Cooking is an essential skill that everyone should be competent in. Not only does the way you cook food affect your health and well being, it also influences the degree of satisfaction you get from your homemade food. So what are healthy cooking methods? While you may have taken the leap and thrown out deep fat fryer or cut back on your use of oil, there’s still plenty more you can do to ensure you are cooking your food in the healthiest way possible.

Depending on where you acquired your skills and knowledge, it’s probable that you were taught some old wives tales or that your information has been superseded by new developments in research. Perhaps you’d like to brush up on your knowledge and learn some new nuggets of information, or maybe you’re new to cooking and you want to research how to cook best before you pick up bad habits.

You may be wondering what are healthy cooking methods to use? Is microwave cooking actually safe? What cooking methods causes the greatest loss in nutrients and which ways of cooking are best for people trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle, lower their fat intake, achieve weight loss or follow a muscle gaining programme?

If that’s the case and you’d like to discover how to cook using the healthiest cooking methods and learn some interesting and valuable tips and facts, then this is the article for you!

What are healthy cooking methods? - Woman stirring food in a pot

Steaming:

With steaming, there are no added ingredients that contribute to the nutritional value of the food, e.g. oils, sprays etc. This quantifies this cooking method as a lean, healthy method as foods don’t have to be drizzled in oil and basting ingredients. However, not knowing how to steam foods properly can result in the food tasting bland. This could be counter-productive as it might lead to people reaching for sauces and seasonings which could be laden in sugar, fat and salt.

Broccoli is often a vegetable used to assess the degree of nutrient loss due to cooking. When boiled, broccoli loses as much as 50% of the vitamin C content as it is a heat-sensitive nutrient. The same applies to vitamin B, which is also a water-soluble vitamin. Steaming achieved the least nutrient loss in broccoli compared with other cooking methods, such as boiling, microwaving and stir-frying. Fortunately, as the nutrients leach into the water that they are being steamed in, by utilising the cooking liquid in sauces and stocks, for instance, 100% nutrient retention can be obtained.

Did you know? The shorter the cooking time, the better the cooking method is at preserving nutrients.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Food added to wooden food steamer

Boiling:

Boiling is very similar to steaming and also only requires the addition of water. It too can lead to nutrient loss. A study evaluating the effect of cooking on nutrient loss in broccoli concluded that boiling results in the greatest loss of vitamin C (54.6% loss) when compared with microwaving (28.1% loss), followed by steaming (14.3% loss).

Did you know? Cooking vegetables in water leads to broccoli leaching a sulfur-containing compound called glucosinolate, which has cancer-fighting properties.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Boiling pot of water on hob

Microwaving:

Many of you may be on the fence with regards to whether you think microwave cooking is healthy or not. Since microwaving warrants the least amount of cooking time and utilises the least amount of water, it achieves greater nutrient retention when compared with longer cooking methods. It also doesn’t require oil to cook food, which is a bonus in terms of reducing saturated fat and calories from food.

Did you know? Some vegetable when cooked provide a higher percentage of antioxidants and vitamins, such as beta-carotene – a precursor of vitamin A.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Russell Hobbs microwave oven

Broiling and grilling:

It’s not surprising that grilling is a popular method of cooking as it enhances the flavour of food, often by adding a smoky flavour. Additionally, it contributes to the texture of food by keeping meat juicy and vegetables tender, whereas other cooking methods can dry out the food or lead to a rubbery texture. That said, research has recently suggested that regular consumption of well-done meat may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer and breast cancer.

Furthermore, concerns have been raised regarding the potential for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) developing when fat from meat drips onto a hot surface, thus elevating the potential for these cancer-causing substances to develop. Thankfully, research has also found that this risk can be mitigated by removing the fat drippings and minimising the smoke from the grill.

Did you know? Broiling and grilling are essentially the same, except broiling uses a dry heat source from directly above and grilling uses a dry heat source from directly below.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Burgers cooking on BBQ grill

Roasting and baking

While both methods incorporate the use of dry heat in an oven, roasting typically applies to meat and baking relates to bread, cakes muffins etc. Since there is little to no liquid involved in roasting, the loss of vitamins, including water-soluble vitamins B and C, is minimal. That said, the duration of roasting is typically long and often at high temperatures. This can consequently diminish the supply of nutrients, such as B group vitamins.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Turkey roasting in oven

Sautéeing

This method typically involves cooking food quickly in oil or butter over a direct heat. Although it does warrant the addition of oil, this doesn’t necessarily quantify the method as unhealthy, provided that the quantity of oil or butter used is moderate and the food isn’t swimming in oil.

