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Category Archives: food and cook

Eight reasons to try a pressure cooker

Pressure cooking is a fast, cost-effective, and healthy way to cook a variety of foods, including dried beans, brown rice and other whole grains, soups, and meats. If you have not yet discovered the benefits of using a pressure cooker, here are 8 reasons to buy and use one.

1. Pressure cooking saves time. Cooking natural foods is often time-consuming, but pressure cooking slashes cooking times. For example, cook brown rice in 15 minutes, dried beans in 12 minutes, and lentils in 7 minutes.

2. Pressure cooking saves money. After the initial purchase, you can buy less-costly dried beans instead of canned, although you might keep canned for emergencies. The energy savings from shorter cooking times means lower gas or electric bills.

3. Pressure-cooked foods taste delicious. Since very little steam escapes during the cooking process, maximum flavor is preserved. Pressure-cooked meat is moist and tender, and dried beans are more flavorful than canned, which sometimes have an aftertaste.

4. Pressure-cooked foods are healthy. Because of the closed environment and shorter cooking times, more nutrients are retained than in open cooking. Dried beans are less processed than canned, and they avoid potential BPA that is sometimes found in canned food.

5. Pressure cooking is safer than you think. Although cooking with one requires a learning curve, pressure cookers today are safer than those used by our parents and grandparents.

6. Pressure cookers are helpful for preparedness. They can be used outdoors over an open flame. So, they can be used camping or in an emergency, and their cooking efficiency is especially helpful if wood or fuel is scarce.

7. Baby food and dog food can be made in a pressure cooker. These typically store-bought foods can be made cheaper and healthier than their pre-packaged counterparts.

8. Pressure cookers have withstood the test of time. Like cast iron cooking, pressure cookers have been used for generations. Unlike cast iron, however, new technology has truly improved pressure cooking’s safety and efficiency.

Tips to use the healthiest cooking methods to improve your wellness

Choosing better foods to eat is only half the battle when you’re goal is to improve your overall wellness. The road to a better diet is also paved with better preparation methods, not just better foods.

“While most people know to ditch the fryer when cooking up healthy meals many don’t think about how their cooking method affects the nutritional make-up of their entree,” write Lindsay Joe and Elizabeth Jarrard of Greatist.com, a fast-growing fitness, health and happiness start-up.

For instance, they note, vegetables can lose up to 15-20 percent of some essential vitamins because of heat, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium. They add that some cooking methods are worse than others, which “is why raw foodists cut out cooking altogether, claiming that uncooked food maintains all of its nutritional value and supports optimal health.”

That said, some recent studies have noted that certain foods can benefit from cooking. Heat can help release antioxidants from tomatoes, spinach and carrots, just to name a few, by breaking down cell walls and providing easier passage of healthy components into the body.

Let’s examine a few of the healthiest cooking methods and what effectively makes them better choices:

Editor’s note: For a better explanation of why microwave ovens destroy your food, read this more recent article by Mike Adams, the editor of this site:

http://www.naturalnews.com/039404_microwave_…

Steaming your fish and veggies is safe, healthy and efficient. The experts note that steaming food is an excellent way to prepare it while locking in freshness, nutrients and vitamins.

“Cooking anything from fresh veggies to fish fillets this way allows them to stew in their own juices and retain all their natural goodness,” Joe and Jarrard write. “And no need for fat-laden additions to up the moisture.”

They recommend adding a bit of seasoning first, such as a sprinkle of salt or even a squeeze (or cap-full) of lemon juice.

“To steam on top of the stove, simply bring water to a boil in your selected stove-top steamer, reduce heat so that a strong simmer sends steam escaping, add food to the steaming compartment, cover with a lid, and begin timing,” says Shape magazine.

Poaching is another steaming technique you can use. Some experts think poaching decreases nutrient retention because it generally takes a bit longer, but it is an effective way to prepare delicate foods like eggs, fish or even some fruits.

Broiling and grilling your way to goodness. Anytime you don’t have to toss your food into boiling grease in order to prepare it, you are light years ahead of the game in terms of preparing healthy meals.

Broiling involves cooking food under direct heat at high temperatures for a short period of time. Broiling is a really good way to prepare tender cuts of meat (though you should remember to trim excess fat before doing so). Broiling is not the best way to cook vegetables; however, because it can dry them out easily.

Grilling is another way to retain maximum nutritional value in your foods without giving up flavor. “It requires minimal added fats and imparts a smoky flavor while keeping meats and veggies juicy and tender,” say Joe and Jarrard.

“Grilling adds calorie-free smoky flavor to meats, vegetables and even fruits, and the high heat produces an unmatched crisp crust,” says FoodNetwork.com.

