Studies have shown how raw food may be beneficial to the health and also how cooking may affect the nutrients in food. Science may have tried to elucidate how cooking effects food, which processes for preparing and storing are healthy and what it may highlight about dietary health worldwide.
The health benefits of eating raw food may retain a higher percentage of its nutrients, have improved delivery and more efficiency within the body. However, in certain circumstances cooking is essential, some foods particularly chicken and ground meats need to be cooked to clear microorganisms such as bacteria therefore making the food safe and healthier. Cooking may be essential for the digestion of some foods particularly grains and pasta, which may remove allergens and maintain protein levels.
For the large majority of foods, processes that expose any food to heat, light or oxygen lead to an effect of nutrients migrating from the food. The processes which may lead to nutrient migration are freezing, drying, cooking, boiling and reheating. Boiling vegetables may lead to leaching of the nutrients into the water leaving the vegetables with little nutrition. Freezing may be more efficient at retaining a high percentage of vitamins and minerals. Distinct compounds may be formed when meat is exposed to high temperatures. Heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) are produced when meat is directly exposed to flames or high temperatures, this may effect all kinds of meat; processed or fresh. The creatine contained within meat reacts to the heat to produce many forms of HCA’s, this may be important as HCA’s have been known to trigger DNA mutations and as a result may be carcinogenic. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) also form when fat in the meat is ignited, this changes the fat into PAH’s and may be present in the resulting smoke. PAH’s may be found on the surface of the meat and PAH is also known to be carcinogenic.
Cooking vegetables may have an improved effect on an individuals’ health as studies show vegetarians may have a reduced likelihood of colorectal cancers, especially pesco-vegetarians, individuals who also eat fish. This may tell us something about the health of certain cooking practices however other factors associated with these particular lifestyles may also be important, factors so far unexplored. The type of oil used in cooking may be another element in the cooking process, which has been associated with the health of individuals. Oils such as olive oil have been shown in tests to produce fewer by-products when exposed to high temperatures than other types of oil such as sunflower oil. It also may be demonstrated that oils such as sunflower oil may be just as healthy at room temperature as olive oil although, cooking sunflower oil leads to unhealthy compounds being formed.
The overall health of nations with different eating habits has also been highlighted by cancer rates in various countries. In particular findings that the USA, UK and Australia have much higher rates of cancer in comparison to countries like India and China. Researchers have speculated as to why different countries experience varied levels of cancer, from a high percentage adopting a vegetarian diet in India, reduced amount of red meat eaten in China or a more varied nutrient and mineral intake. The common association of countries with high cancer rates may be simple; significant intake of red meats and a western diet.
Overall the scientific evidence seems to suggest foods may be more productive eaten raw except specific foods which need to be cooked like eggs, fish and certain grains. As long as vegetables are clean the health benefits outweigh the leaching of nutrients due to cooking. Research on red meat worldwide may suggest it needs to be consumed in moderation as meat may have essential proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins. The evidence on cooking with high temperatures is clear, meats may produce compounds which need to be reduced if an individual is to maintain better health.
What new habits in relation to diet may benefit an individuals’ health?