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Intense exercise before starting a fast can help you reach ketosis faster, research suggests

INSIDER
Gabby LandsverkDecember 3, 2021

  • Intermittent fasting may help improve metabolism and prevent disease, according to research.
  • Starting a fast by exercising could help you see the benefits more quickly, a new study suggests.
  • An intense workout burns through stored energy, which helps you reach ketosis quicker, researchers theorize.

Intermittent fasting, the trend of abstaining from food for set periods of time in the day or week, is praised by some experts as an aid for weight loss and disease prevention.

You may be able to benefit even more from fasting if you kick start it with a workout, which could help you reach ketosis faster, according to a study published in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah looked at 20 healthy men and women who completed two 36-hour fasting periods, one starting with exercise and one without. They were looking to see how quickly participants reached ketosis, a metabolic state of burning fat for energy. Ketosis occurs after the body runs out of carbohydrates or glucose, its preferred fuel source, either through fasting or a low carb diet.

The researchers determined whether participants were in ketosis by testing them for one specific type of ketone, a chemical the body produces during ketosis. The chemical, beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB), has been linked to health benefits like reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, and lower risk of aging-related diseases.

Typically, it can take between 20 to 24 hours of fasting for ketosis to begin and ketones to appear. However, this study found that participants were in ketosis three and a half hours sooner, on average, when they started their fast with an exercise session.

Intense exercise may help quicken ketosis by burning off carbs

Researchers theorized that exercise helped kickstart the fast by using up some of the body’s glucose, or stored carbohydrate energy. Participants worked out by running on the treadmill for 40 to 50 minutes with intense effort (70% of their maximum heart rate). It’s not clear from this study what type of exercise might be ideal for inducing ketosis, or how long you need to work out for best results. The best exercise style and timing may also vary from person to person. Previous research has shown, though, that high-intensity exercise burns glucose more quickly.

“The more carbohydrates you burn off (without overdoing it or injuring yourself), the better you set the stage for starting ketosis early in your fast,” Landon Deru, lead author of the study and a PhD student at Brigham Young University, said in a press release.

Working out could also improve your mood while fasting

Some evidence suggests exercise can boost appetite, prompting you to eat back calories you’ve burned off, but this study found participants weren’t hungrier when fasting after a workout.

While fasting generally was linked to some unpleasant side effects, like hunger or moodiness, exercise didn’t seem to exacerbate them. In some cases, participants who worked out reported feeling happier during the fast, potentially because the brain releases feel-good chemicals during and after exercise (sometimes called a runner’s high).

“Everyone’s going to be a little grumpier when they fast, but we found that you aren’t going to feel worse with the intervention of exercise — with exercise, you can get these extra benefits and be the exact same amount of grumpy as you would be if you didn’t exercise,” Deru said.

Read the original article on Insider

What Actually Increases Your Testosterone and What Doesn’t

by Jen Kates
on June 03, 2021

All too often, we look to supplements or oral medications to solve our nutritional or hormonal deficiencies, but this approach is not always effective. Fortunately, even hormonal issues such as low testosterone can often be resolved by building some new, healthier habits.

Why are Testosterone Levels Important?

Men’s levels of testosterone, a steroid hormone, tend to decline an average of 1% per year after the age of 30. While testosterone also plays an important role in women’s health, this article focuses on natural methods men can use to impact their testosterone levels.

Low levels of testosterone has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including low libido, changes in sexual function, reduced fertility, fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulty in weight loss or maintaining body composition, decrease in muscle mass, brain fog and emotional fluctuations. Lower testosterone may also eventually lead to longer-term issues such as osteoporosis (low bone density) and cardiovascular concerns. A variety of factors are believed to impact testosterone levels, in addition to age, including obstructive sleep apnea, medication side effects, thyroid issues, excessive drug and alcohol use, and depression.

A growing body of research offers insight into how testosterone levels can be boosted through lifestyle-related behaviors. However, be sure to discuss any health concerns, which may or may not be related to testosterone levels, with your physician or healthcare provider.

How to Increase Testosterone Naturally

  1. Exercise and lift weights. In general, exercise offers numerous health benefits that can help prevent lifestyle-related illnesses and diseases. For example, resistance training has been shown to be one of the best ways to increase testosterone. You need to stick with a weight or resistance-training program for at least six weeks before seeing any potential changes. Additionally, some research has shown that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may increase testosterone more than steady-state endurance exercise.
  1. Optimize your sleep. Getting ample sleep is one of the most underrated things you can do to optimize your overall health. The ideal number of hours of sleep varies for each person, but seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended for most people. Optimal sleep can help reduce stress and cortisol levels and increase one’s overall sense of well-being. Studies have shown that sleeping only five hours a night can decrease testosterone levels by 15%; conversely, for every extra hour of sleep you get, testosterone levels may increase by an average of 15%.
  1. Reduce and manage stress. The stress hormone cortisol tends to increase when chronic stress is high. When cortisol levels are fluctuating due to stress, testosterone levels, in turn, can lower. Stress and elevated cortisol have also been linked to an increase in body fat, which is shown to decrease testosterone levels.
  1. Eat a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates and fat. Prolonged dieting may contribute to low testosterone levels, according to some research. Additionally, a balanced diet that includes adequate protein, carbohydrate and fat is essential for maximizing the benefits of an exercise program.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Low testosterone is often seen in men with overweight or obesity. Getting any extra weight off may encourage a higher testosterone level. By following the steps above, such as exercising and eating a balanced diet, a healthy weight can be more easily maintained.

