When it comes to your health, how you cook your food matters.
While diet gurus bicker about what you should put on your plate, few talk about how you should actually cook and prepare your food.
In this post, you’ll learn how a strange cooking method may decrease the calories and glycemic index of starchy foods like potatoes and rice.
GRILLING MEAT CAN BE HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH
It’s still barbecue season… and you can always tell when your neighbors have steaks on the grill. That smell just makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?
But you know that black, flaky, char that covers the outside of overcooked BBQ meat? Recent science shows that eating meats cooked over high heat may increase your risk of developing cancer.
When you introduce red meat, poultry, pork, and seafood to high heat, muscle proteins are altered, and not in a good way. The reaction is the formation of a carcinogenic compound called heterocyclic amines (HCA’s), which causes damage to DNA and increases your risk of developing cancer—particularly in the colon and stomach.
HCA’s can also be a factor in the development of other cancers, like breast cancer, because these carcinogenic compounds can be distributed to other tissues through the bloodstream.
The same process can occur if you’re pan-frying meat at a high temperature—so it’s not the grill that’s to blame per se, it’s blasting your meat with high temperature cooking that causes trouble.
5 STEPS TO MINIMIZE THE RISK OF GRILLING MEAT
Now, I’m not telling you to throw away your barbecue or to give up seared tuna steak for good. Cooking over an open flame is an ancient practice that appeals to our primal nature. Campfires are FUN.
Think of cooking at higher temps as a treat – something to enjoy once in awhile. You can minimize the amount of HCA’s produced by using these grilling hacks:
- Turn Down the Heat: By using a lower temperature and moving the rack up further from the heat source, you actually reduce the number of HCA’s produced. Remember: You don’t want your meat to char—that black stuff is really bad.
- Marinate Your Meat: Using a marinade and turning the meat regularly can reduce HCA content by over 95%!
- Do Not Overcook: Cancer risk increases for each degree you cook your meat over the recommended temperature. To make your life easier, cook with a meat thermometer and take the following meats off the heat once they hit the recommended temperature:
- Ground meat (Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb): 160°
- Ground meat (Turkey, Chicken): 165°
- Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb: 145°
- Poultry: 165°
- Pork and Ham: 145°
- Seafood: 140°
- Grill Veggies Instead: Vegetables and fruits don’t form HCA’s when grilling, so cook the ribs in the oven or crockpot and the asparagus on the grill.
- Clean Your Grill Before Each Use: A dirty grill increases char on your meats and veggies. Charred food can cause the formation of free radicals, which are linked with tissue damage, disease, and premature aging. Food cooked on a clean grill tastes better, anyway.
So don’t put your grill out by the curb just yet. You can grill those veggie-kabobs and an occasional piece of meat at low temps. Just don’t make a habit of letting the flames lick and char every meat and veggie you throw on the grill… your DNA will thank you.
SLOW COOKING FOR OPTIMAL NUTRITION
Now let’s talk about the best way to cook a piece of beef, chicken, or pork—in the slow cooker.
When you cook meat low and slow, you break down the collagen into silky, rich gelatin. This process turns cheaper cuts of meat into delicious meals, and because you’re eating that gelatin (instead of cutting it off—like you might with connective tissue on a grilled steak), you get a ton of important nutrients, including:
- Muscle Growth and Repair: Gelatin contains an amino acid called lysine, which is important to muscle growth. Eating gelatin in the form of slow-cooked meats or bone broth will help your muscles grow and repair quickly.
- Healthy Skin: Gelatin contains proteins that are identical to those found in the skin, hair, and nails. Consuming gelatin from healthy pastured animals will help keep your skin soft, your hair smooth, and your nails strong. Is it the elixir of youth? Maybe…
- Bone and Joint Health: Forget the expensive glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, just slow-cook your meats and drink bone broth. The broken-down collagen provides the building blocks for your bones and connective tissue.
- Healthy Gut: Many people suffer from leaky gut… by slow-cooking your meats and bones, you break down the healthy collagen and marrow to make it readily available to our body. This is essential for healing a leaky gut and maintaining gut health.
Keep the bone in if possible, because you get a lot of health benefits from the marrow. Otherwise, remove the bone and use it to make bone broth.
COOKING TO REDUCE THE GI OF STARCHY FOODS
If you’re looking to get or stay lean, potatoes, rice, and pasta are high-carb starches that are best avoided. But what if I told you that you could cook the calories out of rice, and reduce the glycemic index of those potatoes?
Well, science shows us that you can.
What is the Glycemic Index?
Glycemic Index (GI) is the scale that measures a food’s effect on your blood sugar. You don’t want blood sugar to spike fast, because that instigates a rapid insulin response. That insulin response causes your cells to absorb glucose.
But if you’re getting a few more calories than you need, your cells will absorb all the glucose and store any leftovers as fat.
