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October 22, 2019 — 10:02 AM
My hope is that you acquire all the tools you need to make your own healthy meals at the drop of a hat. To do that, however, it’s important to be aware of certain cooking principles that can either benefit or destroy the nutritional density of your food. The methods you use matter—meaning you can turn the highest-quality ingredients into a poor-quality meal if you’re not a conscious cook.
Here are four tips on how to become a conscious cook, so you can increase the nutrient content in your food:
1. Cook with the right fats.
Certain kinds of seed oils are better to use for drizzling than for cooking, including sesame, flax, and hemp oils; and the same goes for nut oils from almonds, walnuts, and macadamias. These polyunsaturated fats oxidize when exposed to heat and turn into harmful compounds, but when used to season food after cooking, they can provide many beneficial nutrients and healthy fats, along with tons of flavor. Extra-virgin olive oil also falls into this category.
So, what should you use for cooking? Avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee are best for high-heat cooking due to their stable saturated fats, which means they have a higher smoke point. And note that if your fats reach their smoke point while you’re cooking, beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals will be lost, harmful compounds will be created, and your food will come out with an unpleasant burnt flavor.
2. Lower and slower is better.
High-temperature cooking methods can create carcinogenic byproducts and turn what was a high-quality cut of meat into an unhealthy meal. When fats or proteins are exposed to high heat, a chemical reaction takes place resulting in compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. The name is no coincidence, considering that these harmful toxins accelerate the aging process by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation within the body. The addition of sugar makes this reaction even worse (so avoid those sugary BBQ sauces!).
Change your cooking methods to reduce your exposure to these toxic compounds. Focus on lower-temperature, slow cooking for meat—such as baking, poaching, and stewing—as well as methods that embrace moisture, like cooking in a slow cooker. Using an acidic marinade prior to cooking (think vinegar or lemon juice) can also counteract the negative effects of cooking proteins at high temperatures. Be cautious with your veggies, too—marinating them with anything sugary and cooking on high heat will also produce AGEs.
3. Soak for better digestion.
Nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes are all healthy, whole foods, but they can be made more easily digestible by soaking them prior to cooking. That’s because soaking them in water mimics the germination process, helps to deactivate certain nutrient inhibitors like phytic acid, releases greater amounts of certain nutrients, and activates enzymes that will assist your body in digesting them. Soaking times vary by ingredient but can easily be found online.
When vegetables are submerged in water and boiled, certain nutrients, like B vitamins and vitamin C, leach into the water. If you toss that water, you toss the nutrients. Blanching, or quickly submerging vegetables in boiling water and then plunging them in an ice bath, can also produce some nutrient loss, though the effects are less than boiling for an extended time. It’s better to steam, sauté, or roast vegetables instead. These practices retain more nutrients, plus they incorporate fat that will help your body absorb certain nutrients. Making soups or stews is also a good option because you consume the nutrient-rich liquid the vegetables cook in.
That said, below is a soup recipe you can quickly whip up that’s nutrient-dense and filling. Plus, it’s incredibly delicious!
Anti-Aging Asparagus Soup
This soup makes an excellent meal all on its own, thanks to healthy fats from coconut milk, protein from healing collagen powder, and phytonutrients from asparagus, leeks, and garlic. Those benefits also make it a great way to fight the aging process and support a resilient body. It’s creamy and filling with just the right amount of spice from fresh ginger and smoked paprika, though you can use less of these ingredients if you prefer.
- 2 bunches asparagus
- ¼ cup pepitas
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon avocado oil
- 1 medium white onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons micro-grated peeled fresh ginger
- 3½ large leeks, chopped
- 3 tablespoons coconut aminos
- 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 4 scoops (about ¼ cup) collagen powder (optional, not vegan-friendly)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cut 4 of the asparagus spears into thirds and set aside for garnish. Roughly chop the remaining spears.
- Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pepitas and continuously stir and shake until the seeds are fragrant and toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Heat the 3 tablespoons avocado oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the ginger, leeks, and coconut aminos; stir well; and cook down for 5 minutes. Add the chopped asparagus, broth, paprika, garlic powder, and salt and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and add the lemon zest and coconut milk.
- Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes. Pour into a blender, add the collagen powder (if using), and blend until smooth.
- Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon avocado oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high until shimmering. Add the reserved asparagus spears and lightly sauté until tender, about 3 minutes.
- To serve, divide the soup among four bowls and place 3 pieces of sautéed asparagus in the center of each bowl. Sprinkle with the toasted pepitas and freshly ground pepper.