Post Author

Author

Jen Kates

Contributor

Jen (Pn2, NASM-CPT, ACE Certified Health Coach) has been a coach in the fitness industry for almost 15 years. She’s the host of the podcast Making Shift Happen and the owner of Shift Human Performance (www.shifthumanperformance.com), both of which allow her to share her purpose to help others create their best lives without spending countless hours in the kitchen and gym. In her spare time outside of the gym, she enjoys mountain biking, spending time outdoors in Colorado, and spending time with her family and silly rescue pup. Follow Jen on Instagram (@shifthumanperformance), Twitter (@shiftyourselfup), or contact her at jen@shifthumanperformance.com.

What are Processed Foods: A Guide to Eating Healthier

by Michelle Zive
on July 12, 2018

What do bagged spinach, canned tuna, olive oil, granola bars and frozen burritos have in common? They all are processed foods. Yet, we have been inundated with warnings about the harmful effects of eating processed foods. In fact, these foods have been blamed for our nation’s obesity epidemic, high blood pressure rates and the rise of type 2 diabetes. Based on the examples above, however, you can see that processed foods are more than packaged ramen noodles, potato chips and drive-thru chicken nuggets. This article helps you differentiate between the processed foods you should be cautious of and those that can play a role in a balanced, healthy diet.

What is Processed Food?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, processed foods include any food that has been deliberately changed in some way before consumption. Examples of processing include foods that are cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition through fortification (adding folic acid to bread products or calcium and vitamin D to milk and juices). It also includes foods that are preserved (beef jerky or canned fruit) or prepared in different ways (fermentation).

Processed foods range from minimally to heavily processed, including:

  • Minimally processed foods—such as bagged spring mix lettuce, cut-up vegetables and roasted nuts—are simply pre-prepped for convenience.
  • Foods that are processed at their peak to preserve nutritional quality and freshness and include frozen fruit and vegetables, canned tomatoes and canned tuna.
  • Jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing and cake mixes are examples of foods that contain ingredients such as sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives, which are added for flavor and texture.
  • Ready-to-eat foods, such as cookies, breakfast cereals, and deli meat, are more heavily processed.
  • The most heavily processed foods on the processed food spectrum are often pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

How to Incorporate the Best Processed Foods Into Your Diet

Processed foods can be helpful and convenient for preparing healthy meals. Unfortunately, most Americans get too many calories from the more heavily processed categories and not enough from lightly processed foods.

The key to consuming the healthiest processed foods is to be able to distinguish between those that have been lightly processed versus those that are heavily processed. Basically, lightly processed foods are ones you can recognize in their original form such as pre-cut apple slices, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna and frozen vegetables. Those that are highly processed are not in their original form such as potato chips and crackers, or foods that are not naturally occurring such as sodas, cookies and candy. The best way to understand where foods fall along the food-processing spectrum is by understanding the Nutrition Facts Label and ingredient list. This is especially important when looking for hidden sugars, sodium and fats.

Added Sugars

Added sugars are any sugar that is not naturally occurring in the food and has been added manually. For example, milk and dairy have a large amount of lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar in these products. However, sugars are added to fruited yogurt. Be aware that sugars are added to a wide variety of products including bread, fruit drinks, granola, protein bars, tomato sauce, canned or boxed soups, nut and seed butters, salad dressings, protein powders and sports drinks. When looking at the food label, some examples of names of added sugars are dextrose, fructose, raw sugar, nectar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar and fruit juice concentrate. Read a product’s ingredient list and look for added sugars among the first two or three ingredients. Beginning in July 2018, grams of added sugar will be included in the Nutrition Facts Label.

Sodium

Highly processed foods often have a substantial amount of salt added to preserve foods and extend shelf life. In fact, they are major contributors to sodium in our diets. Therefore, choose foods labeled no salt, low-sodium or reduced-sodium to decrease your sodium consumption. We need some sodium, but we often consume more than the Dietary Guidelines for American’s recommendation of less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

Fats

Added fats can help make foods more shelf-stable and give them texture and taste. While trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels, are on the decline in processed foods, you still might find them when reading food labels. The Food and Drug Administration banned artificial trans fats from the food supply, but food companies have until 2018 to comply. Look for zero grams of trans fats and no partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.

Below is a list of strategies for choosing processed foods that are good for you:

  1. Frozen vegetables and fruits: If fresh produce is not available or if you often find a “soup” of wilted and spoiled produce at the bottom of your refrigerator drawer, purchase frozen fruits and vegetables instead. Because of the process used to freeze produce (blanched and then quick-frozen), many of the nutrients (vitamins C and E) are the same or even higher in frozen produce as compared to fresh.
  2. Fermented foods: Foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh contain probiotics, which may help bolster the immune system and relieve constipation.
  3. Sprouted foods: Whole grains and beans are living seeds, and some processing with the right amount of moisture and temperature can make them sprout. These foods have been found to be easily digestible, have a minimal effect on blood-sugar levels, and contain more protein, fiber, and B vitamins than their non-sprouted counterparts. Look for “sprouted” on the food package.

