Monday, May 7, 2012

Healthiest ways to cook your food

Last week, I listened to a bunch of podcasts on the food revolution symposium online. I learned some interesting things about nutrition, and found out throughout the week, that most of the speakers were speaking from a vegetarian or vegan perspective. Then I attended in person the Real Food Symposium in Pasadena on Sunday, and found myself in the midst of grass fed beef eaters and raw milk drinkers, and cultured veggie makers. Needless to say, that was quite disorienting and confusing.  There is sooooo much controversy, so many contradictions out there, about which foods are good for you and which are not.

I come away from this week with a lot of questions and only a few solid conclusions:
- Whatever you eat, make sure it is real, natural, unaltered, the way God and nature made it, preferably organic
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked, but make sure you do eat raw green vegetables
- Apparently, cultured vegetables (such as sauerkraut) contain a lot of good bacteria for your gut, so I think I am pretty convinced about that one and will start making my own (that's a later post).
- Eat nuts and seeds, preferably soaked to release the enzymes and ease the digestion of its nutrients
- If you eat grains and beans, soak them before cooking, for the same reason
- Limit or eliminate your consumption of sugar and caffeine
- Use good fats in your diet, always cold pressed unrefined oils, in dark bottles

The rest, whether meat, dairy, grains and legumes are good for you... I'm still trying to figure it out. Once I have sat on all that info for a while and done some more research, I plan on sharing more about all that I learned. Those posts are a lot more demanding than sharing recipes and I feel a sense of responsibility to share accurate info, so my promised posts on healthy oils, GMOs and other things brewing in my mind and in my drafts will be more sporadic and take more time to be birthed.

In the mean time, I am going to try and have a balanced diet with a little bit of everything, except for veggies and fruits, which I am going to have A LOT of. I feel 100 times better since I have been eating that way, and that is one thing that across diets, lifestyles and nutritional recommendations, is recognized as beneficial and healing. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of "Eat to Live", says that "as the amount of raw fruits and vegetables are increased in a person's diet, weight loss and blood pressure are lowered effortlessly". He explains that "raw foods contain enzymes, some of which can survive the digestive process in the stomach and pass into the small intestines", offering significant nutritional advantages to protect against disease. Unfortunately, most foods loose a significant amount of their nutritive value when cooked and/or processed.

Consequently, the way you cook your food not only has an impact on the food itself, but it also has an impact on your health. While eating a lot of raw fruits and vegetables is good for you, it is not always possible, or at least very hard, to eat everything raw.

Cooking food was an advantage for our ancestors when they discovered this option, as it destroys some of the toxins and bacterias that might have affected it. But the downside of cooking is that it modifies the internal structure of what you eat:
- at 120 degrees, enzymes are destroyed
- at 150 degrees, vitamin C disappears
- at 230 degrees, minerals collapse
- at 250 degrees, other vitamins are destroyed
- at 270 degrees, fats are modified, transformed, which leads to the formation of acrolein, a carcinogenic substance.

French fries anyone?

When you heat up a food that contains proteins and carbs, new molecules appear that are not present in the food at its natural state. These molecules have been proven toxic on animals. You can find them in fried or grilled potatoes for example, or very crusty bread, as well as grilled meat.

When you eat cooked foods, your body reacts by increasing its level of white blood cells, depending on the food ingested and the temperature at which it was cooked. This reaction can be limited by starting each meal with a raw food, such as a salad.

So what does that tell us about which foods are bad for us and how we should cook.

In light of this information, here are some of the worst foods for you:

- chips
- french fries or any fried foods
- roasted potatoes
- most things cooked in the oven, in oil, at high temperatures. And yes, that includes your homemade granola :( (but stay tuned for an amazing breakfast recipe using raw cereals)
- barbecued and grilled meat and fish

These are especially bad because of the carcinogenic substance that develops in them when you heat oil.

So what is the best way to cook food? Let's look at the different options you have, with its pros and cons:

1) Steam cooking: probably the best cooking method. It preserves minerals, and taste. the pesticides fall off the food, evaporating into the water below the steaming basket. Fat from meat melts off and falls into the water as well. Do not consume the water.

2) Pressure cooker: if you use it at a low temperature, it will destroy less nutrients. The fact that it is a fast method allows preservation of most vitamins.

3) Dehydrator: Ideal for baking, the highest temperature in a dehydrator is usually 140. I usually vacillate between 95 and 115, which allows the preservation of food properties. The downside is that instead of taking 20 minutes for cookies, it can take 6 to 8 hours. But knowing I am eating raw foods that are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is worth it!

4) Cooking in paper allows you to not use oils. The food cooks in its own juices. However, if you cook this way, favor parchment paper over foil, which is harmful to the nervous system

5) Boiling: you will loose a lot of minerals and vitamins by cooking this way. It's important not to cook for a long time, and to drink the broth or use it for soups.

6) Stir-fry in a wok or frying pan: this preserves the vitamins and minerals, but you need oil, and that's the downside. Always use the bare minimum of oil, which you can spread with a brush, and then add water or cover with a lid. Keep it on a low flame, and keep it short. You may have also heard that teflon contains toxic substances, so it is always better to use a cast iron pan.

7) Crockpot or slow cooker: with such a lengthy cooking process, you will loose a lot of the minerals and vitamins. On the upside, you end up eating the broth of what you make in the crockpot, and I have to say it's a better option to throw a meal in it in the morning, and come home to a homemade dinner, rather than running to the fast food or cooking premade frozen meals, which are loaded in sodium and artificial ingredients.

8) Oven: mostly used for baking or casserole dishes as well as big pieces of meat or fish, it is usually at high temperatures, leading to a modification of the natural food properties, especially fatty foods. Try to limit it to baking, and/or try cooking meat and fish at lower temperatures, and without added fats. In order to prevent dehydration, you may place a cup of water inside your oven to bring humidity and keep the food moist.

9) Grilling and barbecuing: this method is basically carcinogenic. Use in moderation, and if you have a vertical grill (but who does, really?), it's better because the grease doesn't fall on the coals. By burning, it produces carcinogenic (again?) fumes.

10) Microwave: NO! Try not to cook with your microwave. Really. Not only does it transform the molecular structure of your food, but it can actually create new properties, which can be toxic, and which our bodies are not equipped to process. It also produces radiations that you shouldn't be around, let alone your children. I heard this week on the food revolution symposium, that you should be at least 50 yards away from your microwave when it is working, and that may not even be enough.

11) Deep frying: TERRIBLE! for obvious reasons. It's cooked in fat, which is heated, which becomes transfat, therefore toxic and carcinogenic. Avoid at all cost!

While there is a semi order to this list, going from best to worst cooking method, it is ok to use any of these methods once in a while. I certainly do, but I try to keep in mind that on most days, I want to eat food that has preserved its natural properties and that is free of carcinogenic agents.

In a nutshell:

- Eat a raw food before your meal, preferably a vegetable. It will prepare your digestive system for the hot meal and help you digest better
- Steam cook as much as you can
- Bake in your dehydrator or at lower temperatures
- Avoid using oil when you cook, as much as possible. It's better to drizzle your food with cold pressed oil after it is cooked, than cooking it in oil
- Keep a balanced diet and make sure you do eat raw as much as you can. Smoothies and juicing are great ways to do that, as well as eating lots of salads.

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