Tip: Choose oils that are unhydrogenated as hydrogenated oils provide unhealthy trans fats. Extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and peanut oil are all suitable oils for sautéing.


What are healthy cooking methods? - Mushroom sautéeing in pan

Stir-frying

This is a similar method to sautéeing, however it tends to involve continually stirring the food in a wok. Again, just ensure that you exercise caution with the amount of oil that you add, or alternatively, you can use a low-calorie fry spray instead.

Tip: To omit oil from sautéeing and stir-frying, use water or a low sodium broth instead.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Vegetables stir fried in wok

Pressure cooking

Pressure cookers achieve faster cooking times due to accelerating the speed at which boiling point is achieved. This contributes to a reduced cooking time and thus, greater quantities of nutrients are retained. However, similarly to the other wet cooking methods mentioned above, leaching of nutrients still occurs. Simply use your liquid in stocks and sauces to reclaim these lost nutrients. With regards to meat, the unsaturated fat is reduced by pressure cooking. Furthermore, chemicals developed through the likes of grilling are not produced with this cooking method.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Instant pot pressure cooker

When I discovered the best ways to cook foods, I didn’t want to be cluttering up my kitchen with endless appliances, nor did I want to spend ages scrubbing them clean or cooking for hours on end. I eventually invested in a multi cooker after weeks of researching which appliances were best, and I found this one Drew&Cole; CleverChef 14-in-1 Intelligent Digital Multi Cooker. Since then, a world of opportunities have opened for me in terms of the foods that I can cook and the ways I can cook them. I also estimate that I have cut my time in the kitchen by about 50%!

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This has no impact on you as a consumer if you choose to purchase any of these products, but I may earn for my efforts in reviewing these products. Also, please note that I only recommend the highest quality products that I have either purchased or would personally invest in.

No cooking

An increasing number of studies propose that there are a myriad of benefits to eating food raw. If you’ve learned only one thing from this article, it’s that heat induces nutrient losses, particularly in water-soluble vitamins. Cooking has also been attributed to killing enzymes present in food. Omit the cooking and you eliminate that problem. However, not all foods can be consumed raw, and this is a significant factor which inhibits the food selection available to a person following a raw food diet.

A potential risk associated with raw food is that bacteria and microorganisms, which are normally killed through the cooking process, could still persist in uncooked foods. This is a particularly high risk for foods of animal origin, such as poultry, meat, fish and eggs. Fruit and vegetables are also at risk of becoming contaminated during transport or due to contact with contaminated foods.

Tip: Thoroughly washing fruit and vegetables before consuming them is essential to minimising contaminants which could have developed anywhere from the farm to your table.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Salad plate of vegetables

Summary

  • Cooking methods with short durations are the most effective at minimising nutrient loss from food
  • Using the juices and liquid that food is cooked in is a method of retaining nutrients that have leached
  • Cooking methods, such as microwaving, boiling and steaming, eliminate the requirement for oil
  • Cooking food has been linked with destruction of food enzymes
  • Cooking certain foods can increase the availability of nutrients
  • Consumption of raw foods assists in retaining some of the nutrients
  • Ensure uncooked fruit and vegetables are thoroughly cleaned before eating them

As can be seen with the list above, there are numerous ways to cook food while choosing a healthy method to do so. Whether you opt for wet methods or dry methods, there’s plenty of ways to make a healthy meal.

I’m sure many of you will be delighted to know that you do not have to feel unhealthy when using your microwave to cook foods. It can, in fact, be one of the healthier methods of retaining nutritional content in food. That said, not all foods are microwave compatible, as you may have discovered previously if you read my cheat guide to microwaving. I guarantee that you’re nuking a food in the microwave that you probably shouldn’t be. Find out here for yourself: What foods should not be microwaved? 