Clearly, processed foods have a place in our busy lives. Prepackaged fruits and vegetables are a convenient way to eat healthfully. In addition, methods of processing, such as fermentation and sprouting can help us obtain the nutrients we wouldn’t otherwise be consuming.

https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/specialty-certifications/fitness-nutrition.aspx

Author

Michelle Zive

Contributor

Michelle Zive, PhD, MS, RD received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in nutritional sciences, and has been a registered dietitian for over 30 years. In 2017, she received her PhD in leadership from the University of San Diego. For over 30 years, she has worked at UC San Diego’s Center for Community Health as an executive director and administrator of large health promotion programs in communities with the greatest health needs. These community health projects promote access, availability, and affordability of healthy foods, physical activity, and food security while decreasing chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. The focus is on nutrition education and social marketing to educate community members, as well as changing policies, systems, and environmental changes to support people’s healthy lifestyles and well-being. Zive has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles.  In addition, she has contributed to a number of ACE publications including the ACE Health Coach Manual.  Zive is passionate about translating the latest research into useful information for the pubic.

Banana-Cocoa Soy Smoothie

Higher Vitamin D Levels Linked To Better Fitness

By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD | March 21, 2019 | 1

There’s another reason to make sure you’re getting enough of the sunshine vitamin: High levels of vitamin D in the blood are now linked with better fitness, according to research from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. In the study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 20- to 49-year-olds with better vitamin D status also tended to have greater cardiorespiratory fitness, a measure of aerobic fitness often determined by measuring maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) during exertion.

Muscle cells have receptors for vitamin D; that might explain why this nutrient can influence athletic performance. Admittedly, the study showed only an association between vitamin D and cardiorespiratory fitness and did not prove that high vitamin D levels increase people’s ability to run harder for longer. Even so, it seems like a good idea for fitness-minded folks to make sure they get enough vitamin D via safe amounts of sun exposure, dietary sources like fatty fish and fortified dairy, and supplementation if a physician or dietitian deems it necessary.

Everything you Need to Know about the Updated Nutrition Facts Label

by American Council on Exercise
on February 22, 2021

Imagine a world where packaged foods and drinks do not contain consistent and uniform nutrition facts labels. Consider how challenging it would be to make healthy food choices regarding the quality and quantity of the foods you consume. This was the case before 1990, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Since then, several iterations of nutrition facts labels have taken form, and, by the mid-1990s, most food packaging contained the iconic black and white label that most people recognize.

However, if you are a keen observer, you may have recently noticed changes to the nutrition facts label on some of the foods you purchase. In 2016, significant updates to the label were initiated for the first time in more than 20 years and food manufacturers are working together with the FDA to ensure a complete update by July 1, 2021. The nutrition facts label is being updated based on new nutrition research, updated scientific information, and input from the public, all to make it easier for consumers to make informed food choices to better support a healthy diet. This is all part of the FDA’s ongoing public health efforts to reduce nutrition-related preventable death and disease and to help individuals maintain healthy dietary practices.

1. Serving Sizes Have Been Revised to Better Reflect the Amounts of Food and Drink People Typically Consume

They are not a recommendation for how much a person should consume. For example, the serving size for soda has changed from 8 ounces to 12 ounces not to encourage the consumption of more soda, but instead to better represent how much soda is typically consumed as a single serving. In addition, the declared serving size now appears in a larger and bolder font. If a food package contains an amount that is between one and two servings, such as a 15 ounce can of soup, it is required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume the whole can.

2. The Most Noticeable Change to the Label Is the Larger and Bolder Font Used for Calories

This change makes this information easy to find, which can be very helpful when comparing foods in the store or when keeping track of calories consumed.

3. Because Research Suggests That the Type of Fat Consumed Is More Important Than the Amount of Fat Consumed, “Calories From Fat” Has Been Removed From the Label

  • The daily nutritional goal for total fat is 20–35% of total calories.
  • Daily saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of total calories.

4. Added Sugars Are Now Required to Appear on the Nutrition Facts Label as a Percent Daily Value and in Grams

This addition to the label aligns with a key focus from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for limiting foods and beverages higher in added sugars, with a recommendation to consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. If you consume more than 10% of calories from added sugars, it is hard to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits.

5. Underconsumption of Vitamin D and Potassium Is Considered a Public Health Concern for the General U.S. Population Because an Inadequate Intake Is Associated With Health Concerns

Luckily, ensuring an adequate amount will now be easier with the requirement that potassium and vitamin D appear on the label. Additionally, not only must a percent daily value be provided for vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron, but the actual amount must also be provided. Vitamins A and C are no longer required to appear on the label because deficiencies of these nutrients are rare. Also, it is important to note that new scientific evidence has led to higher and lower percent daily values for certain nutrients (Tables 1 and 2). For example, the percent daily value for total fat has increased from 65 grams to 78 grams, meaning that if a packaged food contains 40 grams of fat in one serving it would have previously been labeled as 62% of the daily value and now it would be labeled as 51% of the daily value. In addition, added sugars and choline now have percent daily values (Table 3). Figures 1 and 2 depict the relationship between daily value and percent daily value—as one increases, the other increases.

  • 5% daily value or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low.
  • 20% daily value or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high.

Table 1

Table 2 

Table 3

Figure 1

Figure 2

6. The Footnote at the Bottom of the Label Has Been Simplified to Better Explain the Meaning of Percent Daily Value

This helps individuals more clearly understand nutrition information in the context of total daily calories consumed.

Reading the nutrition facts label may seem like a daunting task, but it can help you make informed dietary decisions as part of a healthy eating pattern and avoid nutrition-related health concerns. To practically apply this information and better understand how the label relates to your daily food intake, please visit MyPlate.