Editor’s note: Grilling is terrible for your health if it burns the food. Burned foods contain cancer-causing chemicals created during the burning process.

Whip up some stir-fry. This cooking method does require use of a small amount of oil in the pan, what is required is very minimal; you should only need just enough to get a nice sear on your meat and veggies. Stir-fry techniques are best for bite-sized pieces of meat, some grains like quinoa and rice, and thin-sliced veggies such as julienned carrots, bell peppers and snow peas.

The chemistry of healthy cooking oils

The use of plant oils rather than lard, butter and other animal-based fats universally eliminates the saturated fat that we would otherwise consume. The way that the human body processes saturated fats ends up forcing the body to build its own low-density cholesterol, so avoiding these types of fats is an exceptionally good idea. With this in mind, not all plants are created equal. Neither are the various oils made by pressing these plants.

Vegetable and plant oils are liquid at room temperature, because unsaturated fats have a lower melting point than saturated fats. The reason for this is chemical. Saturated fat is called saturated, because every carbon-carbon double bond along the spine of the fat molecule has had all of its double bonds removed and a number of hydrogen atoms added. Simply enough, it’s totally saturated with hydrogen. Though normally perfectly safe to consume, vegetable oils can be chemically converted to saturated fats through a process known as hydrogenation, literally the addition of hydrogen to the fat. If this process is done part way so that only some of the double bonds have been saturated, we end up with partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. Keep an eye out for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils on the ingredient lists of foods. They’re just as bad as, if not worse than, animal fats.

Smoke Points and Flavor: The Heart of the Cooking Oil Search

When purchasing straight plant oils, there are two primary factors to consider. First, every oil will taste different. Second, each oil has a different smoke point, the temperature at which the oil will begin to smoke, sputter and denature into something decidedly less than delicious. These two properties influence how each oil is to be used.

A number of popular oils, a description of their flavors, and their smoke points are listed below.

  • Best used when stir frying, almond oil tastes much like the parent nut. Its smoke point is at approximately 420°F.
  • Similar in flavor to olive oil, avocado oil is best used in stir frying, searing and other applications that require a high temperature. With a smoke point of 520°F, avocado oil is among the most robust plant oils on the planet.
  • Olive oil has a rich, light-bodied taste and has a wide range of applications due to the pressing system placed upon the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of about 320°F, while progressive pressings each have a higher smoke point than the one before it. For its part, extra light olive oil has a smoke point of 468°F.
  • Sesame oil has two styles: a light and nutty Middle Eastern variety and a dark and toasted Asian variety. Though a tasty addition to any skillet cooking up meats, it is also a superlative salad dressing base. Its smoke point is at 410°F.

The various cooking oils present on the market each have their own quirks working for them. Varying flavors, smoke points and fat profiles bring about a myriad of uses that the savvy consumer should always stay abreast of.

Bear in mind, however, that plant oils can be corrupted by modern industrial processes. Partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils are, in the end, no better for the consumer than animal fats and defeat the purpose of plant oils in the first place. By applying due diligence, however, the savvy consumer can enjoy these various oils without sacrificing health to do it.

Many common cooking spices may contain bug parts, rodent hairs

Hiding inside your pepper grinder and cumin shaker could be things like rodent hairs, bug parts and even salmonella, claims a new report recently put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Entitled “Pathogens and Filth in Spices,” the report alleges that up to 12 percent of all U.S. spice imports may contain hidden insect filth, while up to 7 percent may contain bacterial contaminants, an obvious push by the agency to further legitimize irradiating cooking spices.

According to CNN, the agency decided to launch an investigation into the contents of imported cooking spices as part of a general assessment of their safety risks. The agency itself says the endeavor was hatched in response to growing concerns about the effectiveness of current safety control measures for spices. But based on the findings of the report, spices are generally safe and pose a minimal risk to human health.

Nevertheless, the FDA is convinced that spices may be dangerous, categorizing them as a “systemic challenge” due to the fact that they generally contain about twice as much “filth” as other kinds of imported food. And yet, based on 37 years’ worth of records looked at by the agency, there have only been 14 outbreaks ever in the entire world that have been linked to spices or seasonings, resulting in fewer than 2,000 human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations.

“We would agree ready-to-eat spices should be clean and meet FDA standards and be pathogen-free,” stated Cheryl Deem, Executive Director of the American Spice Trade Association, to CNN about the findings. “We did find it really interesting that the FDAsaid they were going to use this report to develop a plan to reduce illness, but if you look at the data we don’t think that’s a significant problem. That’s a small number of illnesses.”

