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The Kitchen Makeover: Tips for Safer and Healthier Cooking

I know, I know—I've been preaching the gospel of healthy eating for a while now. Some of you might be thinking, "She wants us to eat more kale and quinoa; what’s next, sprouting our own chia seeds?" Well, hold onto your spatulas because we’re not just talking about what goes on your plate this week, but how your entire kitchen can become a haven of health! It’s not just about what you cook, but how you cook it. From the methods and utensils we use to the cookware itself, our choices can significantly impact our health. Let's uncover the secrets to maintaining a healthy kitchen and getting the best out of the food you cook.

Cooking Methods: Steam, Sauté, and Slow Cook for Health

Cooking methods have evolved dramatically over centuries. While boiling and frying are common, they aren’t always the healthiest options. Steaming is one of the best methods to preserve the nutrients in vegetables. Originating in ancient China, steaming has been used for thousands of years to prepare delicate dishes while retaining vitamins and minerals. Modern science backs this up, showing that steaming can retain up to 90% of certain nutrients like vitamin C, compared to boiling, which often leads to significant nutrient loss.

Sautéing, another ancient technique, involves cooking food quickly in a small amount of oil. This method can be very healthy if done correctly. Opt for extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, which have higher smoke points and are rich in heart-healthy fats.  Contrary to what you might hear, seed oils (including rapeseed), nut oils and vegetable oils are a no-no in the healthy kitchen.

Slow cooking is another fantastic method, especially for tougher cuts of meat. Using a slow cooker allows for low-temperature, long-duration cooking, which can help preserve nutrients, making some minerals more available to us while enhancing flavours. Plus, it’s a time-saver for busy days!

Microwave ovens are incredibly convenient, but they come with their own set of risks. Some studies suggest that microwaving can reduce the nutrient content of food, particularly when using plastic containers. These containers can release harmful chemicals like phthalates and BPA when heated. When using a microwave, always opt for glass or microwave-safe ceramic containers. These materials do not leach harmful substances into your food.

The new kid on the block are Air fryers which use hot air circulation to cook food, requiring significantly less oil than deep frying. This method reduces calorie intake compared with deep-frying while giving food a crispy texture and retaining more nutrients compared to conventional frying.  However, they are not a miracle solution and are still frying food, which is not the best. By pairing your air fryer crispy food with nutritiously cooked wholefoods, you can enjoy some crispy food from time to time without compromising your health.

Cooking Utensils: What’s in Your Drawers?

Ancient civilizations cooked with materials and methods that maximized nutrition and minimized toxicity.  Of course, they had other challenges and adversaries, but their cookware wasn’t one of them.  For example, the Greeks and Romans used clay pots for cooking, which retained heat well and did not leach harmful substances into food. In Asia, bamboo steamers have been used for centuries to cook dumplings and vegetables gently and healthily.

Non-stick cookware revolutionized the kitchen in the 20th century, promising easy cleanup and less fat in cooking. However, many non-stick surfaces contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other chemicals that can leach into food at high temperatures. These substances have been linked to health issues such as liver damage, hormone disruption and thyroid disease.  Any non-stick cookware with scratches or damage to the surface should be replaced as soon as possible as there is an increased risk of toxic substances being released into your food.

Instead, consider stainless steel, cast iron, and ceramic cookware. Stainless steel is durable, non-reactive, and excellent for a variety of cooking methods. Cast iron, used for centuries, adds a small amount of iron to your diet and, with proper seasoning, can become naturally non-stick. Ceramic cookware is another good option; it's non-reactive and free from harmful chemicals.

Copper cookware can offer unmatched heat conductivity and a touch of elegance to any kitchen.  Be cautious though, as copper toxicity is harmful, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and even liver damage. Unlined copper cookware can leach copper into food, especially when cooking acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar-based sauces, or citrus fruits.  Be sure to maintain your copper cookware and watch out for any damage to protective linings.

Plastic utensils are cheap and convenient but often contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA). Over time, these can break down and contaminate food. Wooden utensils, a staple in kitchens for millennia, are a healthier alternative. They don’t react with acids in food and are gentle on cookware. Bamboo is another eco-friendly option, growing quickly without the need for pesticides.

Hidden Toxins: Lurking Dangers

The kitchen should be a place of cleanliness, but many commercial cleaners contain toxic chemicals that can linger on surfaces and contaminate our food. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), many conventional kitchen cleaners contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Consider natural, less harmful cleaning alternatives which are more available to us now. Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon are powerful cleaning agents that are safe for your kitchen and your health. For instance, a mixture of vinegar and water can disinfect surfaces without leaving harmful residues. Now before the eye-rolling begins, the toxicity of household cleaning products are grossly underestimated and rarely considers the accumulative effect of frequent use nor the impact of multiple products being used at the same time within the home. Thankfully, we have access to safer products, that will get the job done without any harm to us or our environment.

Healthier Kitchen, Healthier You

Transforming your kitchen into a healthier space doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Start slowly by replacing oils, cookware, utensils and cleaning products as they run out.  By making simple changes, you can create a kitchen environment that not only enhances the flavour and nutrition of your meals but also supports your overall health and wellbeing.

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