Benefits and Advantages of Going Vegetarian

by Justin Robinson
on October 06, 2020

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, all similar terms with some distinct differences. It can be confusing to know which approach is the best for you, especially if you’re trying to make some healthy changes. This article examines the differences between these diets and looks at the available research on the benefits of making the switch to a diet that is focused primarily on plants (and may or may not eschew meat altogether).

Types of Plant-based Diets

Vegetarian diets usually include all fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and may include eggs and dairy products. All of these diets typically exclude all meats (flesh). Plant-based is an encompassing term for vegan and vegetarian diets that are defined by the type or frequency of animal product(s) consumed. There also are subsets within these diets, which are defined by the types of animal-based products that are consumed or avoided:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Consumes eggs and dairy products
  • Lacto-vegetarian: Consumes dairy products
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Consumes eggs
  • Pescetarian: Consumes fish
  • Semi-vegetarian: Occasionally consumes meat (once or twice per week) or excludes all red meat
  • Flexitarian: Rarely consumes meat (once or twice per month)
  • Vegan: Does not consume any animal products

Given this range of plant-based classifications, it can be difficult to determine from the available research exactly which types provide the most health benefits. Cardiovascular disease (CVD), for example, takes years to develop, so a well-controlled, short-term study cannot adequately assess CVD risk. Therefore, we must rely on examining the correlations between dietary habits and health factors. Overall, a well-planned and executed vegetarian diet can provide adequate nutrition, promote overall health and lower the risk of major chronic diseases.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific health benefits of following a plant-based diet.

Benefit #1: Increased Healthy Food Intake

Eating a variety of vegetables and whole fruits is a key recommendation of healthy eating patterns. A varied consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes and nuts at an appropriate calorie level usually leads to an adequate intake of dietary fiber and a low intake of saturated fat and hydrogenated vegetable oils. As a result, vegetarians commonly have lower body mass indexes (BMI), LDL-cholesterol, blood pressure and reduced rates of stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and death from heart diseasethan do non-vegetarians.

Further, vegetarian eating patterns are rich in health-promoting phytochemicals and vitamins C and E, which function as antioxidants to protect against oxidative stress. Additionally, these eating patterns provide magnesium and potassium rich foods which can improve insulin sensitivity and vascular function, respectively The dietary fiber along with phytochemicals can help improve and maintain gut the microbiome.

To summarize, potential mechanisms for improved health from vegetarian eating plans include weight loss/maintenance, blood sugar control, improved lipid profile, reduced blood pressure, decreased inflammation and improved gut health.

Benefit #2: Decreased Unhealthy Food Intake

Several dietary factors in animal foods have been associated with increased risk of CVD. Historically, saturated fats, prevalent in meats, have been linked to elevated cholesterol and other unfavorable disease risk profiles. Interestingly, saturated fats themselves may not be responsible for many of the adverse health effects that they have been associated with, but rather the processing of meats may be at fault. Consuming preservatives in processed meats, such as sodium, nitrates and nitrites, may raise blood pressure and impair insulin response.

Most research shows a sliding scale of improved health outcomes from increased plant intake with decreased meat intake. Completely eliminating meat and dairy products may not be necessary for good health, however, as they can be part of a healthy eating pattern. Choosing whole foods over processed foods also is an important strategy for maximizing the health benefits from any diet plan.

Going Vegetarian

As mentioned, the term “vegetarian” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, as vegetarians exhibit diverse dietary practices. Here are some suggestions for making the shift toward a plant-based diet:

  • Gradually reduce animal food intake, as this method is easier to adopt and adhere to than more extreme recommendations, such as completely excluding all animal products.
  • Start with a few plant-based meals per week and build toward creating a sustainable habit.
  • Incorporate a theme into your meal planning. For example, you could start with “Meatless Mondays” and gradually expand the idea to include two to three days per week. Or try “Vegan Before 6,” which is an approach that allows meat and animal products only at dinner.
  • Consider sustainability in how it applies to the longevity of a diet plan. For example, following a semi-vegetarian eating plan is likely to be easier to maintain than a strict vegan plan over a long period of time.
  • Understand that healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a 30-day challenge.

The Wrong Way to Follow a Vegetarian Diet

As with any diet plan, there are healthy and less-healthy versions of vegetarianism, and being any type of vegetarian by name does not guarantee the health benefits discussed earlier.  Soda, cookies, French fries, macaroni and cheese, and sugary cereals are all vegetarian foods. Certainly, a vegetarian diet can be high in calories, sugar, preservatives and unhealthy fats. Also, strict vegetarian diets can omit certain nutrients, primarily omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Constructing a healthy vegetarian diet includes meal planning and preparation to avoid missing out on important nutrients.

A plant-based diet may also need to include fortified foods (i.e., vitamins and minerals added to the product) and potentially supplementation. Vitamin B12, specifically, is only obtainable through animal foods or dietary supplements. Eggs and milk, however, contain B12; thus, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian will have fewer nutrient gaps to fill than a vegan.

Summary

Consuming adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits is, in fact, the strongest correlate with reduced disease risks, particularly CVD (USDA, 2015). A healthy diet (including or excluding meat products) should include more vegetables and fewer processed foods. Regardless of which dietary approach you follow, make healthy eating a lifestyle that you can follow for years to come.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets High in Ultraprocessed Foods

Eating more plants is no “eat-better” guarantee.

