To Cook or Not To Cook:  How Cooking and Food Prep Affect the Quality of the Food We Eat and 4 Questions You Can Ask

To Cook or Not To Cook: How Cooking and Food Prep Affect the Quality of the Food We Eat and 4 Questions You Can Ask


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It seems there is a wide variety of opinion out there when it comes to how we receive nutrients best. So what does the research show about cooking, food prep and which theory is best?

First of all, before we jump on the advocacy bandwagon for whichever fort we're loyal to, it is important to understand that ANY manipulation of food including washing, peeling, refrigerating, preserving and even cooking food is a form of “processing”. [1]

Some of this is very useful and necessary, making the nutrients more user friendly, and the food safer. [5] Other times, because food processing influences the structure of the food, the chemical makeup and the nutrient density and bioavailability, processing, prepping and cooking can be harmful. [2]

So how does one know what to follow when it comes to the age old controversy: To cook, or not to cook? That is, indeed, the question.

In general, I am a fan of advocating for individuals to eat as close to nature as possible, and be mindful of the alterations that come along with cooking. Some of the questions that we might ask as we’re being mindful of what we’re about to put into our bodies could include:

* Is the food in its original state?
* Is it best for me if I consume it in its original state?
* Do I have to do something to this food in order to be able to consume it?
* If so, does it change nutrient value or the function of the food?

This can help one decide if the cooking, processing or prepping is of benefit to themselves as individuals or not.

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The more processing, prepping, and cooking processes can alter food’s texture and flavor, change the way it digests in the digestive tract, and even influences food allergies and food intolerances. [3] This makes it important for a food sensitive person to consider. There’s more.

Studies have shown that the least processed foods are more satisfying and have less hyperglycemic effects as well. [4] So those with blood sugar disorders might benefit from processing foods as little as possible.

Some processing is necessary because it makes the food safe for consumption. Think pasteurization of milk and dairy products. The heat that goes into pasteurization does remove some enzymes and alters some nutrients, but it also removes harmful bacteria.[1]  This is an important consideration for children, elderly, and the immuno-deficient. [6]

On the other hand cooking foods like raw plant foods can release nutrients more effectively, making them more suitable for people with thyroid disorders, reducing the goitrogenic effects, for example. [5]

Being aware and being mindful of the food we consume can help us determine if the processing is right for our own situation.

1 Brown, L. L. Retrieved April 19, 2021. Farm to Table Part 1/5 [PDF]. SCNM.

2 Fardet A, Méjean C, Labouré H, Andreeva VA, Feron G. The degree of processing of foods which are most widely consumed by the French elderly population is associated with satiety and glycemic potentials and nutrient profiles. Food Funct. 2017;8(2):651-658. doi:10.1039/c6fo01495j

3 Aguilera JM. The food matrix: implications in processing, nutrition and health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(22):3612-3629. doi:10.1080/10408398.2018.1502743

4 Fardet A. Minimally processed foods are more satiating and less hyperglycemic than ultra-processed foods: a preliminary study with 98 ready-to-eat foods. Food Funct. 2016;7(5):2338-2346. doi:10.1039/c6fo00107f

5 Brown, L. L. (n.d.). Farm to Table: Part 2 of 5 [PDF]. SCNM.

6 Loaharanu P. Irradiation as a cold pasteurization process of food [published correction appears in Vet Parasitol 1997 Jul 15;71(1):65]. Vet Parasitol. 1996;64(1-2):71-82. doi:10.1016/0304-4017(96)00964-8



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