It’s a common statement that we are what we eat, and there’s a bit of truth to it. However, stats show that we can actually absorb only from 10% to 90% of the nutrients available from any given food.1 There are many things that factor into how many nutrients we get from our food. For example, digestive disorders can lower the number of nutrients you absorb. In addition, when it comes to raw foods, there is potential for variance before you even eat the food, due to weather, harvest, soil and other growing conditions variables. One area where you have a surprising amount of control, though, is in how you cook your food.
Chances are that you probably already know one way that cooking food affects your health, and not for the better. Deep frying food may be a favorite for taste, but it has been correlated with several health issues.2 This is believed to be due to the high level of trans fats in common frying oils, not to be confused with the healthy fats that you get from cold-water fish, avocados or certain nuts.
It’s important to note that cooking food isn’t always a net negative. In fact, in many cases, cooking food increases nutrient absorption by making certain foods easier to digest. One example is protein. Studies have shown that protein in cooked eggs is 180% more digestible than protein in raw eggs.3 However, most nutrients are decreased by cooking processes, including:
· Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and the B vitamin family
· Minerals, such as potassium and magnesium
· Fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, K, and E
Water-based cooking methods like boiling, poaching and simmering are some of the most popular methods, but for those water-soluble vitamins, it can be one of the easiest ways to lose potential benefits. For example, studies have shown that broccoli, spinach and lettuce can lose up to 50% of their vitamin C content when you boil them.4 This isn’t universal, though, as boiling fish has been proven to be one of the best ways to preserve its omega-3 fatty acid content.5 When it comes to cooking meats, it can be difficult to retain certain nutrients. Grilling and broiling have been shown to significantly reduce B-vitamin levels. The good news is that you have some options that give you better nutrient retention than others. Roasting and baking meats are a bit better when it comes to keeping nutrients, and a good way to help this is adding back meat juices where you can and avoiding overcooking them.
Overall, the best way to cook foods is steaming them, especially for vegetables. Remember what we said about broccoli, lettuce and spinach? Steaming them only reduces their vitamin C content by 9-15%.6 Other ways to help improve your veggies is to cook them in smaller amounts of water or to avoid peeling them whenever possible.
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