As complex, multicellular beings, we need to eat in order to gain nutrition for metabolic function.
But unlike every other creature on this planet, human beings don’t always simply eat food as it occurs naturally.
In fact, most of the food we eat has undergone some process of preparation.
The most common form of this is of course cooking.
Cooking can be described as the processing of food through heat treatment. This heat treatment alters the structural, and often, chemical integrity of a food item.
Cooking food has numerous intended goals. It is also often heralded as the turning point in our evolutionary development.
In order to understand why that’s the case, let’s look at what purpose cooking actually serves.
Why Do We Cook?
We cook for several reasons, but all these can be summed up as a means to make eating and digesting food easier.
Cooking typically breaks down many of the rigid chemical bonds that maintain the natural structure of the food.
This makes food easier to bite, chew, swallow and digest.
Cooking also serves to rid a food item of many potentially harmful agents.
Pathogens such as bacteria and fungi as well as parasites are easily taken care of by the heat of cooking. This makes food safer and more beneficial. To this end, cooking also helps food last longer, and with some cooking methods, it can even be a form of preservation, warding off bugs and bacteria.
Lastly, cooking tends to make food more palatable. The more palatable a food is, the more of it we will enjoy eating, the more we eat, the more nutritional benefits we receive.
With these three aspects in mind, many scientists theorize that the advent of cooking is what gave rise to our rapid big brain development, thrusting our way at the top of the evolutionary ladder.
But sometimes cooking just isn’t necessary.
When Is Cooking Not Necessary
Cooking becomes more of a drawback that a progressive method when you consider a few instances.
One obvious one is when it comes to fresh fruit. Aside from the odd apple pie or banana bread, there is no need to cook fruit. Cooking such foods often diminishes their nutrient integrity.
When it comes to most plant-based foods, eating as close to raw often yields the best nutritional benefits.
Sometimes its really all about the cooking method employed.
One way of cooking can be totally great in preserving the nutritional integrity of food, while another can totally make a mockery of what you’re about to eat.
Let’s look at a few cooking methods and how they square up when it comes to providing safe, nutritious and delicious food.
Different Cooking Methods And Their Effects
Boiling simply means cooking food in boiling water.
This is considered the simplest and most straight forward cooking method.
Boiling can potentially lead to higher nutrient retention depending on how the method is carried out.
Boiling where water is drained and discarded after cooking often leads to the loss of many nutrients. That’s because the heat treatment, combined with the solvent properties of water can easily lead to many water-soluble nutrients being lost.
If the water is retained as a stock or broth, it can accompany the food along with all the nutrients that were originally inside.
Frying involves the heat treatment of food in a fat-based medium.
Frying takes on many forms and methods. There is stir-frying, or sautee, pan-frying, and deep-frying.
These methods differ mainly based on the amount of fat or oil used.
Generally, the less fat, the healthier since there are less nutrient drain and also less introduction of free radicals that occur as a result of healing oil.
Frying is also dependant on what type of fat is used.
Trans fats are the worst possible choice in case you were wondering.
For best results, stick to sauteeing or stirfrying with saturated or unsaturated fats.
Frying typically retains water-soluble nutrients, but can quickly drain the fat-soluble ones such as vitamin A, K, and E.
Roasting is a dry heat cooking method where heat bears down onto the food in an oven or similar device.
This is a great way of avoiding the inclusion of harmful chemicals such as free radicals and trans fats.
This is, however, a degrading method nutritionally speaking and many vitamins are lost in the process.
Grilling is another form of dry heat cooking, but this time the heat is applied from below as opposed to being from above.
Grilling usually takes place over an open flame, usually combusting wood or charcoal.
This process can make food very palatable, especially in the case of meat.
The only problem is, just like roasting, grilling leads to a diminishing of many important vitamins and minerals as the fluid that drips out during the process, carries a lot of them away.
Both grilling and roasting are great ways for increasing the preservation of foods, extending their shelf or rather, fridge life.
Steaming is a great cooking method from a nutritional perspective.
By using a heat method that doesn’t immerse the food in a fluid-like boiling or frying, but also doesn’t overheat the food as in roasting or grilling, you get much more favorable retention of nutrients, especially those soluble in water.
The only problem with steaming is the taste factor.
With little opportunity to season or cure food during the process, the flavor remains rather plain.
There you have it, 5 methods of cooking and what they mean for you nutritionally.
While each has its pros and cons, it’s important to focus on getting balanced nutrition and perhaps combining different cooking methods for a better nutrient profile in your diet.