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Monthly Archives: January 2017

What are the healthiest cooking oils?

The average consumer today is spoiled for choice when it comes to cooking oils. Most stores (including health food stores) in the West tend to be packed with oils of various colors, tastes and origins, and it can be difficult to distinguish the healthy ones from the unhealthy ones.

The most important factor to bear in mind when choosing oils is not just whether an oil is safe and nutritious in its unprocessed state, but also whether it remains safe and nutritious after exposure to high temperatures. Unfortunately, many oils — including otherwise healthy oils, such as fish oil and flax oil — are high in polyunsaturated fats, which have a limited resistance to oxidation and rancidification, and can produce cancer-causing free radicals when heated.

However, oils that are high in saturated and monounsaturated fats tend to be both nutritious and highly resistant to heating, making them excellent choices for cooking. The best of these healthy oils are listed below.

Coconut oil

There are many reasons why natural health experts consider coconut oil the king of cooking oils. Aside from being one of the stablest oils at high temperatures (approximately 90 percent of its fatty acids are saturated), coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, an especially beneficial fat with proven antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Moreover, a study published in the journal Lipids discovered that consuming just 1 ounce of coconut oil daily could help trigger weight loss. Significantly, coconut oil seems to be especially effective at removing abdominal or “visceral” fat, which is the really nasty fat that clings to our internal organs and contributes to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The healthiest type of coconut oil is raw, extra-virgin coconut oil — the kind that actually smells of coconuts. Refined coconut oil is usually bleached or deodorized, and though it still remains stable when heated, it tends to contain a compromised nutrient profile.

Olive oil

A staple in the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil is one of the world’s healthiest oils and has been linked to numerous health benefits. For example, a review featured inNutricion Hospitalaria shows that one of the main fatty acids in olive oil, oleic acid, possessed considerable anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also showed that oleic acid is responsible for olive oil’s well-known ability to reduce blood pressure.

However, doesn’t olive oil become toxic when exposed to heat? Actually, this common misconception, which is widely pushed by the mainstream media, has been disproved by several studies. Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistryfound that olive oil, which is comprised of approximately 75 percent monounsaturated fat, remains fairly stable at low to medium-heat temperatures and is perfectly safe for cooking.

Other healthy oils

Other healthy oils that remain healthy when heated include palm oil, sesame seed oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil (though macadamia oil should only be used for low- or medium-heat cooking). While not strictly oils, animal products like butter, ghee and lard are also superb cooking aids that have been part of our natural diet for centuries.

How to avoid inadvertently poisoning your food when making home-cooked meals

When it comes to cooking at home, most health-conscious folks would probably say that their aim is to prepare wholesome, savory meals in the cleanest way possible for their families. However, unless these foods are cooked properly at the right temperatures and for the appropriate lengths of time, they could still be harmful to your health even if they are organic.

In addition to the more obvious precautions such as choosing only chemical-free produce and pasture-raised meats and cooking with only healthy saturated fats at higher heat, home cooks also need to pay attention to the ways in which they cook these foods. Certain foods — carbohydrates in particular — can release toxins when they are cooked at too high of a temperature or for too long.

When cooked improperly, potatoes are one such food that can generate a poisonous substance known as acrylamide that animal studies have shown can cause cancer. This white, odorless, water-soluble chemical is generated when starchy foods are cooked at temperatures higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 121 degrees Celsius. Potatoes (including sweet potatoes), grains, and even coffee all generate acrylamide during cooking and/or roasting.

Temperature is not the only thing that matters; cooking time is also an important consideration. For example, when potatoes are cooked above the aforementioned temperature threshold, they continue to progressively produce more acrylamide the longer they are cooked. For this reason, it is important for home cooks to pay attention to both temperature and cooking duration when preparing food for their families at home.

Why is acrylamide so bad for your health? Here’s what The Healthy Home Economist‘s Sarah Pope has to say on the matter, referencing published science:

“Rats and mice fed high levels of [acrylamide] in their drinking water were found by researchers to be at increased risk for several types of cancer. In people, studies on acrylamide in the diet have produced mixed results for some types of cancer including kidney, endometrial, and ovarian. Exposure to high levels of acrylamide in the workplace via inhalation or the skin has been shown to cause nerve damage, which can lead to numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, bladder problems, in addition to other symptoms.”

Take these steps to minimize acrylamide formation when cooking at home

Acrylamide is clearly something we all want to avoid, but what is the best way to accomplish this? The first and most obvious way is to cook starchy foods at 250 degrees F or less whenever possible, paying close attention to the color of foods as they cook. Try to keep browning — and charring in particular — to a minimum. You should aim for a light, golden brown color.

Another easy way to minimize acrylamide formation in carbohydrate foods is to blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes prior to frying, baking, or broiling. You can soak potatoes in cold water for 15 to 30 minutes prior to cooking; make sure to drain the water and blot them dry before exposing them to hot oils and fats so they don’t splash and cause burns or fires.

Even when you use healthy oils like coconut and palm or healthy fats like lard and ghee, acrylamide will continue to form the longer a food is cooked. Therefore, you should keep cooking time to a minimum, allowing for just enough heat exposure to produce the desired end product. When cooking is complete, dry the cooked foods in a hot air oven for a few minutes to decrease acrylamide content.

Don’t store potatoes in your refrigerator, and never eat sprouted potatoes

Normally when we think of sprouted foods, the implication is that they’re always healthier and more nutritious than their non-sprouted counterparts. In the case of potatoes, however, the exact opposite is true. When potatoes sprout, they produce a toxic substance known as solanine that has been shown to trigger gastrointestinal and neurological problems when ingested.

