Dark leafy greens, brightly coloured veggies, and fruits that are low in sugar are jam packed with nutrients and enzymes that help the body to detoxify and prevent harmful diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s no surprise that our bodies need these types of nutrient dense foods to survive and to support all bodily functions. But what happens to these foods after they are cooked? In the western world, we’ve been sautéing, deep-frying, and cooking vegetables to create dishes that taste decadent for centuries. The fascinating debate around preparing nutrient dense meals at high heats is: how beneficial are they to our system after they’ve been through this process? Raw foodies have long maintained that consuming foods prepared at high heats destroys their true, nutrient rich spirit, and denatures enzymes that are vital to our digestive health. As a result, raw food eaters prepare their meals at low (under 105-118F) to no heat, which conserves nutritional value and prevents exposure to dangerous diseases.(1)
What happens to my food when it’s cooked at high temperatures?
When foods are cooked at high temperatures (over 118F), important nutrients are lost. Families in typical households cook foods at or above this temperature, and local restaurants go above and beyond. In fact, restaurants generally use deadly deep fryers, in which temperatures sky rocket, giving free radicals a chance to run rampant in oil that has been oxidized at high levels.(2) Heat literally transforms the molecular structure of foods at these high temperatures, rendering many nutrients unusable.(3) When foods are cooked like this, carbohydrates lose important nutrients that your body needs. More specifically, fats and proteins that are cooked at high temperatures not only do they lose nutrients; they are also denatured, which robs them of essential enzymes that aid our bodies in digestion.(4) Without proper digestion, our bodies are at risk for harmful diseases. This is why raw foodists avoid cooking whole foods at high temperatures. Their fresh, low-to-no heat diets ensure complete nutrition density, and maintain the quality of the foods they consume.
I still want to cook my food—how can I best maintain its nutritional value?
Raw food eaters and conventionally healthy eaters certainly agree that the body thrives best on foods that are rich in nutrients and enzymes. Although stocking your kitchen and dinner table with healthy raw foods is ideal, it’s still possible to maintain some nutritional value in your foods when they are prepared mindfully. Preparing your dish with oils that don’t denature, like coconut oil (2), is valuable to the nutritional quality of your food, and decreases the likelihood of exposing yourself to harmful diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Bad Oils such as canola or safflower oil are less stable options, as are Good Oils like hemp oil and flax oil, as they are more likely to form free radical substances that become unrecognizable and unusable to your body when heated.(3) Even coconut oil could potentially be heated beyond its safe point when on the stovetop. This is why many healthy eaters who do cook some foods, but at specific low heat preferences, will do so in water to maintain it’s nutritional value. A very limited amount of coconut oil might then be added to their food in the final stages of low heat cooking for flavor.
Microwave vs. Stovetop heat—What’s the big deal?
If you do choose to cook your foods, steam them or cook them in oils that are nutrient friendly and won’t overheat (like coconut oil, and butter, and avoid any smoking or browning!). Also, try cooking methods that use lower heats like poaching or pressure-cooking, and avoid using a microwave at all costs! Studies have shown that microwaving food products has the strongest negative impact out of all heating options. While lightly steamed broccoli loses 11 percent of its antioxidants, up to 97 percent of nutrition can be lost when microwaved.(1) Gently cooking your foods on a stovetop has been shown to maintain nutritional value and decrease the risk of disease. For example, one study showed that individuals who enjoyed their meat overcooked were 8.8 more likely to develop colorectal cancer.(2) Overcooking ones food is definitely a hazardous option for disease prevention and nutritional quality. Take care of your food if you’re cooking it on the stove top, and avoid overheating to maintain essential nutrients and prevent exposure to free radicals.
Maintaining a healthy body system while preventing harmful diseases is attributed to proper nutrient intake, not calorie counting! So next time you reach for the microwave or processed foods, consider an option that will preserve the beneficial nutrients that your body needs.
Here are my top ten, nutrient dense, food choices that should be served at low-to-no heat, and will boost your energy throughout the day:
- Steamed Broccoli
- Steamed Spinach
- Steamed Collard Greens
- Steamed Kale
- Coconut Oil
- Soaked Almonds
- Soaked Flaxseed
- Fresh Blueberries
- Fresh Raspberries