By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD
Jul 6, 2021

Food from vegan diets

Going from meat to vegetarian or vegan diets may result in a surprising and troubling change in the types of foods people choose to add to their diets. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers divided more than 21,000 adults into four groups—meat eaters, pesco-vegetarians (whose diet includes fish), vegetarians and vegans—and analyzed daily food intake.

The study found that those who followed vegetarian and vegan diets appeared to consume more ultraprocessed foods (UPFs). These are packaged foods like potato chips, ice cream, and the new wave of engineered meat and dairy substitutes, like foods made from textured soy protein and plant-based drinks made from soy, almond or rice. Those who initiated a meat-free diet at a younger age were more likely to include more UPFs in their diet.

Those who believe that steering clear of meat and dairy is enough to improve health should also check out a separate investigation, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Using 13 years of data from nearly 92,000 people, this study found that those with the highest likelihood of cardiovascular-related death in that time frame were more likely to eat the most UPFs.

The takeaway here is that people pondering a plant-based lifestyle need to be educated on how to meet their nutrition needs using predominantly whole-food options.

Cooking Techniques and Tips That Deliver

Why the wrong kitchen equipment or cooking method can reduce the amount of nutrients you glean from even the healthiest meals.

By Catherine Reade, MS, RD
Sep 7, 2021

cooking techniques

Armed with a little bit of knowledge, home cooks can use simple cooking techniques and tips to boost the nutritive aspects of the food they prepare. However, this also works in reverse. Without knowledge, certain cooking techniques, pots, pans and utensils can actually diminish the nutrients you get from the meals you so painstakingly prepare.

In today’s busy world, those of us who take the time to shop for fresh ingredients and then cook well-balanced, healthy meals want to ensure we’re getting the biggest nutrient bang for our efforts. Learn these few tricks of the trade, share them with clients and bring them to your home kitchen.

Dicey Matters

“Preparing food at home provides control over what we—and our family—are eating,” says Pat Baird, MA, RD, a nutrition consultant and author in Greenwich, Connecticut. Experienced cooks use certain techniques to greatly influence the taste, texture, aroma, color, safety and nutrient value of food. This process starts with knowing the best cooking techniques and tips food preparation and storage methods.

When foods are cut, the area scored is similar to a wound: This is where the most nutrients leach out or “bleed” from! That’s why it is advisable to leave foods whole or in the largest pieces possible. It is also why you should always turn food—especially meats and poultry—with tongs or a spatula rather than a fork during cooking. This way you avoid piercing the food and releasing its nutritious juices. Whenever possible, cook fruits and vegetables with their skins intact; these skins act as a protective coating, which helps retain nutrients.

Time is also a nutrient killer. The longer foods are stored, the more the nutrients break down. Cook foods as soon after purchase as possible and eat any leftovers within a few days. Safety is also an issue here; to prevent bacterial growth, food should always be kept at below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (˚F) and cooked at above 140˚F.

Faster Foods

As a rule, rapid cooking techniques are better for retaining nutrients than slower methods. In fact, spending the least amount of time cooking is the way to go. Any type of cooking changes food in some ways. In general, nutrients are lost when food is exposed to heat, light, moisture and air (Robertson 1986). The longer food is exposed to these factors, the greater the nutrient loss. To retain the most nutrients possible, most experts recommend that you cook food thoroughly but rapidly.

The cooking techniques that typically preserve nutrients best can be ordered from quickest to slowest, as follows:

  •   pressure cooking/Instant Pot
  •   microwaving
  •   steaming
  •   stir-frying
  •   broiling/grilling
  •   sautéing
  •   poaching
  •   braising
  •   roasting
  •   baking

The nutrient retention achieved through these cooking techniques may vary according to the food type, size and shape and your own cooking technique. Note that boiling is not a preferred cooking technique because it does the most nutrient damage (Robertson 1986). This is especially true when foods are boiled in too much water, which is then poured down the drain (along with the nutrients themselves!). A practical way to recoup the nutrients that are released into boiling water is to retain the liquid after cooking and use it as stock for soups.

10 Cooking Techniques, Pros & Cons

Pressure Cooking

A pressure cooker (Instant Pot) is a pot outfitted with a locking lid. This device cooks food quickly and healthfully by creating steam under pressure, thereby increasing the cooking temperature. Foods that are the best candidates for this cooking technique are dried beans, grains and vegetables.

When using a pressure cooker, timing is essential since vegetables can become overcooked in seconds! It is also important to use precisely the amount of liquid called for in the recipe. When you are cooking grains or beans, allow enough room for them to expand; do not fill the cooker more than half full. To prevent beans and grains from foaming over, add a few teaspoons of oil (Margen et al. 1992). (Cooking in high altitudes will require more liquid and a longer cooking time.) For best results, be sure to follow the instructions that come with the pressure cooker.

Microwaving

Can anyone imagine life without the microwave now that we have become accustomed to its speed and convenience? Microwaving uses electromagnetic radiation to heat foods (McGee 1984). Water in the food is the predominant molecule affected in this process; the water moves back and forth rapidly, creating energy that causes the temperature of the food to rise quickly.

Microwaving is an undeniably fast cooking technique that uses a minimum amount of liquid, producing great-tasting vegetables and fish. However, this method is less successful for cooking meat and poultry. Quick heating can cause greater fluid loss and result in a drier texture. Also, meats and poultry can’t be browned as they can with other cooking techniques, since the food’s surface never gets any warmer than the interior; this affects both the flavor and the appearance of foods (McGee 1984).