That’s why it’s best to prioritize lower GI foods that allow that absorption of glucose to happen slowly.
How to Cook the Calories out of Rice
According to new research presented to the American Chemical Society, you can reduce the calories in rice by 60% just by refrigerating it overnight.
Why does this cut the calories? Because the process of cooking and cooling turns some of the starch in the rice into resistant starch. Since your body can’t digest resistant starch, it doesn’t turn into glucose. Instead of blasting your blood with glucose, this resistant starch feeds your gut bacteria instead.
Here’s how to maximize the amount of resistant starch in your rice:
- Bring the water to a boil and then add a bit of coconut oil.
- Cook the rice as usual, but refrigerate it for at least 12 hours.
- Reheat before eating or eat cold.
Just be aware that 1) These are preliminary findings, so more research needs to be done; 2) Some rice harbors a bacteria that can survive the cooking process. The spores from this bacteria can germinate on the cooling rice. So, cook a small batch, cover it immediately, and put it straight in the fridge to reduce this risk.
How to Increase Resistant Starch in Potatoes
Boiling and cooling potatoes has a similar result as with rice—the resistant starch jumps from 7 – 13 percent! This means that the heated and cooled potato will have a smaller effect on blood sugar, and calorie count is reduced.
If you need to carb up after a hard workout or right before bed, a cooked and cooled potato may be better for you than a baked potato or a hot boiled potato.
Sweet Potatoes: Baked, Roasted, or Boiled?
My favorite starch? Sweet potato, baby. It tastes DANG good. (Don’t believe me? Try yours with a dash of cinnamon, a pinch of sea salt, and a hunk of grass-fed butter. Life changing.) Sweet potatoes are also one of nature’s best sources of beta-carotene, and are high in Vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and fiber.
But don’t you bake that potato just yet.
An interesting study was published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism showing that boiled sweet potatoes can have a GI almost HALF of the other methods tested—GI 41 verses 90+ for baking and roasting.
Did you catch that? BAKING or frying a sweet potato gives it the same glycemic effect as pure glucose!
But when you boil it, a sweet potato has a minimal effect on blood sugar. Once again, low-and-slow cooking wins.
(I know that baking the sweet potato gives it that sugary caramelized flavor that’s so delicious… and that’s fine occasionally. But if you want to go with a low insulin response, it’s best to boil it on the stove.)
Eat Your Carrots Raw
Root vegetables, like carrots, are best eaten raw. A fresh, raw carrot has a GI of just 31—but when you cook it, the GI jumps to 47! That’s a drastic difference.
So, eat carrot sticks with almond butter or throw raw carrots in a big smoothie for a low GI high fiber kick of sweetness. (When you’ve eliminated processed sugar, carrots actually taste quite sweet.)
If you’re going to cook your veggies, you can actually preserve important nutrients by exposing them to shorter periods of heat… generally speaking, that means steaming them.
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WHY WE DON’T HAVE A MICROWAVE
Most Americans have a microwave in their kitchen and at work. Call us rebels, but we don’t have a microwave. Here’s why.
- In order to maximize nutrition in fresh foods like veggies, it’s best to avoid blasting them with high heat. Microwaves are basically the opposite of “low and slow.”
- Microwaves leak out into the space around them – even the best appliances on the market. This kind of radiation has been linked to leukemia and the development of cataracts.
- Studies show that microwave leakage below the federally accepted levels have a negative effect on your heart. Microwave radiation can cause chest pains and rapid heart rate.
- BPA is an endocrine disruptor. BPA leakage from microwaved plastics has been firmly linked to development of breast cancer cells, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, heart disease, and the disruption of hormone development in fetuses.
“The small benefit of heating food quickly does not compare to the microwave’s impact on your long-term health.”
Instead of using your microwave, try this for leftovers and bulk cooking:
- Freeze soups and stews in individual portions so they can easily be dumped into a pot and cooked on the stove or thrown into a slow cooker.
- Store casseroles in glass or ceramic heat-proof pans so they can go straight into the oven.
- Eat food cold or room temperature — sometimes it tastes even better that way.
The bottom line is that food is a science… and an art. We should take pleasure in our food, but also understand the best practices for cooking to optimize health. You can have the best of both worlds.
If you want to learn how to cook for optimal health, come check out our Wild Diet Cooking Class—a series of videos where Alyson and I show you how we cook some of the most delicious fat-burning, nutrient-dense meals you’ve ever had.
- Mayo Clinic
- Perceval S. Bahado-Singh, Cliff K. Riley, Andrew O. Wheatley, and Henry I. C. Lowe, “Relationship between Processing Method and the Glycemic Indices of Ten Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) Cultivars Commonly Consumed in Jamaica,” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol. 2011, Article ID 584832, 6 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/584832
What’s your favorite method for cooking low and slow? Comment below to share your tips with us!