits can easily be steamed.
This is a method of gentle cooking in hot, not boiling water or liquid, and is commonly used for delicate foods such as eggs, fish and fruit. It is a great method since it does not require oils, and retains the food's moisture, as well as vitamins and nutrients.
This a method of partially and quickly cooking food — mostly vegetables — in boiling water, and then immediately submerging it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. It is another good method to retain vitamins and nutrients in your vegetables and prevent over-cooking.
With this method, food is cooked in a bubbling liquid on low heat until it is cooked all the way through. This can be a healthy method depending on the liquid source, ingredients, and added foods being cooked. Something to think about when cooking foods within a liquid is that vitamins and nutrients will be lost into the liquid. For this reason you should include the liquid into your dish as it will hold some of the vitamins and nutrients that have been released from the food. It's a great method for one-pot dishes that include all of your proteins and vegetables.
Similar to simmering, stewing requires liquid, but food such as meat is sautéed or seared first and the food is usually chopped up as it cooks. It's a good method depending once again on liquid, ingredients and food included in dish.
Similar to stewing, food is sautéed or seared first and then cooked in a liquid for long periods of time. Braising usually uses larger meats such as poultry on the bone and pot roasts. It can be another good method depending on the liquid and other ingredients included in the dish.
Most of these methods can be a healthy way to cook your food as long as you are mindful in the choices of foods, liquids and fats being added to the meal. The only one method I would suggest you try to completely avoid is deep frying.
Baking, roasting, broiling and grilling are all methods that use some sort of dry and high heat. These methods are really good as they requires little or no added fat and oils. Because these methods require high heat, be careful not to over-cook or dry out food as this can result in loss of vitamins and nutrients.
Stir frying, pan frying and sautéing are okay but do require some amount of oil. When cooking with these methods, be mindful of how much oil is being used.
Steaming, blanching and poaching are some of the best cooking methods and will retain the most moisture, vitamins and nutrients in your food. Just be careful what you add to to your food once it has been cooked.
Simmering, stewing and braising are all methods that require cooking in a liquid. This can be a great way to cook and retain lost vitamins and nutrients during the cooking process by including the liquid into your meals. What can make these dishes unhealthy is the type of liquid being used. If using a low-fat broth, seasoned water, etc., the dish will be lower in fat and calories, and considered a healthy meal. If food is cooked in whole milks, heavy creams, butter or wine, the added fat and calories will create an unhealthy meal.
When cooking at home, it is easy to make good choices. When eating out, it becomes more complicated. Understanding all of these cooking methods can be helpful. Look for items on the menu that utilize the healthier methods of cooking and pay attention to the types of liquids and other ingredients used in the meal in order to make healthy choices.
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