FDA report fails to distinguish between ready-to-eat and raw spices

Despite its thorough analysis on imported spices, the FDA apparently failed to distinguish in test results whether or not the spices it looked at were in “ready-to-eat” form or in raw form. Ready-to-eat spices have already been cleaned overseas prior to import, while raw spices may still need to processed. It is typically raw spices from non-organic sources that contain the most “filth,” a fact that the FDA should have addressed in its report.

It may seem curious that the FDA appears to have made a mountain out of a molehill concerning spice safety, that is until you consider the fact that the FDA has been trying to amass more control over the food supply for years. Even in its new report, the FDA admits that the agency’s goal is to utilize more of the provisions outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act, the infamous regulatory overhaul that harmonizes American law with the international Codex Alimentarius food code.

New hemp oil could be a powerful cooking alternative

A recently developed hemp plant may prove to provide the ideal cooking oil; watch out, olive oil. The University of York reported that they have developed a hemp plant that contains a significantly higher quantity of oleic acid. The new hemp oil not only offers a longer shelf life and a higher heat tolerance but also has a very similar fatty acid makeup to olive oil.

The research, published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, demonstrates that the scientists were able to traditionally breed the plants for a composition that had less polyunsaturated fatty acids and instead contained more monounsaturated oleic acids. In fact, the oil from the plant was almost 80% oleic acid. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid and is found in high quantities in olive oil and many nuts. A high monounsaturated profile accompanied by a low polyunsaturated profile makes the oil more stable and temperature-resistant, which opens doors for many industrial applications. This makes growing hemp as an oil product very intriguing for farmers, because it is a high-yielding dual-crop while also being a low-input crop.

One cardiovascular benefit that has been associated with hemp oil and its omega-3 composition is that it can help lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity. Likewise, oleic acid (omega-9) has been associated with helping cells absorb omega-3s more efficiently! They also have been found to lower triglyceride levels and raise the “good” HDL cholesterol. This provides a very powerful effective combination to protect the heart. In fact, many studies have indicated that oleic acid is associated with lowered rates of heart disease. The true, complete composition of hemp oil is just starting to be recognized. For instance, a study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry detailed the numerous compounds in hempseed oil, which contains aliphatic alcohols, sterols and linolenic acids, which have all been associated with promoting good health.

The dramatically increased oleic acid content of this new hemp oil can greatly affect the marketability of hemp and provide farmers with another crop alternative. Not only is the oleic acid content of the newly developed hemp plant more heat-tolerant and more stable, which can increase its industrial and cooking uses, but this oil’s high oleic acid content can provide a very effective way of improving heart health.

New hemp plants bred to have increased oleic acid for enhanced cooking properties

The scientists, from the University of York, used fast-track molecular plant breeding, selected hemp plants that lacked the active enzyme responsible for creating polyunsaturated fatty acids. Instead, they used varieties that accumulate higher levels of monounsaturated oleic acid. The plant-breeding research is published in the journal Plant Biotechnology and outlines techniques to develop hemp plant breeds deemed “High oleic Hemp,” which could be introduced commercially as an attractive break crop for cereal farmers.

This new cooking oil could possess a longer shelf life with greater heat tolerance and be similar to olive oil in oleic acid content, making it suitable for many more industrial applications.

The new “High oleic Hemp” is 80 percent oleic acid, which trumps regular hemp oils containing just 10 percent. This will give the oil more thermal stability that is five times greater than normal, natural hemp oil. The new hemp oil could be more useful in high-temperature industrial processes.

Breeding hemp in this way limits other key components of the plant

As the agricultural sector looks to finally embrace valuable hemp farming, they will do so using a select, scientifically established breed of hemp. The natural composition ofhemp, producing 80 percent polyunsaturated fat, hass the most polyunsaturated fat among vegetable seed oils known in the plant kingdom. The new agricultural breeding process will reverse all that. The new high-oleic hemp breed will provide increased oleic acid content that stems from breeding techniques that help the hemp plant produce more omega-9 fatty acids. This will alter the plant’s properties, limiting its composition of beneficial polyunsaturated fats.

As scientists breed hemp varieties without polyunsaturated fat content, the overall value of the plant for human health is rearranged. With its increased oleic acid content, it may be good for industrial purposes, but this increase in oleic acid content steers the plant away from producing other key offerings. One of the sacrifices includes the loss of polyunsaturated fats, which means that essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 acids could be limited. These fatty acids are not produced by the body but are needed, especially for cell membrane production. They also are used to produce prostaglandin, which aids the body’s inflammatory functions. The change may be insignificant, however, since humans rarely receive beneficial omega-9 fatty acids, which will be increased in the new breed.

