Cooking of foods is an integral part of our day-to-day life. Cooking makes food easy to digest and helps increase the absorption of some nutrients and makes phytochemicals more available for example lycopene in cooked tomatoes is better absorbed than in raw tomatoes. Cooking also improves the appearance, colour, texture and taste of foods thereby adding variety to meals and kills microorganisms thereby making foods safe to eat and increases the shelf life of the food. The food that we eat must not only be palatable, it should also be nutritious. Neither can be sacrificed at the cost of the other. Hence it is important to select the right cooking method to maximise the nutritional quality of meals.
Here are some ways
* Use cooking methods such as steaming, baking and grilling as they help conserve nutrients and eliminate the need to add extra oil.
* Cook foods in covered pans to save on time and fuel. Cooking in a pressure cooker results in better retention of nutrients as food is cooked in steam under pressure for a short time.
* Do not overcook foods. It results in loss of flavour and water-soluble vitamins and also leads to hardening of proteins reducing its digestibility.
* Never add soda bicarbonate to preserve the colour of vegetables or while cooking pulses. It destroys B vitamins. To preserve the green colour of green leafy vegetable, keep the pan open for a few minutes to allow the volatile acids that destroy the green colour to escape and then cover the pan.
* The whey that is formed during the making of paneer is rich in B-complex vitamins. Instead of discarding it, use it to knead dough, prepare curry, dal or soup. It can also be seasoned with salt and chaat masala and serve as a refreshing beverage after chilling.
* Do not repeatedly reheat and reuse oils used for deep frying. Repeated reheating of oils at very high temperatures causes the oil to break down forming toxic compounds that are irritating to the digestive system and possibly cancer causing. There is also the production of trans-fatty acids in the oils which are detrimental to the heart. To avoid wastage of oil after deep frying, strain the leftover oil and keep it in a clean container and use it for seasoning (fodni) foods or shallow frying.
* As far as possible eat food fresh. Repeated refrigerating and reheating of food results in the loss of nutrients. Hence, it is best to buy a small quantity and cook for a day or two. The other option is to cook food once a week and store them in the refrigerator. At meal time remove the desired quantity of food and thoroughly heat the food either on the gas or in a microwave oven before eating.
* Although grilling of meats on a barbeque or in a tandoor are considered as healthy cooking methods, they can increase the risk of developing cancer if proper precautions are not taken. When the fat from the meat drips onto hot coal or stones, they form carcinogenic compounds like Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) which gets deposited on foods by the smoke or by flame-ups that tend to char the food. When meat is cooked at high temperatures, creatine, a compound in muscle meats, reacts with amino acids to produce another class of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are also carcinogenic.
Here are some tips to reduce the formation of these carcinogens during barbequing
* Marinade the meat or poultry for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Studies have shown that marinades reduce the formation of HCAs.
* Partially steam the marinated meat or poultry before grilling to reduce the cooking time.
* Grill over a low fire to keep burning and charring to a minimum thereby reducing the formation of both HCAs and PAHs.
* Serve the grilled food along with green salad seasoned with lemon or fresh coriander and mint chutney. These foods are rich in phytochemicals that help counteract the effects of eating charred food.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 21 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)