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Are You Cooking the Health Out of Your Food?

Richard E. Collins, MD
South Denver Cardiology Associates

Inflammation is the body’s natural, temporary, healing response to infection or injury. But if the process fails to shut down when it should, inflammation becomes chronic — and tissues are injured by excess white blood cells and DNA-damaging free radicals.

Result: Elevated risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and other diseases.

Bottom Line/Women’s Health asked Richard E. Collins, MD, “the cooking cardiologist,” how to prevent chronic inflammation.

His advice: Follow a diet that is rich in immune-strengthening nutrients… and use cooking techniques that neither destroy food’s disease-fighting nutrients nor add inflammatory properties to it.

SMART WAYS WITH VEGETABLES

Deeply colored plant foods generally are rich in antioxidants that help combat inflammation by neutralizing free radicals.

Examples: Healthful flavonoids are prevalent in deep yellow to purple produce… carotenoids are found in yellow, orange, red and green vegetables.

Exceptions: Despite their light hue, garlic and onions are powerful antioxidants.

Unfortunately, these nutrients are easily lost.

For instance: Boiling or poaching vegetables causes nutrients to leach into the cooking water — and get tossed out when that potful of water is discarded. The high heat of frying causes a reaction between carbohydrates and amino acids, creating carcinogenic chemicals called acrylamides. And even when healthful food-preparation techniques are used, overcooking destroys nutrients. Better…

Microwave. This uses minimal water and preserves flavor (so you won’t be tempted to add butter or salt). Slightly moisten vegetables with water, cover and microwave just until crisp-tender.

Stir-fry. In a preheated wok or sauté pan, cook vegetables over medium-high heat for a minute or two in a bit of low-sodium soy sauce.

Steam. This beats boiling, but because steam envelops the food, some nutrients leach out. To “recycle” them, pour that bit of water from the steamer into any soup or sauce.

Stew. Nutrients that leach from the vegetables aren’t lost because they stay in the stew sauce.

Roast. Set your oven to 350°F or lower to protect vegetables’ nutrients and minimize acrylamides.

BEST METHODS FOR MEAT

When beef, pork, poultry or fish is roasted at 400°F or higher, grilled, broiled or fried, it triggers a chemical reaction that creates inflammatory heterocyclic amines (HCAs) — especially when food is exposed to direct flame and/or smoke. At least 17 HCAs are known carcinogens, linked to cancer of the breast, stomach, colon and/or pancreas.

Safest: Roast meat, poultry and fish at 350°F. Avoid overcooking — well-done meats may promote cancer. Also, be sure to avoid undercooking to prevent food poisoning.

If you love to grill: Buy a soapstone grilling stone, one-and-a-quarter inches thick and cut to half the size of your grill. (Stones are sold Sparq USA, 888-500-1905, store.sparq.com). Place it on your grilling rack, then put your food on top of it. Soapstone heats well, doesn’t dry out food and gives the flavor of grilling without exposing food to direct flames or smoke.

If you eat bacon: To minimize HCAs, cook bacon in the microwave and take care not to burn it.

THE RIGHT COOKING OILS

Do you cringe when the Food Network chefs sauté in unrefined extra-virgin olive oil? You should. This oil has a very low smoke point (the temperature at which a particular oil turns to smoke) of about 325°F — and when oil smokes, nutrients degrade and free radicals form.

Best: Sauté or stir-fry with refined canola oil, which has a high smoke point. Or use tea seed cooking oil (not tea tree oil) — its smoke point is about 485°F.

Try: Emerald Harvest (www.Emerald-Harvest.com) or Republic of Tea (800-298-4832, www.RepublicofTea.com).

Rule of thumb: If cooking oil starts to smoke, throw it out. Use a laser thermometer (sold at kitchenware stores) to instantly see oil temperature — so you’ll know when to turn down the heat.

Bottom Line/Women’s Health interviewed Richard E. Collins, MD, director of wellness at South Denver Cardiology Associates in Littleton, Colorado. He is board-certified in cardiology and internal medicine, has performed more than 500 cooking demonstrations nationwide and is author of The Cooking Cardiologist (Advanced Research) and Cooking with Heart (South Denver Cardiology Associates). www.TheCookingCardiologist.com