Little is known about the long-term safety of microwaving food. Concerns have been expressed about microwaves altering the protein chemistry of foods in ways that may be harmful (Weil 1997). For this reason, some health experts recommend using the microwave only for rapid heating and defrosting, not for longer cooking.

One major health concern tied to microwaving involves the use of plastic containers or plastic wrap—even those types labeled “microwave safe.” It appears that chemicals from the plastics (known as “plasticizers”) can migrate into food and may eventually interfere with the body’s hormonal balance, contributing to birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, early puberty in girls and some hormone-dependent cancers (Walsh 1998; Welland 2000). Heat and light accelerate this potentially detrimental process (Welland 2000). The hotter the food is, the greater the risk of these plastic particles melting into the food. To avoid this danger, use glass or ceramic containers like Pyrexor Corningware, which do not react with food. To keep food moist, cover it with a glass or ceramic lid, paper towel or wax paper.

Steaming

This healthful cooking technique retains most nutrients, since the food is not immersed in water. Almost any food that can be boiled can be steamed, especially any type of vegetable. Invest in a metal steaming basket or bamboo steamer or improvise using a metal colander in a pot topped with a tight-fitting lid. A large steamer pot is ideal since it provides ample space for the steam to circulate, cooking the food most efficiently. Water will boil away as the food is cooking, so be sure to start off with enough liquid in the pot.

See also: Steamed Lemony Tilapia Recipe

Stir-Frying

Traditionally an Asian cooking technique, stir-frying rapidly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of foods, most commonly mixed vegetables. Thinly sliced pieces of beef, chicken or shrimp can also be stir-fried in a wok or large, nonstick frying pan. Stir-fried meals are healthful because foods cook rapidly at relatively high temperatures. Very little oil is needed with this cooking technique, just enough to form a thin film on the pan (Hensrud et al. 1998). If desired, broth, wine or nonstick cooking spray can be used instead of oil. (Just be sure to add more liquid to the pan as it evaporates.) Gradually add the oil or broth to the pan, heating until hot but not smoking. Then toss in the food and stir constantly until meats are thoroughly cooked and vegetables are just tender and crisp (Margen et al. 1992).

Broiling and Grilling

Both of these cooking techniques expose food to direct heat, leaving food crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside with a characteristically intense flavor. These methods work well with meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables and even fruit! For best results, meat should be cut in chunks 1 to 2 inches thick; however, leaner meats, such as chicken or fish fillets, can toughen and overcook under such high heat. Depending on the food’s thickness and the heat intensity radiated by the broiler or grill, position meat about 4 inches from the heat source; place chicken and fish about 6 to 8 inches away (McGee 1984; Margen et al. 1992). For a great marinade recipe that can be used on most grilled or broiled foods, see the “Marvelous Marinade” sidebar.

Sturdy vegetables can also be broiled or grilled. However, this works best if the veggies are in fairly large pieces (like whole baby carrots or mushrooms), thickly sliced (like red potato wedges) or cut in half (like eggplant). You can either marinate the veggies and cover them with aluminum foil or brush them lightly with oil and put them in a wire basket, which can be easily turned during cooking. Place the vegetables about 4 inches from the heat source and, as the veggies cook, baste them once or twice with broth, marinade or juice. When they begin to brown, turn them over to lightly brown the other side (Margen et al. 1992).

When broiling, use a pan with a rack to allow the fat drippings to slip through; this will lower the fat content of meat and prevent flare-ups caused by dripping fat. Although grilling causes fat to drip away, flare-ups when barbequing can result in harmful substances forming on meat. The smoke coats the barbequed food with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may promote cancer (Golub 2001). The high temperatures of grilling (and broiling) can also cause carcinogenic substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form on the surface of well-done and charred meat (Golub 2001). For tips on how to grill more safely, see “Healthy Barbequing Tips.”

Sautéing

Sometimes called pan-frying, sautéing rapidly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food in little or no oil. The best candidates for this cooking technique are vegetables and thin cuts of meats or seafood, such as pork medallions, boneless chicken breasts and scallops. Traditionally, most cooks have used butter or oil to sauté, but very little fat is needed if a nonstick pan is used (Margen et al. 1992). Depending on the recipe, broth, wine or water can replace all or some of the oil. (Keep in mind, however, that these liquids do not heat as quickly as oil and may slightly alter the cooking process and flavor.) I personally prefer to sauté garlic lightly in olive oil, then add a cut-up vegetable like broccoli (either raw or blanched) for a quick side dish; for an entrée, I add some broth and pasta.

The key to this cooking technique is to use a hot skillet, heating the liquid until hot—but not smoking—so that the food cooks quickly. Once the liquid is hot enough, add the food immediately and stir. To avoid releasing juices (and nutrients), turn meats with tongs or a spatula instead of a fork. If using broth or water in place of oil, replenish the liquid as it evaporates. The pan should be large enough to avoid crowding, or the food will actually steam rather than sauté!

Poaching

This stove-top cooking technique gently simmers foods in water (or other liquids, such as broth, vinegar, wine, fruit juice or vegetable juice, to add more flavor). Meats, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit can be poached. The nutritional advantage to poaching is that the liquid becomes part of the dish itself but contains little or no added fat. The liquid can be thickened by adding flour or cornstarch. To use this cooking technique most efficiently, choose a pan that best suits the size and shape of the food, so a minimum amount of liquid is used; this also minimizes cooking time (Hensrud et al. 1998).

