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Pillar-1 Food: Miacellaneous

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Pillar-1 Food: Miacellaneous

May 11, 2024, 11:24 PM IST 

Fresh vs frozen

Eating fresh, tree-ripened fruits and vegetables is generally the best choice. However, the issue isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Fresh produce is often harvested before it has fully ripened, to accommodate shipping durations. In contrast, frozen foods are picked at their nutritional peak and immediately frozen. When fresh produce isn’t available, frozen options are a satisfactory alternative.

Uncooked vs cooked

Many fresh foods such as fruits, salad vegetables, nuts, and seeds can be eaten uncooked. Consuming them raw is beneficial as they are rich in live, healthy bacteria. These bacteria colonize our colon upon ingestion. In the last century, many negative associations with bacteria emerged due to their role as pathogens causing infectious diseases. This led to a widespread use of antibiotics and antibacterial products like toothpastes, soaps, and cleaning products. However, over the past two decades, we have recognized that our bodies host more foreign cells than our own, and these bacteria—primarily in our colon—have a symbiotic relationship with us. They feed on fiber and resistant starch, producing vitamins and short to medium-chain fatty acids essential for our survival. These bacteria also communicate directly with our brain, influencing many processes and activities.

American gut project (2013-2018)

This significant project analyzed human fecal samples from 40 different countries and concluded that individuals with a greater variety of gut bacteria are healthier and possess stronger immunity against both seasonal infections and major diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. For these reasons, I recommend:

1. Consuming as much raw food as comfortably possible, with at least half of one’s total caloric intake coming from uncooked foods. This can be achieved by ensuring that 20% of our diet comes from each of five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, beans & legumes, and nuts & seeds.

2. Eating a variety of plant-based whole foods each week, aiming for seven different varieties from each of the five food groups.

Best way to cook

When it comes to cooking foods, there are several methods available:

  •  Boiling
  •  Steaming
  • Grilling
  •  Microwaving
  • Baking
  • Stir-frying
  • Deep-frying

Regarding the macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) in food, they retain their nutritional value well during cooking. However, it’s the micronutrients and healthy live bacteria that we need to be cautious about. The two main factors that affect the nutrient value of micronutrients in food are cooking temperature and duration.

It is widely believed that steamed food is superior to boiled food, but this is true primarily in a Western context, where vegetables are often removed from the water after boiling. In contrast, Indian cooking typically involves consuming the water as part of a gravy, making boiling an effective cooking method.

There is also a common misconception that spicy food is somehow less healthy than steamed food. This is a myth; all spices are rich in antioxidants and should be included in meals for better health and immunity. The real concern lies with the use of ghee and oil, which should be minimized or avoided altogether, especially for those trying to reverse chronic diseases.

Microwave cooking is sometimes thought to be unhealthy, but research does not support this view; it is considered as safe as baking. However, there are specific issues with reheating certain foods in a microwave, especially vegetables rich in nitrates like spinach and other leafy greens.

Baking exposes food to higher temperatures and longer durations, making it less desirable than boiling, steaming, or stir-frying. However, baking is an excellent method for preparing whole grain breads. The advantage of stir-frying and broiling is that they expose food to high temperatures but for very short durations.

Deep-frying is clearly the unhealthiest cooking method and should be avoided. Air fryers with stainless steel baskets, however, are a suitable alternative for healthier cooking.

Choice of cookware 

The market offers a wide variety of cooking utensils. Here are some of the best cooking surfaces:

  • Cast Iron: Ideal for Indian food and Chinese-style stir-frying.
  • Glass: Perfect for baking and microwaving.
  • Terracotta: Suitable for water-based cooking that requires long simmering.
  • Stainless Steel: Best used for pressure cookers.
  • Ceramic-Coated: Should not be overheated.

Conversely, the worst cooking surfaces include:

  • Teflon and other non-stick coatings.
  • Aluminum.
  • Copper.

When cooking, it’s important to apply common sense:

  • Avoid roasting dry spices in coated cookware.
  • Do not overheat ceramic surfaces and then add water.
  • Be cautious with part-time hired cooks who may use high heat to save time; do not provide them with coated utensils.

Fresh vs leftovers: The reheating debate

A common question that arises concerns reheating food. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this topic. Some points I’m about to share might be controversial.

Leftover food stored in a refrigerator may be safe to consume later, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it retains all its nutritional value. While the macronutrients generally remain stable, micronutrients diminish over time.

One advantage of vegetables over animal products is their richness in micronutrients, such as vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients like flavonoids and carotenoids. After vegetables—and fruits—are harvested, these micronutrients begin to degrade due to oxidation. This process is influenced by light, heat, air exposure, and time. Although the degradation is continuous, we often arbitrarily assign time limits to freshness. Therefore, stating that vegetables remain fresh for a set number of days can be misleading because there’s no abrupt decline in quality.

There’s a difference between food becoming stale, rancid, or rotten and it becoming less nutritious. A loss of micronutrients reduces a food’s nutritional value, but it can still be healthy and provide macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fats, which are energy sources. However, beyond a certain point, the composition of these macronutrients begins to change, and the food can become toxic.

Certain fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, and apples, are well-protected by their skins and can remain fresh for months in cold storage. However, others, like leafy vegetables and berries, are more exposed. Storing food in a refrigerator reduces exposure to heat and light, thereby extending the nutritious life of the produce. Advanced refrigerators also have separate drawers for produce to minimize airflow exposure.

When fresh vegetables are cooked, their micronutrient content rapidly decays. That’s why it’s advisable to eat freshly cooked food. Ideally, meals should be ready by the time you sit down at the dining table. Eating a salad before meals can be beneficial in this regard. However, in today’s busy world, many people opt to prepare meals in advance—cooking dinner with lunch or making and freezing meals. These practices, while convenient, compromise the micronutrients, especially in vegetables, which loses many of their benefits.

Our complex food distribution system already presents certain inherent disadvantages; produce is often 2-3 days old by the time we purchase it. We may then store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. By the time it’s cooked, up to 50% of the micronutrients may already be lost.

Another factor to consider is that peeling and cutting vegetables exposes their previously protected parts, increasing nutrient oxidation. Therefore, storing peeled and chopped vegetables is not very healthy.

When it comes to reheating foods, several additional considerations come into play. For instance, reheating green leafy vegetables can cause the nitrates they contain to convert into nitrites, which are harmful. Additionally, the structure of some proteins can change when reheated.

Nitrites can react with hemoglobin in the human body, transforming it into methemoglobin, which is incapable of binding with oxygen. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid reheating dishes containing green leafy vegetables or beetroots in microwave ovens.

Moreover, there is evidence suggesting that certain protein structures, particularly in chicken and eggs, may change when reheated in the microwave.

Here are some videos on the subjects discussed in this post that throw more light. 👇

Best way to cook vegetables.

Best cooking method.

How to Cook Greens.

Does Pressure cooking preserve nutrients?

The dangers of baked potatoes

Lycopene benefits; Raw vs cooked tomatoes

Toxins in raw mushrooms ?

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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