Often, diet books are so concerned about what you eat that they do not explain how you should prepare these meals to preserve the most nutrients possible. Cooking is not just about nutrient preservation, however; it also entails the bioavailability of nutrients, or how readily these nutrients can be absorbed. The following points are cooking tips we use as a family. They are by no means all-inclusive—we learn how to eat better every day. They do, however, provide a good start on cooking.
1. Some vegetables are better eaten raw, such as lettuce greens, while other vegetables are better eaten cooked, such as carrots and tomatoes. For a full list of fruit and vegetable preparation, see Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.
2. Prepare your produce with a type of fat, in order to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients.
3. There are several main factors in terms of nutrient loss and cooking: heat, duration of cooking time, amount of water, amount of fat in the food, direct or indirect sources of heat used, and type of fuel used. Be aware of these as you cook any food. Processed foods in the Modern American Diet are heated to very high temperatures and for long lengths of time—one more reason to stay clear of them!
4. Ideally, cook vegetables in a soup, sous vide in silicone bags (a water bath method), stew in a slow cooker, poach, or steam them. Roast or sautéing are also good—although avoid incredibly high temperatures with long cooking times. We usually roast vegetables for a maximum of twenty to forty minutes, or sauté them for just a minute in a small amount of fat (coconut oil, olive oil, lard, grass-fed butter, or ghee) after steaming on medium-low heat. We do not boil our fruit or vegetables, as the nutrients can leech out into the water.
5. For meat, steaming, a sous vide method, and cooking in soups, stews, and broths on low heat are healthier options. Avoid direct and open sources of heat as far as possible. Open-flame grills can be carcinogenic, especially if you like your meat well done, which can produce potentially carcinogenic levels of heterocyclic amines (HAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), for instance. To get a crispy exterior, you can swiftly sauté or grill the meat, constantly turning it over the source, after you have used one of the methods above. We have the occasional roast chicken, ham, beef, turkey, or lamb, which will braise in an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or wine (see below), and bake in parchment paper or in a covered roasting dish.
6. Acids, such as vinegar and lemon juice, also reduce the risk of unwanted cooking side effects, so use them when cooking all types of food. They are also great for flavor!
7. In terms of nuts, beans, seeds, and grains, soaking and sprouting may be better options than regular whole grains, both in terms of digestibility and nutrient content and nutrient bioavailability. We as a family personally do not experience any additional benefit from soaking or sprouting our quinoa. My daughters, however, do feel that sprouted nuts and beans are more digestible. You may feel otherwise. They can be expensive, so sprout them at home to save money (there are many online resources showing how to do this, for example see http://www.vegetariantimes.com/blog/how-to-soak-and-sprout-nuts-seeds-grains-and-beans/ ).
8. Avoid artificial additives, processed seasonings, and preservatives when cooking. Sodium in salt is a necessary nutrient, and a deficiency in sodium can harm your health as much as an excess of sodium can, yet it should form part of a balanced real food diet. You will find that local, fresh, organically produced, and seasonal foods do not need salt to replace flavor (unlike the MAD foods). Rather, salt such as Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt, in moderate amounts, enhances rather than replaces the beautiful flavors of these real foods.
9. Always wash hand before and after touching the food, use a separate cutting board for meat than you use for produce and grains. Do not wash your meat—this can spread germs around the kitchen. But always wash your hands, before and after handling meat! And remember, keep raw meat at the bottom of your fridge to prevent contamination.
10. Thoroughly wash all your produce items, especially if they come from farmer’s markets or farms. Salad spinners and fruit and vegetable sprays are indispensable in the kitchen.
11. Use pots, pans and dishes that are free of heavy metals, PFOA, and PTFE, as these chemicals can have adverse health effects. We use stainless steel and ceramic cookware, or non-stick cookware that is free of heavy metals, PFOA, and PTFE. We use Tfal's nonstick pots and pans, as well as cermaic cookware.