Pure Health Transitions Basic Cooking Tips
for a Ketogenic or Low-Carb Paleo Diet
Today I’m flipping the pages and looking at food prep. I talk a lot about which foods we should all be eating and which ones to avoid, but what about preparation? Did you know we can actually destroy our food with the way we prepare it? I’ve got some super easy, basic tips for cooking, the best and the worst ways to prepare for food so you can enjoy your healthy foods the right way!
Before we dig in, let’s first dissect the word diet. Diet to me means lack, restrictions, temporary eating style, something that is hard to stick to, and of course, diets are not fun. I have never liked the word diet and I bet you’ve failed at many diets in the past, just like I have.
I bring this point up here because I want to emphasize that learning to properly prepare nutrient-dense foods does not mean we are going on another diet or even a new diet. We are making lasting lifestyle changes and adopting a new style of eating for long term, possibly and hopefully for the rest of our lives. Going Keto (or low-carb Paleo) is not just another part of the fad diets culture. It’s really one of the most transformative and healthful approaches to food that you’ll ever make.
We are transitioning to and creating a positive relationship with food, which in turn will benefit our bodies – decrease pain, stiffness, inflammation, brain fog, weight, mood instabilities, and autoimmune issues while promoting
• Energy increases
• Focus and clarity
• Hormone healing
• Fat burning
• And the freedom to stare down any sugar and carb loaded snack, pastry, or dessert without the slightest twitch of desire or regret
This is what’s built into the commitment of a Ketogenic, low-carb Paleo lifestyle.
Let’s review some basic cooking guidelines. To get the most out of all your healthy foods and meals, you have to prepare and cook them properly. Here are some of the best and worst cooking methods for keeping healthy fats and proteins intact, while minimizing oxidation, hormone-disrupting compounds, and DNA-damaging chemicals that lead to things like inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer.
My guide takes you beyond just knowing which fats to buy at the store. I want to be sure you know which fats you can cook with and how to best cook with them. Choosing the right foods is one part of eating healthy, but how you prepare them plays an essential role too. There are certain cooking methods that may change the makeup of our food in ways that could potentially harm our health.
Of course, people don’t eat much raw meat these days, even though it is actually quite good for us (when the meat is of excellent quality). Cooking meat breaks down some of the tough fibers and connective tissue, which makes it easier to chew and digest. It also leads to better nutrient absorption. Cooking meat properly also kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can cause food poisoning.
However, cooking meats, vegetables, and fats can degrade nutrients, reduce its antioxidant capacity, and create harmful compounds, depending on how it is cooked and for how long it is cooked. When we heat foods to high temperatures for long time periods we end up destroying most of the good stuff in our healthy foods and this ends up defeating the purpose behind our healthy choices.
Choosing cooking methods that minimize nutrient loss and produce the lowest amounts of harmful chemicals is what we want, right? This is the way to maximize the health benefits of eating both meat and healthy fats.
Let’s take a closer look. In the following overview you will see I’ve broken down how different cooking methods affect our foods into three categories:
- Safe Cooking Methods
- Questionable Cooking Methods (use sparingly)
- Avoid These Cooking Methods (don’t use)
SAFE COOKING METHODS
Bake at or below 320○ F
Take a more careful approach to baking.
The open-air delivers oxygen to your food, which could lead to its oxidation if the temperature is too high for too long. Baking at high temperature easily oxidizes fats – not something we normally think about when making healthy baked goods Choose fats that can withstand your baking temperatures, such as ghee, butter, coconut oil, and avocado oil (see list below for a fats’ smoke points).
Raw or Uncooked
We know raw vegetables are really good for us. The same goes for proteins and fats, which can be further protected by avoiding high-heat exposure. Try preparing small-scale, pastured organic meats and high-quality seafood as carpaccio or sushi. Watch for bloating and digestive issues from too many raw vegetables. Some veggies have anti-nutrients that you can neutralize with a quick steam.
My new favorite method! A pressure cooker seals in steam created by boiling liquid (this also intensifies flavor). Pressure cooking keeps temps under 300○ which keeps fats and proteins intact. Foods cooked in a pressure cooker require very little water and time, which means that vitamins and minerals are undamaged. This method is also great for removing lectins and other anti-nutrients from vegetables. Also play around with using antioxidant herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, in your recipes as much as possible. (My very favorite pressure cooker is an Instant Pot)
Steaming meat and vegetables preserves their proteins, fats, and micronutrients, not to mention, the end result is delicious! My favorite method is what I call Steam Frying. You sauté food briefly in a little quality oil, then add water or bone broth and cover the pan. When the food is almost done, uncover and boil off any excess liquid. For vegetable preparation, steaming wins when it comes to hanging on to nutrients like carotenoids and phytochemicals as well as water-soluble vitamins.
Simmer or Quick Stir Fry
Simmer meat and veggies for a short time to retain better quality and flavor. This method is quite similar to my Steam Frying method I describe above under “Lightly Steamed”. Water will keep fats from oxidizing; however, take a cautious approach to regular stir-frying due to light protein damage. Keep your stir frying quick and use fats with high smoke points (see the list below)
Make friends with your slow cooker and use it as often as your pressure cooker. Slow cooking keeps temperatures low, which preserves the integrity of both fats and proteins. It will help break down protein in tougher cuts of meat, resulting in healthier collagen that your body can easily absorb. Make use of some antioxidant herbs in your slow cooking recipes to help prevent nutrient damage from overcooking.