What’s your favourite way to cook food? Are there any ways you avoid in an attempt to be healthier? What’s your opinion on microwave cooking? I know I’d be lost without my microwave, it’s just so convenient! Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

What are healthy cooking methods? - Person removing food from oven

Sources

EatingWell. 2020. What Is The Effect Of Pressure Cooking On Nutrition?. [online] Available at: <http://www.eatingwell.com/article/15711/what-is-the-effect-of-pressure-cooking-on-nutrition/> [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Harvard Health. 2019. Microwave Cooking And Nutrition – Harvard Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwave-cooking-and-nutrition> [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Siegel, K. and Rizzo, N., 2017. The Best Cooking Methods To Keep Nutrients Intact. [online] Greatist. Available at: <https://greatist.com/health/healthy-cooking-methods#1> [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Spritzler, F., 2017. What Is The Healthiest Way To Cook Meat?. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthiest-way-to-cook-meat#section8 [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Yuan GF, Sun B, Yuan J, Wang QM. Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2009;10(8):580-588. doi:10.1631/jzus.B0920051

Zeng, C. (2013), “Effects of different cooking methods on the vitamin C content of selected vegetables”, Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 43 No. 5, pp. 438-443. https://doi.org/10.1108/NFS-11-2012-0123

Categories: Blogs

10 Comments

Olga Bilkova · 04/08/2020 at 6:32 PM

Hi there, I really enjoyed your educative and detailed post. I have to really agree with you that cooking at home is the best you can do, the only problem is usually not enough time and that’s when we tend to buy junk food. My favourite methods are steaming and also stir frying because I am a big fan of vegetable.

    Sharon · 04/08/2020 at 8:07 PM

    Hi Olga,

    You are too kind, thank you! I think we all can agree with you there, at least you can control what you put into the food and how you cook it too.

    Thanks for sharing and posting on my page.

    Sharon

Partha · 04/08/2020 at 6:59 PM

Hi Sharon,

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Okay, I have to hold my hands up to something here – I never actually knew what broiling was (always too afraid to ask and probably not inquisitive enough to actually look it up), but for some reason I always assumed it was possibly a trans-atlantic method of boiling! Now I know.

You’ve certainly covered every eventuality of the myriad of healthy cooking methods and it’s interesting to note the techniques involved for healthy stir frying and sauteeing, so thank you for that.

I will admit I’m not a fan of eating raw veg and I do often find the problem of steamed veg being a little bland for my taste. However, I think you’ve definitely covered enough methods for me to keep mealtimes healthy and tasty.

Thank you
Partha

    Sharon · 04/08/2020 at 8:09 PM

    Hi Partha,

    Hi there,

    You are very kind, thank you! I know, if I’m honest, I only recently found out what it was too. You would think that because it sounds like ‘boiling’ that it would be a variation of boiling.

    Glad to hear that, and now you know that you can stir fry and sauteé without having to feel unhealthy.

    Thanks for sharing and posting on my page.

    Sharon

Madeleine · 04/08/2020 at 7:52 PM

Thanks for sharing. Learnt some new tips from your article! I normally boil my vegetables but after reading how much more nutrients you get when you steam I will give that a go!

    Sharon · 04/08/2020 at 8:10 PM

    Hi there,

    Glad that the post has been of benefit. Once you use the liquid that cooked the veg, there should be minimal losses in terms of nutrients.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my page!
    Sharon

Matt · 05/08/2020 at 10:06 AM

Hi Sharon,

Thanks to this article, now I understand the reason why my mom always cooks food by boiling & steaming only. She is trying to make us eat healthier without overeating grease.

Recently, there is a popular way to cook in our country, which is to cook with an air fryer. It’s like to fry food with hot air inside the machine. Have you heard of this? I will love to see your thoughts on this. Thanks in advance.

Matt

    Sharon · 05/08/2020 at 8:33 PM

    Hi Matt,

    You are most welcome. I’m glad it has opened your eyes to the healthy ways of your mother. Kudos to her for trying to keep you on the healthy track. I sure have, haven’t any issues with air fryers, it’s on my list of utensils to buy. It’s a wonder product in ways that with little or no oil, it can achieve the same or at least very similar results as a deep fryer.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Amy Smith · 05/08/2020 at 2:43 PM

Another great apical Sharon! I never knew you could loose so many nutrients from boiling your broccoli, over 50% is so much, I tend to like it still quite crunchy but I will definitely be steaming from now on although thats a good tip to use the cooking water in sauces to utilise some of the lost nutrients.
it also seems microwaves arn’t perhaps all that bad for some things, I’m always learning from your posts. looking forward to the next one.

    Sharon · 05/08/2020 at 8:35 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much. It’s a bit scary when you realise how much nutrition is being lost by cooking the food. It’s reassuring that they can be recovered by using the liquid they are cooked in though. I’m glad you learned a few tips and bits of knowledge from the post.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

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