How Healthy is Your Cooking Style?
Grilled, steamed, sautéed. Poached, boiled, baked. With so many ways to prepare food, it can be difficult to decide what's best. Well, here's a primer on various cooking techniques and the reasons why some are better than others.
While some cooking styles are considered more or less healthy than others, that often has as much to do with your skill level in the kitchen and choice of ingredients as the technique itself. For instance, while fried foods are considered less healthful than most others, that often has less to do with the use of cooking oils than it does with thick breaded coatings and incorrect cooking temperatures that result in excess fat absorption.
When a cooking style like deep-fat frying has a bad reputation among health experts, it also has to do with overindulgence. An occasional piece of fried chicken never hurt anyone, but a steady diet of fried foods over the course of a lifetime can certainly lead to weight problems and other health problems associated with a high-fat diet. For too many people, preparing and indulging in high-calorie, high-fat foods becomes a bad habit, and one that is difficult to break.
Other than poaching, steaming, boiling and microwaving foods, most cooking methods use at least some fat, but none other than deep-fat frying require excessive amounts. Here's how to keep cooking techniques as healthful as possible:
As a cooking method, baking doesn't usually require added fat, but baked goods themselves usually contain a fair amount of fat. To make sure you are using healthier fats, try substituting light olive oil, canola oil or a blend of healthful cooking oils for one-third to one-half the sold fat (such as butter) called for in a cake, muffin, quick bread or drop cookie recipe.
Broiling and Grilling
Make sure meat and other foods are grilled or broiled on a rack that allows excess fat to fall through rather than coat or be absorbed into the food. Choose lean cuts of meat and grill or broil at a safe distance from the flame or other heat sources to avoid charring and smoke flare-ups. Both of these conditions have been linked to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals.
The microwave oven cooks most foods quickly, which saves nutrients, and without added fat, which saves calories. Use only microwave-safe containers and covers to avoid chemicals migrating from plastic or other products that may touch the food.
A gentle form of boiling, poaching is sometimes used to cook seafood or fruit in a minimal amount of water, juice or seasoned broth in a covered pan at a low simmer so that the food maintains its shape yet is cooked through until tender.
Like baking, roasting is done in the oven, but usually at higher temperatures. Roast meat and poultry on a rack inside a roasting to allow fat to drip through.
Sautéing and Stir-Frying
Both of these methods traditionally use fat to cook small or thin pieces of food such as cut-up vegetables and sliced meat or poultry. The difference between the two is that stir-fried food is cooked over a higher temperature and with frequent or constant stirring. In both cases, food can be cooked in a very small amount of oil, especially if you use a nonstick skillet or wok, or by coating the cooking utensil with nonstick cooking spray.
Since boiling foods such as fresh vegetables in water to cover can leach out important nutrients that end up being thrown out with the cooking water steaming is considered a healthier method. To steam properly, place the food in a steamer basket or on a rack that sits well above an inch or two of simmering liquid in a covered pan. Seasonings added to the food or the steaming liquid will help flavor the food.