Europe to welcome “High oleic Hemp” in 2014 field tests

The new “High oleic Hemp” will be openly welcomed in the UK, where farming of oilseed rape has declined recently due to pests and disease. To maintain cereal yields, the UK and other European countries may embrace the “High oleic Hemp” as a quality oilalternative.

With its many other uses, hemp will be a great crop choice for farmers. The hemp straw can alternatively be used as fiber for composites, bedding, wax, biomass and textiles.

“The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop. Similar developments in soybean and oilseed rape have opened up new markets for these crops, due to the perceived healthiness and increased stability of their oil,” says Professor Ian Graham, from York University’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products Biology Department.

The “High oleic Hemp” is set to be planted in 2014 throughout Europe, as field trials launch a new era of farming. This may be good news for agriculture, industry and cooking processes for people around the world.

The Health Benefits of Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a plant used in cooking and medicine, best known for its distinctive flavor and aroma. While frequently used as a seasoning, garlic is technically a vegetable. A member of the Allium family, it’s a close relative of onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. The benefits of garlic don’t end with adding flavor to food, it’s a legitimate superfood that has been used for an astounding variety of medical applications for thousands of years.

History of Garlic

Humans have consumed garlic as both cuisine and cure for over 7,000 years. The plant is native to central Asia, but its use and cultivation has spread around the world. Ancient Egyptians gave garlic to the laborers building the pyramids to boost stamina and prevent disease. In Ancient Greece, Olympic athletes would chew garlic before participating in the games. References to garlic can be found in Homer’s Odyssey, 5,000-year-old Indian medical texts, and the Bible. Garlic was used as food and medicine in the cultures of the ancient Romans, Chinese, Vikings, Phoenicians, Israelites, and Persians.

Now, garlic remains a popular food and flavoring. It’s a staple of Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Southeast Asian cuisine. The potential medical applications of garlic are even receiving renewed interest from researchers.

Garlic’s Nutritional Profile

At first glance, the nutritional capabilities of garlic may seem puzzling. If you look at the official nutrition facts for garlic, a typical serving of garlic (3-9 grams), provides no significant amount of the typically listed essential nutrients. It provides no noteworthy amount of fiber, protein, iron, potassium or vitamins A, D, E, or most of the B vitamins.

It’s a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins C and B6, but there are better sources of these nutrients. You’d have to eat a lot of raw garlic to receive a substantial amount of these nutrients, and even though it’s delicious, I think very few of us are up to that challenge.

So what exactly is in garlic that makes it such a prized health-supporting tool in so many different cultures? Garlic owes its healing properties to the presence of several sulfurous phytochemical compounds. Fresh garlic contains a sulfoxide compound called alliin. When fresh garlic is chopped, crushed, or damaged, alliin is converted into allicin by an enzyme called alliinase. Allicin is responsible for much of the pungent scent of garlic. Its actual purpose is to act as a defense mechanism, protecting the plant from pests.

A head of garlic cut in half.

Allicin is unstable and further breaks down into other sulfurous compounds including diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, and diallyl tetrasulfide. Inside the human body, diallyl disulfide breaks down into allyl methyl sulfide, the chief cause of garlic breath. (Sidenote: for a natural way to reduce garlic breath, try sucking a lemon wedge, drinking green tea, or eating spinach or an apple. These foods all contain substances that mask or break down the garlicky odor.)

It’s these sulfurous compounds that give garlic its healing abilities. The pest-resistant properties of allicin still work when the compound is in the human body. This makes garlic a surprisingly good defense against harmful organisms like bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungus.

Diallyl disulfide also possesses antimicrobial abilities, as well as anti-cancer and heart healthy properties. The exact mechanisms behind the health benefits of garlic are not yet fully understood, but research is ongoing. We do know that garlic can be a powerful tool for supporting a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ways garlic can help.

Health Benefits of Garlic

1. Garlic Supports Cardiovascular Health

Garlic is among the best foods for heart health. Studies have found that garlic reduces cholesterol and lowers lipid content in the blood. Experimental and clinical studies on the cardiovascular benefits of garlic have found it to have a positive effect on atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and thrombosis.[1] Garlic also seems to possess the ability to prevent blood clots. Tests are currently underway to examine the mechanism of this effect.

2. Garlic May Help with Hypertension

Researchers have found that oral administration of garlic can lower blood pressure in both human and animal studies. Amazingly, there was a measurable response after just a single dose. Chronic oral administration of garlic has a long-term positive effect. Allicin seems to have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle cells of the pulmonary artery, allowing the artery to open more fully.[1] This doesn’t mean that you can switch to an all-bacon diet and expect to “garlic away” the consequences, but when combined with a balanced diet, garlic can substantially improve blood pressure.