Braising

Braising involves slow cooking in a small amount of liquid inside an open or covered pan. Suitable for meat, poultry or vegetables, braising can be done either on the stove top or in the oven (Hensrud et al. 1998). The braising liquid can be water, broth, juice or wine. This is one of the best cooking techniques to tenderize a tough piece of meat, since slow cooking in liquid softens the connective tissue. (Pot roast is a familiar example of a braised meat.) Be aware that fatty, tender cuts of meat will become tough with this cooking method (Margen et al. 1992).

Roasting

Like baking, roasting uses the dry heat of an oven to slowly cook food such as meat roasts, whole chicken or turkey. However, roasting is typically done at higher temperatures than baking. Almost any kind of fatty or lean meat can be roasted, although this cooking technique works best for larger cuts. Sturdy vegetables can also be roasted to intensify their flavors.

While vegetables can be roasted on a baking sheet, it is best to roast meats in a broiler or in a roasting pan with a rack so that fat can drip away from the meat during the cooking process. For easy cleaning, coat the rack with cooking spray and line the pan bottom with foil. Cooking time will vary with this method, depending on the size, shape and cut of meat. A good meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion is essential to judge when the meat is cooked thoroughly (Margen et al. 1992).

Baking

When we think about this cooking technique, the first foods that usually come to mind are baked goods, such as breads, cookies and cakes. But this dry-heat cooking technique, which cooks food by surrounding it with heated air in an oven, can be used to cook uniform-sized pieces of veggies, fruit, seafood, poultry or lean meat. Baking works well when little or no fat is added to a dish (Margen et al. 1992). Use a shallow baking dish, and cover it with foil or a lid to keep foods moist.

See also: Eating With the Seasons

Cooking Techniques & Tips: Pots, Pans, Surfaces

Like the food you prepare, a quality set of pots and pans is an essential ingredient in any successful recipe. There are two basic qualities to look for in cookware. First, it should be made from a material that conducts heat evenly and efficiently to prevent “hot spots” from developing and food from burning. Second, the pot’s surface should not be chemically reactive, which would allow atoms from the metal to leach into the food, potentially affecting the food’s flavor or color; examples of cookware with this drawback include cast-iron and aluminum pans (Garrison & Somer 1995).

Aluminum

The advantages of aluminum are that it is inexpensive, a very good heat conductor (second only to copper) and lightweight, making it easy to handle (McGee 1984). Unfortunately, food molecules can easily penetrate its surface, particularly acidic ones like tomatoes, alkaline ones like milk and sulfur-rich foods like eggs. These molecules can cause light-colored foods to become noticeably discolored. The sulfur odor that is emitted when cooking foods such as cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cauliflower and broccoli) is also intensified in aluminum pots and pans.

In the 1970s, aluminum cookware was linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease when Canadian scientists observed a higher than normal level of aluminum in the brain of patients with this disease (Schepers 2000). However, other researchers have been unable to duplicate these results (Schepers 2000). Aluminum cookware and utensils contribute about 2.5 milligrams (mg) of aluminum to the average American’s daily diet. This is small in comparison to food additives and leavening agents, which add 25 to 50 mg of aluminum daily; buffered aspirin, which adds 125 to 725 mg; or common antacids, which add 850 to 5,000 mg. If concerned, avoid aluminum cookware, but be aware that far greater sources of aluminum are regularly consumed without much fanfare (Schepers 2000).

Copper

Considered the best heat conductor, copper cooks food quickly and evenly. Unfortunately, it is highly reactive with anything it encounters, including food. To prevent copper from leaching into food, the copper must be coated with stainless steel (Schepers 2000). (Older cookware was often lined with tin, which wore off easily, revealing the copper below.) While copper is an essential mineral, too high an intake can be toxic. Never serve or cook food in unlined copper pots or pans or in utensils whose lining is worn even minimally. Pure copper pots and pans are truly for decorative use only!

Iron

Don’t tell Grandma that her old cast-iron skillet is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Chances are, her prized pan is so thick and heavy it will absorb and hold heat well, regardless of its poor conductivity! This makes cast-iron a prize of many cooking techniques. Iron cookware needs to be regularly oiled and gently cleaned to avoid corrosion. This cookware can also leach iron into food, which can be a good or bad thing. Increased iron intake can benefit children, adolescents and menstruating women, who typically need to boost their levels of this nutrient. But older people and those at risk for hemochromatosis (iron overload disorder) should avoid additional dietary iron intake (Schepers 2000).

See also: One Cast-Iron Pan, 5 Recipes from Clean Eating

Non-Stick Cookware

This cookware is created by placing a nonstick coating (like Teflon®) over metal. The obvious advantage is that this minimizes the amount of fat needed to prevent food from sticking to the pan. However, the coating itself can chip. Although the material is nontoxic and will pass through the body without being absorbed (Schepers 2000), chipping is obviously undesirable and can cause food to be unevenly cooked. To protect the coating, avoid using metal utensils with nonstick cookware. If you have a pot or pan with a significant amount of chipping or peeling, throw the piece away since the damage affects cooking performance.

