American culture is known for being on the go 24/7.  There is even a city that claims to never sleep…  This constant push on the sympathetic nervous system can lead to multiple physical and emotional issues including rushing important elements of life.  One of the ways that Americans try to save time is in their cooking, meal preparation, and eating.  People will reach for fast food, packaged processed foods, or cook their food on high temperatures.  Although higher temperature cooking can be necessary for killing bacteria, long cooking at high temperatures such as BBQ can cause several issues.  The food can create harmful chemicals, risking our health or the food becomes depleted of nutrients.

One of the chemicals in food that is created by high heat cooking is acrylamide.  This chemical is created when the amino acid asparagine, found in many vegetables, is heated at a high temperature with the presence of sugars, also naturally occurring in vegetables.  There is an increased risk of acrylamide in potatoes especially when they are broiled, baked, or fried.  There have not been enough studies done to fully know risks of this chemical on humans; however there are studies that reveal it as a carcinogen, linking it to cancer within mice.

Another chemical more commonly found in high temperature cooked foods is advanced glycation end products (AGE).  AGEs are formed when a protein and a carbohydrate are merged together without the use of an enzyme.   AGE have the ability to affect every type of cell within the body because every cell in our body has a receptor site for AGE.  When AGE is attached to the cell it can then instruct the cell to allow certain nutrients in or out, divide, or die.  A study done at Columbia University revealed that AGE can cause oxidative stress or free radicals to the body leading to cardiovascular risk.  Increased oxidative stress can cause other issues within the body as well.

Most nutrients are vulnerable to heat.  This varies in degree based upon the food, nutrient, heat level, type of cooking, and time of cooking.   One of the easiest depleted nutrients is enzymes.  Any food cooked about 118° becomes depleted of its enzymes.  A study published by the Journal of Nutritional Science and  Vitaminology, revealed an average of 60-70% of nutrients loss compared to raw vegetables.  A study done on levels of Vitamin C depleted from cooking styles, using a variety of different vegetables discovered Vitamin C from Spinach that was boiled in a pot was depleted by 60% verses only 36% of the Vitamin C was lost from green peas when sautéed in a pan.  Another study done on folate depletion showed a range between 14-99% retention of the vitamin based on the type of food and cooking.  Even macronutrients can be altered during the cooking process- BUT that’s a topic for another day.

While reading the different issues with high temperature cooking, remember this is something that can be easily adjusted.  Take time to cook the food in a slow manner and remember:

  • Low and slow is the way to go. (But NOT to the point where everything is mushy)
  • Allow the food to show you it is ready through colors. When you steam broccoli and it becomes green and vibrant- ITS READY!!!
  • Allow the food to give you the scent that its done- When you are cooking with onions, there is that point where the kitchen zings with flavor, STOP.

Health and Happiness

References:

Kimura, M. and Itokawa, Y. Cooking losses of minerals in foods and its nutritional significance. Journal of Nutriton Science Vitaminology (Tokyo). 1990; 36 Suppl 1:S25-32; discussion S33.

National Cancer Institute. Acrylamide in Food and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute: Risk Factors and Possible Causes. July 2008. Web. January 2014. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/acrylamide-in-food

Nursal, B. and Yucecan, S. Vitamin C losses in some frozen vegetables due to various cooking methods. Nahrung. 2000 Dec; 44(6):451-3.

Rydberg P, Eriksson S, Tareke E, et al. Investigations of factors that influence the acrylamide content of heated foodstuffs. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2003; 51(24):7012–7018.

Yan, Schmidt, Anderson,  Zhang, Brett, Zou, Pinsky and D Stern. Enhanced cellular oxidant stress by the interaction of advanced glycation end products with their receptors/binding proteins. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 1994. 269, 9889-9897.