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Health-Conscious Cooking

Cooking techniques to store in your healthy cooking toolbox.

We all know that it is important to consciously be aware of what foods we buy and eat. Just as it's important to buy nutritionally dense, minimally processed whole foods, it is equally important to be aware of certain cooking principles that can either benefit or destroy the nutritional density of your food.

The cooking methods you use matter.

You can turn the highest-quality ingredients into a poor-quality meal if you're not a conscious cook. Keep these health-conscious cooking techniques in your arsenal so that you can make your own healthy meals at the drop of a hat (without wasting all the precious health benefits from your food).

Cooking with the right fats.

Certain kinds of seed oils are better to use for drizzling than for cooking, including sesame, flax, and hemp oils; and the same goes for nut oils from walnuts, almonds, and macadamias.

These polyunsaturated fats oxidize when exposed to heat and turn into harmful compounds, but when used to season food after cooking they provide many beneficial nutrients and healthy fats, along with a ton of flavors. Extra virgin olive oil also falls into this category.

So, what should you use for cooking? Avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee are best for high-heat cooking due to their stable fats, which means they have a higher smoking point. If your fats reach their smoke point while cooking, beneficial nutrients will be lost, harmful compounds will be created, and your food will come out with an unpleasant burnt flavor.

Lower and slower is always better.

High-temperature cooking methods can create carcinogenic by-products and turn what was a high-quality cut o meat into a less than healthy meal. When fats and proteins are exposed to high heat, a chemical reaction takes place resulting in compounds called AGEs. Ironically, these harmful toxins accelerate the aging process by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation within the body. The addition to sugar makes this reaction even worse (sorry for all the BBQ fans out there).

Focus on lower-temperature, slow cooking for meat—such as baking, poaching, and stewing—as well as methods that embrace moisture, like cooking in a slow cooker. Using an acidic marinade prior to cooking (think vinegar or lemon juice) can also counteract the negative effects of cooking proteins at higher temperatures.

Soak for Better Digestion.

Grains and legumes are all very healthy, whole foods, but they can be made more easily digestible by soaking them prior to cooking. That's because soaking them in water mimics the germination process, releases greater amounts of certain nutrients, and activates enzymes that will assist your body in digesting them.

Soaking times for grains, beans, and legumes can vary so here's a pretty extensive guide to help you with that.

Avoid Boiling.

When vegetables are submerged in water and boiled, certain nutrients, like B vitamins and vitamin C, leach into the water.

If you toss that water, you toss the nutrients (and money) down the drain.

It's better to steam, sauté, or roast vegetables instead. These practices retain more nutrients, plus they incorporate fat that will help your body absorb certain nutrients. Making stews or soups is also a good option because you consume the nutrient-rich liquid the vegetables cook in.

Coach Cameron

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