So you just went to the store and spent your entire paycheck on the “good stuff”, it’s USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, all the stickers and seals are accounted for. Now what? Well as you may know, the way you prepare your food will largely affect how it is absorbed in your body. There is a school of thought that promotes only eating vegetables and fruits raw, to avoid loss of nutrients and enzymes but if you’re like me – a brussels sprout soaked in butter and sautéed within an inch of disintegration is pretty much the only brussels sprout you’re interested in eating. And as it turns out, it may be a good idea to opt for a warm, slightly mushy vegetable, especially when the other option is forgoing the greens altogether! According to Scientific America “Comparing the healthfulness of raw and cooked food is complicated, and there are still many mysteries surrounding how the different molecules in plants interact with the human body. The bottom line, is to eat your veggies and fruits no matter how they’re prepared.“(1) So beyond this “to cook or not to cook” debate let’s talk about a few different ways to maintain the integrity of your fruits, veggies, and meats to be sure you’re getting the most benefit from every meal you prepare!
Ditch the Microwave
I know this is difficult so when our options are ordering pizza or using the microwave to warm up a healthy leftover meal after a long day, I still say we’re better off nuking it. But this issue, like so many others, has to do with habits and familiarity and once we decided to say no to the microwave we figured out what options work best for us and it became second nature before we knew it. Here are two quick reasons we avoid using the microwave whenever possible:
Heating your food in the microwave can strip away its original nutrients. According to Medical Daily “The water molecules rotate rapidly in the microwave and in the food in high frequencies which creates molecular friction and heats up your food. This causes the molecular structure in your food to change, and as a result diminishes the nutrient content in the food.”(2) This reason in and of itself was enough for me, if I’m taking the time and effort to research what I’m eating and why I want to get the most bang for my buck every time!
Possible Radiation Exposure. This is the first “danger” associated with microwaves that I heard of. Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple says “Occasional home use of a fully functional microwave appliance is generally considered safe. Microwaves do, make no mistake, emit radiation, and the FDA has established what it considers “safe” levels for microwaves: over the machine’s “lifetime” the allowable level is “5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter…approximately 2 inches from the oven surface.” Guidelines from the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) suggest overall radiation limits of 1 milliwatt per square centimeter “averaged over 6 minutes (0.1 h) period.” Unless you’re using your microwave on a perpetual basis, there’s little reason to worry.)”(3) So maybe you’re not putting yourself and your family in harm’s way as far as radiation emissions from microwaves go but situations like this remind me of the Radium Girls from the 20’s who were exposed to, what was then considered, “safe” levels of radiation in their work stations and many of the women later began to suffer from anemia, bone fractures and necrosis of the jaw, a condition now known as radium jaw all of which were proven to be caused by radiation poisoning.(4) The Radium Girls won their lawsuit and the few that were still around used the money from the settlement to pay for their own funerals, no joke! I’m not actually comparing the possible radiation emissions from a microwave to the radiation poisoning caused by direct contact with radium paint, I’m merely trying to give you all a look into the deepest, darkest parts of my paranoid subconscious… side note: if you want to sleep well tonight don’t look up any pictures associated with the Radium Girls case. just. don’t.
[BACK ON TRACK] So after taking all this information into account, I decided, better safe than sorry! With so many other options (toaster oven, stove top, conventional oven, crock pot) why wouldn’t we take a few more minutes if it means giving our bodies a better shot at performing well today and avoiding possible health concerns later on!
Skip the Teflon
Teflon cookware or “Non-stick” cookware are metal pots and pans coated in a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE.) According to the EWG (5) “Non-stick cookware has been popular because, well, it’s non-stick — very convenient to use and clean. But it also emits toxic fumes when overheated. Environmental Working Group recommends that you choose safer cookware to reduce the risk of inhaling toxic particles when you let that non-stick pan get a little too hot.” But they also note that “EWG-commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases.” So unless you’re some kind of miracle chef who can whip up dinner in less than 5 minutes it seems to me that you’re better off opting for a safer, nontoxic brand.
I have been extremely happy with the Green Pan ceramic cookware, we switched a few months ago and so far I loved using them! They heat evenly and they’re so easy to clean, no matter how crusty they get after I let lunch get nice and crispy (again), no soaking, minimal scrubbing, it’s like living in an infomercial. Green Pan products are 100 percent PFOA- and PTFE-free unlike traditional non-stick pans. This may not be the perfect “nontoxic” cookware brand, it’s relatively new and there hasn’t been a whole lot of research that I can find so going forward I have strongly considered opting for stainless steel or cast iron cookware to avoid the guesswork altogether!
I have definitely been guilty of cooking a beautiful, healthy dinner and then reaching for that oh-so-tempting, MSG loaded, everything spice that has no distinguishable flavor other than “POW!!” and you can’t read the label because rubbed off about 12 years ago. Yes… I’ve been there many times! The truth is, even when you prepare a healthy meal, if you were raised on the standard American Diet, your taste buds are so overstimulated that you’ll have a hard time finding any satisfaction in flavors that weren’t developed in a lab. I still catch myself adding ridiculous amounts of garlic and Himalayan pink salt to pretty much every meal to supplement for the lack of Sour Skittles and Lawry’s Season Salt in my life, neither of those are exactly “on the menu” at our house these days, and for good reason!
Here are a few additives that are commonly found in seasonings and why we decided to steer clear:
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is an excitotoxin that overexcites the cells in your body to the extent where they are so heavily damaged that they die. MSG also leads to a range of neurological diseases on prolonged exposure.(6)
Maltodextrin can cause spikes in your blood sugar because it has a high glycemic index, even higher than table sugar, ranging from 106 to 136 (while table sugar is 65.) Maltodextrin can also change the composition of your gut bacteria by suppressing the growth of beneficial probiotics… A 2012 study found that maltodextrin increased bacterial adhesion to human intestinal epithelial cells and enhanced E. coli adhesion, which is associated with autoimmune disorders. Even more research points out that maltodextrin promotes the survival of salmonella, which may be responsible for a broad range of chronic inflammatory diseases.(7)
“Artificial Flavors” are additives designed to mimic the taste of natural ingredients. They are a cheap way for manufacturers to make something taste like strawberry, for example, without actually using any real strawberries.(8) According to the FDA, “The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.”(9) Which means it is in no way, shape, or form a food, which to me says “don’t eat it” but from what I can find, these “Flavors” vary greatly in how they affect our bodies.
Whenever possible we opt for USDA Certified Organic herbs and spices and use a lot of Organic Himalayan Pink Salt! It has some amazing health benefits(10) and my family prefers the taste to traditional Iodized Table Salt and even Sea Salt.
I hope this helps you while trying to make healthy decisions when you’re preparing food for yourself and your family! I have loved optimizing my time in the kitchen with all of this wonderful information, if you’re interested in reading more about any of these topics please help yourself to my sources listed below!