Food

The Healthiest Way To Cook Your Food

News: The Curiosity Podcast is here! Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud and RSS.

"Healthy" is a loaded term. Is zucchini healthy? What if it's breaded and fried? Are jelly beans healthy? What if you're running a marathon and need a quick burst of sugar? Is it more important for a "healthy" food to be low in calories or high in vitamins? Nutrition is confusing, to say the least, but depending on your personal definition of health, there are a few cooking rules you can follow to make sure your next meal is wholesome and — ugh — healthy.

Advertisement

Veggies

Vegetables are generally considered the pinnacle of "healthy" foods, but there are about as many types of vegetables as ways to cook them. If a low-calorie meal is your goal, there's one simple rule: ease up on the extras. Go for cooking methods that use little or no oil, since that generally clocks in at around 120 calories per tablespoon. Steaming, blanching, poaching, and grilling are all great ways to go oil-free. Same goes for salads, which can get an added 200 calories or more from a generous helping of dressing.

When it comes to retaining vitamins, it all depends on which ones you're after. Vitamin C is one of the most delicate nutrients there is, and a University of California, Davis study found that fruits and veggies can lose anywhere from 15 to 55 percent of their vitamin C content, depending on the cooking method. The best method for retaining vitamin C? Surprise! The microwave. That's because vitamin C breaks down in the presence of heat, and the microwave requires the shortest cooking time of any method.

But other nutrients, like antioxidants, actually increase in the presence of heat. Boiling could be the best way to preserve the nutrients in carrots, zucchini, and broccoli, for example, although studies say the opposite is true of many other vegetables. And don't discount the freezer and canned-goods aisles: because produce starts losing nutrients the moment it's picked, frozen and canned veggies often have more nutrients than fresh ones.

Starches

When it comes to carbs, leftovers are where it's at. In 2014, University of Surrey researchers found that when they reheated pasta and fed it to volunteers, it caused a much smaller glucose spike than it did when it was fresh. In 2015, Sri Lankan chemistry student Sudhair James found that he could cut the calories in rice by up to 60 percent by cooking it with a small amount of coconut oil, then refrigerating it overnight.

How can this be? It's all about the difference between types of starches. Regular starch is quickly broken down and absorbed as simple sugars, which results in an insulin spike and a feeling of hunger soon after. Cooling pasta and rice turns those regular starches into so-called resistant starches, which aren't as easily broken down and act more like fiber than sugar. That results in a smaller rise in insulin, which helps you feel full for longer.

Meats

If you're looking for low-calorie protein sources, there's a simple rule of thumb: go for as little fat as possible. Fat isn't bad for you, by any means, but it does pack a caloric punch: it contains nine calories per gram, more than twice as much as the four calories per gram in protein (and carbohydrates). That means that lean meats like skinless chicken and fish are a lower-calorie choice than fattier proteins like bacon and ribeye.

It also means that the less oil you use while cooking, the better. For delicate varieties of fish, try poaching or steaming the fillets in herb-tinged water. For heartier fish and chicken, roasting or broiling the meat in the oven can give it a sizzling brown finish. The grill is also a great option, although fair warning: char from the grill has been linked to cancer, so keep your grilling time to a minimum.

Love getting smarter? Sign up to our newsletter and get our best content in your inbox!

The Healthiest Diet In The World Isn't Just About Food

Advertisement