Be A Healthy Cook
Acrylamide - the carcinogenic chemical you create when cooking at home Over cooking your food can cause cancer – we should be aiming for a light golden brown or lighter colour when grilling, toasting, frying, baking or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables or bread. The saying that "there is no smoke without fire" is true when it comes to overcooking food, and this surprising killer in our kitchen is causing us to re think our cooking habits. The risk of over cooking is two fold; many nutrients, vitamins and minerals are destroyed by heat, but more concerning is the carcinogenic effect of acrylamide. So how do we cook without compromising our health?
It is impossible to avoid completely, but it is useful to know what contains acrylamide. It can be found in a wide range of foods such as crisps, bread, chips and cakes. There are no clear guidelines on safe levels, so try and reduce where possible, as elimination would be nearly impossible. How we store our food before we cook it can affect the levels also, for example, you should never store potatoes in the fridge but keep them in a dry cool place with a temperature above 6 degrees Celsius.
Speed it up
Microwaving is a fantastic way of cooking where you can.Microwaves essentially steam the food from inside out using small amounts of water which is either added or from within the food itself.
Raw vegetables are always the healthier choice, but some vegetables when cooked gently are better for you; mushrooms, asparagus and broccoli to name a few. However, if you are more likely to eat your veg if they are cooked by all means cook them .Steaming is always the most favourable way of cooking vegetables; for example broccoli can lose up to 50% of its vitamin C content when boiled.Keep cooking times to a minimum to ensure you retain as much of the goodness as possible.
Grilling, BBQ and Baking
If you are looking to reduce your fat intake, these are by far the best methods of cooking and using herbs,spices, onions or garlic to flavour your foods.Marinades are great for adding flavour and reducing the risks of charring your food, particularly when you wheel out the BBQ !
With our busy lifestyles it does seem ironic that slow cooking is a perfect way to cook. Slow cooking cooks your food slowly throughout the day, but even though it’s a longer cooking time, it doesn’t reach the higher temperatures.It is a perfect method for soups, stews and casseroles. Also this method ensures any leached nutrients stay in the cooking pot, and there is the benefit that your meal is ready when you return!
Oils - which to use?
Try and chose your oils wisely. Different oils are good for different things;some are better used in dressings and some for frying and sautéing. When certain oils reach a temperature at which they start to smoke, they begin to break down, and the higher the smoke point of the oil, the better. Unrefined oils tend to have a lower smoke point than refined ones, and these are better for deep frying and pan frying, and both are fine for stir frying as it is a lower heat. Extra virgin coconut oil is also good for frying as it also has a high smoke point. Avocado oil has high antioxidant levels and helps the body to absorb nutrients from the food cooked in it. Also be aware of the fats ! Small amounts of trans-fats, which raise cholesterol, can form when using vegetable oils. The NHS tells us to swap saturated fat for unsaturated, but this is too simplistic - certain oils produce large levels of aldehyde, a chemical linked to dementia, heart disease and cancer. In general, oils with less unsaturated fatty acid and a higher saturated fat content produce less aldehydes.
Time it right
Don’t ignore the cooking times on food labels - they are there for a reason! Cooking times ensure your food is cooked to a level that is safe for consumption, but remember not to cook in high temperatures for too long, and be more conscious of your cooking times when it comes to combining ingredients. Always start with the ingredients that will take longer to cook; quick vegetables like courgettes or asparagus can take only take 10 mins whereas carrots and cauliflower will take longer.