Despite the confusion generated by the media about nutrition, the real research points to something quite simple. Cut back on processed foods and eat more natural whole foods. There are indeed some great products you can buy to make life easy, but in essence having the ability to swiftly throw together a quick meal from fresh ingredients is key to having a great diet. But what about cooking? The way we use those fresh ingredients can turn them into a nutritionally fabulous meal, or an uninspiring, nutrient leeched meal.
Here are my top tips for nutritionally sound cooking:
- Cooking vegies
Many nutrients in vegetables are water soluble – the obvious one being vitamin C. This means they are very easily lost if you use the old fashioned method of boiling the veg in a pan full of water and draining before serving. All those water-soluble nutrients are lost in the discarded cooking water. Of course if you’re planning on consuming the liquid too – as in a soup – this is fine. But for other meals the best means of preserving nutrients is to steam vegetables, or stir-fry them.
Microwaving comes close – there is some loss of nutrients but it is minimal with only a short microwave. On that note don’t stress if you are buying frozen veg. These are snap frozen on the day they are picked so in fact often have higher nutrient levels than fresh veg. The latter may have sat several days in transport and in the shop before you consume them.
The other thing I also recommend is making vegies part of the meal and not always the side dish. Add them to casseroles, Bolognese, roast them with your meat and stir them through sauces. This is the best means of boosting your intake and preserving their nutrient content.
- Cooking meat
High heat cooking of meat has the potential to create carcinogenic compounds on the surface of the meat. Try cooking your meat on a medium heat, or slow cooking in a casserole or in a slow cooker. Roasting is also a great method, but again the slower the better.
- Cooking fish
Fish works really well in the steamer. We tend to chargrill or use high heat with foods when in fact the delicacy of fish often works better with a gentler cooking method such as oven baking, steaming or poaching. The great thing about fish is that it cooks really quickly so its perfect for a fast mid-week family meal.
- In general
Think about how you can make half the meal come from plant foods i.e. vegetables and, where it works, a little fruit. Combining boiled brown rice with a whole heap of finely chopped vegies, a drizzle of olive oil and some garlic makes for a far more interesting side dish than steamed rice and vegies alone. Simmering foods, using a slow cooker, roasting, stir-frying, steaming and BBQing are all great cooking methods depending on the meal.
Finally remember there are also advantages to including some raw foods. Certain nutrients are absorbed well from cooked foods, and others from raw. By including both in your diet you maximise your nutrient intake as well as varying textures and tastes. Above all I urge you to get cooking – preparing more of your own food gives you control and allows you to make the most of your diet. Above all make meals delicious and then you’ll be sure to stick to your healthy eating plan.