Stainless Steel

Although stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, it is chemically the least reactive of the metals. Stainless steel cookware tends to be expensive, so some manufacturers skimp on the thickness of the metal. A pan that is too thin will create hot spots, causing uneven cooking. The transfer of heat is vastly improved if the pan has a copper or aluminum inner core or if the bottom of the pan is coated with copper (McGee 1984). Despite their inferior heat conduction, stainless steel pots and pans—particularly the hybrids that are “clad” or combined with other metals—are probably the best forms of cookware available today.

Ceramics

Ceramic pots and pans are poor conductors of heat, especially when used on a stove top, so they don’t distribute heat evenly over a surface. Ceramic material is a better choice when used as an oven casserole dish or a Crockpot, because the heating process is slower and more diffuse. Ceramic pots and pans do retain heat well, making them good candidates for keeping food hot at your next dinner party! However, a word of caution is in order: Do not cook or store food in that beautiful ceramic pottery you purchased on your last trip to Mexico, South America or the Mediterranean! Many of the ceramic items produced in other countries are not fired at high enough temperatures and, as a result, can leach lead from the ceramic glaze into food. Even in small amounts, lead is extremely toxic and can cause brain or nerve damage and impair the immune system (Schepers 2000).

Updated September 8, 2021

Marvelous Marinade

Marinades can not only add great flavor to food but also tenderize tougher cuts of meat. From a safety perspective, marinades may help reduce some of the carcinogens that can form on food when it is grilled or broiled (American Institute for Cancer Research 2001).

The following marinade works well when grilling or broiling vegetables, tofu or meats. Slice veggies—such as eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and/or red onion—into thick rounds or, if small, leave whole. Cut lean meat, skinless chicken, seafood or firm tofu into 2-inch cubes.

1/2 cup rice or white-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon canola oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 small bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh (or 1/2 teaspoon [tsp] dried) rosemary, thyme or oregano

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

In bowl, combine marinade ingredients until well blended. (Use a nonmetal container to prevent off flavors from forming.) You’ll need about a 1/2 cup of marinade for each pound of food. Add the food and turn several times until all sides are coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, occasionally turning food so that marinade is distributed evenly. Drain and discard marinade. Thread skewers for meat and vegetables separately or place in aluminum foil or wire baskets (cooking times will vary, depending on the food). Place on grill and turn often with tongs or spatula to prevent charring. If you want marinade for basting, make a second bowl, to prevent spreading bacteria.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research 2001.

Healthy Barbequing Tips

The American Institute of Cancer Research offers these tips for healthier grilling:

  • Barbeque plant food instead of meats. Red and white meats pose the greatest carcinogenic risk when grilled, so substitute vegetables, veggie burgers, soy dogs, soy sausages or other soy “meat.” Go wild and grill a fruit for a sweet and healthful treat.
  • If you do choose to grill meat, marinate it first. Marinades add flavor to food, can be used to tenderize meat and may even reduce the formation of carcinogenic substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by as much as 92 to 99 percent (American Institute on Cancer 2001)! (See “Marvelous Marinade”on page 25 for more details.)
  • Choose lean meats and trim away excess fat to avoid flare-ups when grilling. Remove the skin from poultry, and avoid high-fat meats, such as ribs or sausages.
  • Use small pieces of meats so they cook more quickly, requiring less time on the grill. Skewered kabobs are a great way to go.
  • Turn foods frequently, and avoid letting juices drip into the flames or coals, as this can cause smoke and flare-ups. To turn foods, use tongs or a spatula instead of a meat fork, which pierces the foods, releasing nutrient-packed juices. You can also reduce excessive smoke by covering the grill with punctured aluminum foil; not placing meats directly over coals; and keeping a water spray bottle handy to control flare-ups.
  • Precook meats before putting them on the grill. Partially cook red and white meats on the stove top or in the microwave, then grill to complete cooking and add flavor. This reduces the amount of exposure to carcinogens.
  • Remove any charred or burnt pieces of food before serving.
  • Avoid inhaling barbeque smoke or using charcoal lighter fluid; both put additional residue of toxic chemicals in food (Weil 1998).

References

American Institute for Cancer Research. 2001. The Facts About Grilling (brochure). Washington, DC: www.aicr.org.
Garrison, R., & Somer, E. 1995. The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing.
Golub, C. 2001. Sizzle safely this summer: Tips for great grilling. Environmental Nutrition (June).
Hensrud, D., et al. 1998. The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook. San Francisco: Time-Life Books.
Margen, S., et al. 1992. The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. New York: Random House.
McGee, H. 1984. On Food and Cooking. The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Collier Books.
Robertson, L. 1986. The New Laurel’s Kitchen. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Schepers, A. 2000. Concerned about your cookware? Environmental Nutrition (May).
Walsh, J. 1998. How your hormones are affected by what you eat.—The debate rages. Environmental Nutrition (February).
Weil, A. 1997. Dangers of microwaves? www.drweil
.com; published April 18, 1997; retrieved December 8, 2001.
Weil, A. 1998. 3 tips for a healthier summer. Self Healing (June).
Welland, D. 2000. Should you ban plastic products from your kitchen? Environmental Nutrition (June).

Catherine Reade, MS, RD

Catherine Reader, MS, RD, created and runs HealthFull Living, a nutrition consulting company in Littleton, Colorado, that specializes in nutrition for sports performance, weight management and wellness. She is also an ACE-certified group fitness instructor who has been designing and teaching personalized nutrition and fitness programs for more than 10 years. She can be reached at creade@dimensional.com.

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