3. Garlic Is Nutritional Support Against Cancer

Around the world, studies have found a correlation between a high intake of garlic and a lowered cancer risk. An increased consumption of garlic is associated with a reduction in cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, prostate, and breast.[2] The United States National Cancer Institute has said that garlic may be the most effective food for cancer prevention.[3]

4. Garlic and Diabetes

Garlic may also provide significant benefits to those suffering from diabetes. Experimental studies have shown that garlic lowers blood glucose levels and this hypoglycemic effect has been replicated in animal studies. Treatment for humans is less studied but looks promising. Garlic has been reported to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce insulin resistance. However, further study is needed to fully understand the effect garlic has on human blood glucose levels.[3]

5. Garlic Offers Liver Protection

Garlic is one of the best foods to help cleanse your liver. It can help mitigate the effects of fatty liver disease[4] and provides hepatoprotective effects from certain toxic agents. Studies have found that garlic can protect liver cells from acetaminophen, gentamycin, and nitrates.[3]

6. Antimicrobial Properties of Garlic

For centuries, traditional medicine has used garlic for its antimicrobial properties. Modern studies have found that the antibacterial properties of garlic are effective on salmonella, staph infections, clostridium (the cause of botulism), proteus, mycobacterium, and H. pylori. Garlic has even been suggested as a treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis.[3]

Garlic’s action against harmful organisms doesn’t stop with bacteria. It’s antiprotozoal, antifungal, and even antiviral. In vitro studies have found that garlic is effective against influenza, cytomegalovirus, rhinovirus (the cause of the common cold), viral pneumonia, rotavirus, herpes simplex 1 and 2, and even HIV.[3] Unfortunately, these results are only confirmed in test tube studies. How the active substances of garlic react to viruses inside the human system remains to be seen.

Studies of cold sufferers have found that those who consumed garlic extract experienced milder symptoms and shorter illness duration than placebo groups, but the exact mechanism behind this phenomena is still unclear.[5] Further research is necessary to more fully understand the healing power of garlic.

7. Garlic Is a Powerful Antioxidant

Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage DNA and lead to poor health. Garlic contains potent antioxidants that fight these free radicals. When allicin breaks down, it produces an acid that reacts with and traps the free radicals. Researchers at Queens University in Ontario believe this may be the most powerful dietary antioxidant ever discovered.[6]

Ways to Consume Garlic

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes that include garlic. However, the best way to absorb garlic’s health benefits is to consume it raw. Raw garlic can be a little intense for some, but there are several ways to dull the piquancy while retaining the full health benefits. My favorite is to add raw garlic to a dressing like the lemon garlic dressing used in this cabbage wedge recipe or the balsamic vinaigrette of this green bean salad.

Studies show that cooking causes lung cancer

It is common knowledge today that smoking causes lung cancer, however there are many cases of lung cancer diagnosed in people who have never smoked in their lives. So if they’ve never smoked, what caused their lung cancer we might ask. Studies indicate that it could be as simple as the way they cook their food.

The undeniable link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer was demonstrated many years ago, and the dangers of smoking have been drummed into public consciousness for decades. However while lung cancer is common among smokers it is also regularly diagnosed in those with nohistory of smoking, which has led to extensive studies of lung cancer patients in an attempt to try to uncover other factors that may increase lung cancer risk.

Statistics show that lung cancer rates in non-smokers worldwide are much higher in women than in men and Chinese women have extremely high lung cancer rates even though the numbers that smoke are relatively low when compared to Western women. Because of this, several studies have been completed in China over recent years in an attempt to identify potential causes of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Fumes from stir frying food causes lung cancer

What researchers have uncovered is that the way the Chinese cook their food is a probable cause of the disease. To be more specific the stir frying of food, and the fumes released from that food while cooking, seems to be the reason for the high lung cancer rates in Chinese women. The evidence indicates that the fumes inhaled while stir frying food may cause lung cancer in non-smokers and create an even higher risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Stir frying food is traditional in Asian countries and considered by many to be one of thehealthier ways to cook food as it subjects the food to high heat for a only a short time. It leaves vegetables firmer and less ‘cooked’ than many other methods, but while stir fried dishes may be healthier for those who eat them, the evidence is pointing to an increased risk of lung cancer for those who cook them.

One study focused on the fumes released from stir frying meat while others have focused on fumes from oils used to cook food. While these studies indicate that the cooking of stir fried food is a very real risk with regard to lung cancer, they have reached no specific conclusions as to which foods pose a risk to those cooking them. However there is some evidence that the fumes released by Rapeseed oil in particular may be of concern.

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.