It's time to cook dinner and you must make that often difficult choice
of what to fix for your family, so do you pull some beef or chicken, or
maybe tempeh and vegetables out of the fridge? Do you roast it, grill
it or sauté it like most people, or do you poach it or steam it?
The latter options may not be the most common home-cooking methods, but
they may be the healthiest.
Research suggests that cooking food with water-based methods--which, in
addition to poaching, can include boiling, steaming, stewing or pressure
cooking--may reduce the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. "That's
because cooking with dry heat, such as in an oven or on a grill, produces
substances called advanced glycation end products [AGEs], which may trigger
insulin resistance and inflammation in the body," says
Cali Kent, MS, RDN, the Supervisor of Clinical Dietetics at
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Many researchers agree the topic of AGEs and their effect on the body
are deserving of more study, such as their possible role in skin aging,
polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer and the development or worsening of
many chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular, liver, and Alzheimer’s diseases.
AGEs form naturally inside the body when proteins or fats combine with
sugars (glycation). The body naturally rids itself of harmful AGE compounds,
but it doesn’t eliminate them effectively when too many are ingested
through food. “Consumers must make positive food choices, as well
as modify their cooking methods,” says Kent, “eliminating
processed foods and animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein
to prevent ingestion of the harmful AGEs. Add more fruits and vegetables
to your diet which are naturally low in AGEs and rich in phytonutrients.”
Reference the table below for additional food tips.
Foods High in AGEs
Foods Low in AGEs
Sugary items such as candy, cookies, cakes, soda, and pastries
Fruits and vegetables
Processed foods, including packaged meats and cheese
High fat meats, especially red meat
Whole grain, low fat breads
Fats including butter, margarine, and oil
Whole grain pasta and rice
Cooking with water has another health benefit as well, Kent adds. "When
you are sautéing, grilling or roasting, for instance, you need
to cook the food in some sort of liquid and it is natural to use butter
or oil. Butter isn't ideal for cooking with its saturated fat content
and even if you use a heart-healthier oil, you want to be mindful that
any oil has substantial calories--for example, just one tablespoon of
olive oil has approximately 120 calories. With water-based cooking methods,
you can skip the oil or butter. Instead, food gets its tenderness from
the water and can be flavored during cooking, such as squeezing lemon
juice over steamed vegetables or adding herbs to a lentil stew."
"Once you get the hang of some of these cooking methods, you'll
find they are easily adaptable for a wide variety of foods," says
Kent. "They're also a nice way to diversify your daily diet with
the textures and flavors you can bring out in your food." Try your
hand at one of the following cooking styles.
Foods are cooked at low to medium heat--producing a gentle simmer--in water
(or wine or a vegetable stock). This is a delicate cooking method, which
is one reason why eggs work so well in poaching. Aside from chicken and
eggs, poaching can also work well with salmon and veggies; for dessert,
try poaching some pears.
Boiling is probably the most familiar cooking style on this list, as anyone
who's ever made pasta can attest. Put a pot of water on the stove
and heat until bubbles start moving rapidly to the water's surface.
It works with pasta, of course, as well as grains such as rice and quinoa,
eggs and veggies; boiling vegetables quickly to retain their color and
taste is called blanching.
If you know how to boil water, you know how to steam food. Once the pot
of water is boiling, bring the heat down a little so there's still
enough steam coming out of the pot, put food in a steamer basket that
sits on top of the pot (without touching the water) and put a lid on it.
The trapped steam cooks the food so it's tender. Steaming can be done
with vegetables, chicken and fish, and tamales. Any type of seasoning
is usually added after the cooking process is done.
With stewing, food is cooked for longer periods of time on medium heat
in simmering water. It's also closely related to braising--chunks
of meat are submerged in water for stewing, while in braising one large
piece of meat cooks in water that may not entirely cover the meat. Stewing
or braising tenderizes tougher cuts of meat during the extended cooking
time. In addition to meats, produce is another good candidate for stewing--think
apples or tomatoes--and you can save your stewed produce for a rainy day
by learning how to jar them.
If some of these cooking methods sound a little too time consuming for
an average weekday meal, it may be worth investing in a pressure cooker.
Water boils in the cooker, which has a lid to retain steam. Boiling the
water in that sealed cooker increases the pressure, which raises the liquid's
temperature beyond the boiling point, so food gets done faster. Rice,
potatoes and soups are all good for a pressure cooker.