Over cooking, microwaving, re-heating and re-frying destroys essential nutrients
ARE WE EATING FAST FOOD AT HOME?
We all eat burgers and fries, pakodas (stuffed and fried lentil dish) and pav-bhaji (white bread with over-cooked, mashed and fried vegetables) , even if it’s with a tinge of guilt. What we really look forward to is that home-cooked meal of steaming rotis, sabji and dal chawal…because we know that home food is good food.
Or is it? We’ve got to admit that we aren’t eating like our ancestors did…straight from the field and cooking our produce just a little, if at all. And to add to our woes, we pressure-cook, microwave, deep-fry, re-heat and re-fry, all which can ruin our food. Today, it’s the taste that matters, nutritive values can go jump. Well, that’s all very fine…until the health problems start. “It can take as early as six months for the effects of a nutritive deficient diet to show,” says dietician Rammi Kothari.
Most vitamins are unstable
Many of the nutrients in vegetables are so unstable that they start to deteriorate immediately after the vegetables are picked. “Vitamin C and some of the B vitamins are destroyed by exposure to light, air and heat. They are also liable to dissolve in water,” says nutritionist Niti Desai.
Using vegetables that are already a few days old, peeling, chopping and leaving them exposed to the air or soaking in water is like sounding the death knell for vitamins. If any nutrients do survive, over-cooking or throwing away the cooking water will finish them off. And if you add baking soda to keep your veggies green,this ensures that vitamins like B1, B2 and B5 make an even speedier exit.
The bad news is that it’s not only the B and C, which go down the drain, it’s also others like A, E and beta-carotene (an oxidant). “High temperatures produced during deep-frying can destroy fat-soluble vitamins like A,” confirms Kothari. Vitamin E is even more heat-sensitive than A and also suffers in the deep freeze. It’s loss is worrying because it is present in miniscule quantities in our food anyway.
Minerals can get washed away too
Minerals are not indestructible either although they do stand up to heat. Water is their worst enemy as they dissolve easily. If you throw away the water before or after cooking and wash grains and pulses too well – you lose them. “Rice and pulses should be washed just once unless you think they contain insecticide,” says Leena Martin, dietician, Holy Family Hospital.
Protein is tougher to destroy
Protein has a life as well, though admittedly it takes a lot of over-cooking to destroy it’s nutritional value. The hard lacy edges of a fried egg don’t get you anything. While the right amount of cooking makes protein easier to digest, over-cooking does just the opposite. “Protein can become indigestible with overcooking,” says Martin.
Fatty acids are sensitive to heat too
Some fatty acids, sometimes referred to as vitamin F, are also damaged by cooking, and exposure to light and air.
What’s worse is that when oils are heated to very high temperatures as during frying, the fatty acids can convert to carcinogenic substances. “Oil should not reach smoking point as it produces compounds which are dangerous to health,” warns Desai. Sometimes one can smell the rancidity that has been produced in the stale oil. If you simply must re-use oil, make sure that you don’t heat it unnecessarily. After the first use, cool it immediately and strain through a fine mesh and store in the refrigerator. Don’t use repeatedly as subjecting it to prolonged heat in this way causes it to spoil.
Make it the natural way
If home food is to score above fast food, it’s important that we don’t cook the way hotels do. By re-heating, re-frying…storing, freezing. At least not all the time.
If you do eat like this and your body seems to be taking it – it’s probably because you are young and healthy. “Young healthy individuals with a high metabolism rate take longer to show the ill-effects of a nutrient deficient diet,” explains Kothari.
However, finally everyone has to pay the price of a bad diet.
People may not even relate the problems they are suffering from to their diet. It’s the little things…skin problems, lowered immunity or simply fatigue. But then this is only the beginning…poor nutrition makes one susceptible to many diseases ranging from heart disease, diabetes to cancer.
(Published in the Times of India in 2005)
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