Ever wonder what the healthiest cooking methods are? Taking into consideration things like vitamin retention and the amount of fat required for the cooking process, sometimes a cooking technique may seem healthy but in fact it could be altered to become much healthier or perhaps a different method could be used all together.
Below is a list of different cooking methods with some of their positives/ negatives discussed.
Steaming your food is one of the ideal cooking methods for a few reasons. Firstly, NO fat is required in the cooking process. In fact, the only thing you need is water. Secondly, it is a great way of retaining the vitamins within the food as well as the flavour, colour, shape and texture.
Thirdly, it is a very quick and simple process!
Common foods that can be steamed include:
- Seafood e.g. mussels and clams
- Additional flavour is easy to add by steaming food on a bed of herbs, lemon slices, or greens such as spinach. These suggestions are a healthier alternative to flavouring with salt.
Microwave cooking is also a good method for preparing food, its benefits are similar to those of steaming – this is because minimal to no water or oil is required. Therefore, water soluble vitamins (particularly vitamin C and thiamine) will not have any liquid to be leached out in to. Additionally, the fast cooking time helps to retain nutrients.
Microwave cooking is not considered to cause any harm to food via radiation.
Stir frying is a great technique. It is a quick process, so less nutrients are lost to extended cooking times. Along with this, only a very minimal amount of cooking liquid (e.g. wine, stock or the juices that form naturally) is required so fewer nutrients will be lost. Any nutrients that are leached out in to sauces or juices are normally consumed with the meal anyway.
This method does not require a lot of oil – particularly if using a non stick pan, in which case none is needed! It is a great way to keep your veggies looking vibrant in colour.
Boiling is a less preferable method of cooking to the three methods already discussed. Water soluble vitamins are lost whilst food is immersed in water. The best way to use this method is by fast boiling where by the food is placed into already boiling water and cooked with a lid on – this reduces the cooking time and therefore fewer nutrients will be lost to the cooking liquid.
One way to make the most of the nutrients lost is to use the cooking liquid as a stock to make soup with.
This is where food is tossed in a very small amount of oil, over a high heat. This method is also quite healthy as only a small amount of oil is required. Using a spray oil is a good way to limit the amount used or by adding oil to a warm pan as it spreads easily and therefore less is required. A non stick pan is again a good idea for this method as no oil is required. Alternatively, a small amount of wine or broth can be used to lubricate the pan in place of oil.
Poaching involves gently simmering food in liquid. This liquid can be anything ranging from water to stock or wine. More nutrients will be lost to the cooking liquid than in other methods, however, no fat is needed in the cooking process. Poultry, eggs and seafood are most commonly cooked in this way.
Grilling is a good way to cook meats. This process allows fat to drip away so the meat does not have to sit in it. It is also useful for cooking vegetables as more nutrients are retained as opposed to boiling. It is a very quick process.
Grilling can be done on a stove top with a ridged grill pan to allow the fat to drip away.
There are 2 elements that should be kept in mind when using this cooking method. Firstly, that the food does not get too charred. This occurs when cooking over a char coal fire. The char (the blackened areas of barbecued foods) contains some chemicals that are potentially dangerous to our health so should be avoided.
The other aspect to watch out for is the amount of oil being used. If a significant amount of oil is used when cooking on the barbecue hot plate, you will end up frying the food in this fat as opposed to barbecuing it.
Place a rack in the baking tray so that fat can drip away, this will prevent meat and poultry from sitting in their own fat. An additional way to make this method healthier is to baste with liquids other than pan drippings such as wine or lemon juice. If you like to use the pan drippings to make gravy, a good tip is to chill the drippings first and then skim the fat off the top once it has solidified – a gravy strainer or skim ladle can be used for this.
Baking is similar to roasting as it uses the ovens dry heat to cook the food. However, it generally cooks the food at a lower temperature. Oil is not necessary to the process but if it is needed, the same strategies to reduce fat content can be used as for roasting.
Shallow frying, pan frying, deep frying – none of these methods are the healthiest way to cook. They all involve the use of oil – whether it be only partly submerging the food in oil (shallow frying) or fully immersing it (deep frying), it leaves the food with a higher than recommended fat content. If you are to fry, pan frying is the best option as just enough oil is used to lubricate the pan.
Cooking methods summary
• Longer exposure to heat and water = greater loss in nutrients.
• B complex vitamins and vitamin C dissolve in water and liquids.
• B and C vitamins are not stored in the body and must therefore be replaced through diet.
• Choose cooking techniques that require as little oil and fats as possible.
• A non stick pan can help greatly towards limiting oil and fat use.
• Choose cooking techniques that limit water or liquid particularly when cooking vegetables.
• Use cooking liquids to make a sauce or stock so the lost nutrients do not go to waste.
• Avoid burning food so compounds harmful to health are not formed.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about healthy cooking methods or want healthy eating advice, Contact us today!
Further information about cooking methods
- For more information on the different types of vitamins: Healthy Active – Vitamins and Minerals
- For more information on microwave cooking and safety: Microwaving-food-and-uneven-heating | CSIRO