Diet & Exercise: Ways to cook healthy foods to make them healthier

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

Think cooking your food always destroys its nutrients? Think again. Some foods are actually more healthful, if cooked properly.

Tomatoes, for example, contain a cancer-fighting phytonutrient called lycopene, but cooked tomatoes contain as much as 171 percent lycopene as raw, fresh tomatoes. That means tomato sauces, pastes, and juices are great, but one of the best ways to increase a tomato’s lycopene is to bake it. This adds lots of flavor to sandwiches, salads, pastas, and other dishes. Studies show a correlation between consumption of tomatoes and reduced cancer risk, particularly prostrate cancer.

Other red fruits and vegetables like red carrots, papayas, red peppers and watermelon also contain lycopene. Watermelon though, should not be stored in the refrigerator before it’s sliced, because leaving a whole watermelon at room temperature for five days before serving increases its lycopene and beta-carotene content by as much as 20 percent.

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Broccoli, if cooked, is more healthful, too. Steaming broccoli increases glucosinolates, which are compounds that fight cancer, but cooking broccoli in other ways reduces these nutrients.

When cooking meats, use the “slow method.” Meats like chicken that are cooked in liquid at moderate to low temperatures develop fewer cell-damaging compounds known as Advanced Glycation End Compounds, or AGEs. These compounds are thought to be one factor in aging, and some age-related chronic diseases. Grilling and broiling meats increase these compounds, but the slow, wet method of cooking can reduce AGEs by 50 percent. Marinating meats also reduces AGEs and other dangerous chemicals produced by high heat cooking.

While we all know garlic is healthful, there are ways to maximize its benefits, too. Garlic contains an organosulfur compound called allicin. Some studies show that allicin has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. It has also been shown to help trap cell damaging “free radicals” in our bodies. These attributes also make garlic good for your heart and whole cardiovascular system.

By crushing garlic cloves and letting them stand for 30 minutes, before cooking, these heart-protecting compounds are activated and preserved. Don’t cook garlic too long, though. Cooking as long as six minutes can completely suppress garlic nutrient’s strength.

If you’re having fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, or tuna for dinner, roast it with a bit of olive oil. According to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, this doesn’t increase the fish’s fat content, and preserves the fish’s omega-3 fatty acids, as apposed to frying fish, even with the same type of oil. Also, frying fish increases its fat content up to 10 percent, while adding unnecessary calories.

Here’s another nutritional tip. When preparing leafy greens in a salad, add olive oil, nuts, or avocado. This increases the absorption of disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids. These help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years.