Boil or Poach
Cooking your food in boiling water will protect fats from oxidation. Poaching is also an excellent under-utilized method – it is not just for eggs. This moist-heat technique involves cooking at a gentle simmer in a liquid such as broth or water. Do be mindful of over-boiling. Unlike in steaming, boiling can cause water-soluble nutrients, like vitamins B and C, to leach out into the water.
QUESTIONABLE COOKING METHODS
Hot and Long Stir Fry
Stir-frying normally requires searing meats at an extra high heat in a sauté pan or wok. The high temperature is enough to degrade nutrients and make this method questionable, but when the cooking time is short, and the fats are of high quality, then the nutrients in the food can be preserved enough to make this method okay. Even so, I still wouldn’t make hot, long stir-frying a go-to cooking option.
Grilling meat lightly is quick, tasty, and will not form the level of dangerous compounds caused by charring and blackening meat (see more below). When you lightly grill your goal should be rare to medium rare with a lightly browned color.
AVOID THESE COOKING METHODS
Broiling means cooking at very high temperatures. The end result is oxidized fats, denatured proteins, compromised nutrients, and the formation of toxic compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which increase cancer risk and inflammation. Broiling, or placing food below your oven’s heat source for a high-heat blast, can also cause acrylamide to form. You could char the food just as in heavy grilling. Try marinating meat in vinegar, lemon, or herbs like thyme and rosemary to help act as a barrier against HCAs when broiling or grilling.
Blacken, Char, Burn, Over-Barbeque
While these are quick and easy methods most people love, when you look at it closely this method is really not a safe one. Fats (even the best of them) and barbequing are just not a good combination. The high heat, smoke, and charcoal will form heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which increase cancer risk and lead to more inflammation in the body. Also most added sauces have sugar, which will burn and become glycated forming sticky proteins that damage our blood vessels and harm our joints. Furthermore, grilling vegetable damages the natural fats and oils, breaks down beneficial nutrients, and leads to glycation of the starchy carbohydrates.
Here is one to completely avoid. Deep frying is only okay with saturated (the most stable) fats and even then, is questionable depending on the quality of the saturated fat. When you deep fry you heat fats at a very high heat, sometimes doing this multiple times with the same fat (think restaurant frying). This damages and oxidizes the fats, not to mention destroying the healthy ingredients that are being cooked by denaturing proteins, and breaking down all of the nutrients. Of most concern with deep frying is that part of the damaged cooking fat sticks to the food and is ingested.
Please don’t use your microwave for cooking. The microwave uses radiation, which penetrates every cell in your meats and vegetables. The result is damaged food; denatured proteins, oxidized fats. Microwaves also induce a widespread discharge of EMF exposure, which happens as soon as you press the start button. If you cannot refrain from using a microwave be sure to just quickly warm your food, use it for short reheating or melting, but not actual cooking. Cooking in a microwave can make your food dry, mushy, and void of taste. Remember to never use any plastics in a microwave. Microwaves cause plastic containers to release harmful chemicals into your food.
There you have it, the best, questionable, and worst cooking methods all spelled out. Now that you know how to cook to preserve the most nutrients and avoid the formation of toxic compounds you are well on your way to achieving some real results. Especially coupled with information I’ve already shared with you: the best foods to eat, what to eliminate, and what to be cautious of (in case you missed that – be sure to download my Pure Health Food Guide Pyramid).
KEY COOKING BASICS TAKEAWAYS
• Moist-heat cooking methods, such as steam frying, boiling, poaching, pressure cooking, slow cooking, and steaming are the healthiest ways to prepare meats and produce because they’re done at lower temperatures.
• The most healthful grilling should be done quickly, without any charring or blackening.
• Do not grill with sauces that contain any sweeteners to avoid glycation and added burning.
• You don’t have to eliminate your favorite stir fry recipe from your weekly dinner rotation. Properly prepared, stir fry is a quick, easy healthy meal. I’ve put together an excellent Stir Fry Template you can follow to make any stir fry delicious and healthful. I’ll show you how to keep the cook time short to control oxidation and nutrient degradation, and how to select the best fat, one with a high smoke point to reduce fumes (my favorites are avocado oil, ghee, and refined coconut oil).
• While it is fundamentally important to choose nutrient-dense, organic foods, high-quality grass-fed and pasture raised meats, and to know your fats, it is equally important to know how to properly prepare your foods and save as much of the nutrient profile as possible. For high-temperature cooking, make sure you select cooking fats and oils with a high smoke point. Try an oil with a smoke point of 400○F or higher. Use this smoke point table for further reference.
Use my fool-proof meal templates to make cooking easy and spark your creativity. They will quickly become your go-to for delicious healthy meals without needing to use a recipe. Check out my soup template and stir-fry template and I’ll post my salad template very soon.