To avoid this, always store your potatoes in a dark, cool place where they are not exposed to the light. It is also important to avoid storing potatoes in your refrigeratorbecause this actually increases the amount of acrylamide produced when those potatoes are later cooked.

High-heat cooking can also produce other dangerous and potentially carcinogenic compounds, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), as well as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Like acrylamide, these substances result from the chemical reactions of various creatines and amino acids that are produced during the cooking process.

Both HCAs and PAHs are recognized cancer-causing agents and are likely the very reason that meats, for example, have been vilified in recent years as potentially causing cancer. It isn’t necessarily the meats themselves that are causing cancer, but rather the way these meats are procured and served — at high heat and often charred.

MSM recommends hours-long cooking process to destroy nutrition and energy in rice before eating

Scientists from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka have a new recommendation for how to lose weight, according to a report released by ABC Newslate last March. No, it’s not eating more fruits and veggies, and no, it’s not adding more exercise to your daily routine. It’s not “drink more water” either.

Sudhair James, a graduate student from Sri Lanka who performed the study, advises using a “simple” three-step process when cooking rice so that its caloric content is reduced.

That’s it! No more running, no more forcing down that steamed broccoli you hate so much. Just boil your rice, cool it down in the refrigerator and then nuke it in the microwave to help shed those extra pounds.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, it is. Not only is it a silly suggestion for how to slim down, but this “simple method” destroys all of the rice’s nutrition, stripping it of any potential it had of providing your body with essential nutrients.

Scientists recommend turning starch into “indigestible form of starch” to reduce rice’s calorie count

James, whose study was supervised by Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajva, recommends boiling rice with a small amount of coconut oil before placing it into the refrigerator. After letting it cool for a few hours, James says to microwave it briefly, and walah! The rice’s calorie count is reduced by as much as 60 percent.

“The hypothesis is that we turn more of the starch into an indigestible form of starch, which reduces the amount of calories the body will absorb,” said Thavarajva in an interview with ABC News.

While presenting the research at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver, Colorado, James explained how 38 Sri Lankan rice varieties were considered before choosing to test the one with the lowest amount of naturally occurring starch resistant to digestion.

After experimenting with different cooking approaches, researchers decided that the best method was to boil it with oil before decreasing the rice’s temperature.

Researchers claim reducing the calorie content of rice could be a future method for fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes

“The beautiful piece is there was a fifteen-fold increase in the amount of resistant starch after using this method,” James said in the conference. “This led to a 10 to 15 percent calorie reduction.”

ABC News reports:

Starch molecules are shaped like doughnuts, explained Thavarajva. The added oil seeps into the holes of the molecules during cooking to help block digestive enzymes. Cooling the rice then allows the rice molecules to rearrange and pack together more tightly to increase their resistance to digestion, he explained.

The researchers believe their experiment to be such a breakthrough that they think it could one day be used in “commercial preparations” to help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We as scientists believe that if we are going to do this process on the best varieties and if this method is going to work this could be a massive breakthrough,” said James. “We could lower the calories in rice by 50 to 60 percent.”

Hop on the exercise bike and eat more vegetables!

As many scientists and nutritionists would likely agree, a better way to prevent diabetes and obesity would be to monitor one’s calorie intake, replace junk food with healthy foods and kick up your exercise routine. That’s right, do it the old-fashioned way.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aside from genetics, physical inactivity and being overweight are two factors strongly associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

Cook these six vegetables for even greater health benefits

While nobody will dispute the fact that addingmore raw, organic fruits and vegetables to our diet is essential for overall health and well-being, going raw all the way isn’t always the best option either.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who followed a strictly raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene, but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene. As reported by Scientific American, high lycopene levels have been associated with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. According to Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, lycopene may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

It seems that some vegetables need a little heat to release their plant goodness. Most plants have a tough cellular structure. Lightly cooking these food makes it easier for the body to break down the plant’s thick cell walls, making nutrients more available for absorption.

Read on to discover six foods that are healthier cooked.

1. Asparagus

Lightly cooking asparagus spears makes it easier for the body to absorb cancer-fighting vitamins such as vitamin A, C and E, as well as folate. Furthermore, higher levels of antioxidants, ferulic acid in particular, have been reported when this vegetable is cooked.

2. Carrots

Beta-carotene is the compound that gives carrots their vibrant orange color. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is vital for vision, reproduction, bone growth and immune health.

Carrots, however, are sturdy vegetables and don’t give up their nutrients that quickly. To get the most out of your carrots, Researchers at the University of Arkansas advise that higher levels of beta-carotene are obtained when carrots are cooked.

3. Mushrooms

According to Andrew Weil, M.D., mushrooms are indigestible when they are uncooked. He said that thoroughly heating them releases the nutrients they contain, including B vitamins, proteins and minerals, as well as compounds not found in other foods.

4. Pumpkin and other winter squash

Not many people will eat raw pumpkin, unless it is put through a juicer, and that is just fine, since cooked pumpkin has been shown to be more nutritious. Just like carrots, pumpkins need a little heat to break down tougher cell walls and release their plant goodness.

5. Spinach

Folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium are more available in raw spinach. However, slightly cooking spinach increases the levels of vitamin A and E, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, iron and protein – as well as essential carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

6. Tomatoes

While cooking tomatoes reduces vitamin C levels, it also makes lycopene more available to the body. As mentioned earlier, lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. Vitamin C is an abundant vitamin, so it is well worth the loss.

As you can see, raw isn’t necessarily always best. However, if you love tomato or spinach salads and can’t stand them cooked, that doesn’t mean you should stop eating them raw. Whether you enjoy your veggies raw or cooked, the most important thing is that you are eating them in the first place.