By now I hope that you’ve at least begun the journey towards better health through your diet, no matter how small the change may be. Remember, changes are more likely sustained when they are the results of many small changes practiced daily. But enough philosophizing…

Once you’ve modified the menu, the next step involves what you do to that food before it reaches your mouth. This is crucial and worth stepping your knowledge up for. If you’re going to practice the discipline at the store, you may as well not waste your good intentions by destroying or contaminating that cauliflower during the preparation.

You can ensure you get the most out of the majority of your fruits and vegetables by consuming them raw. I’m talking about simply washing and eating. Various sources recommend as high as 90% of your diet being raw, and fruits and veggies are the most obvious and convenient choices.

The other food to make sure you’re consuming raw, are nuts. We know nuts are a source of healthy fats and protein.  Cooking them can oxidize the fats and denature the proteins.  Like certain vegetables, the switch from the cooked variety can be flat out disappointing to your taste buds at first. But trust me on this, it is an acquired taste and eventually you’ll come to enjoy the raw, unsalted nut in both taste and peace of mind that it provides.

The potential issue with cooking is that when you heat food, various chemical reactions and changes take place. Depending on the item and your method and intensity of heating, beneficial proteins denature or breakdown, and you can actually attenuate or outright eliminate those vitamins and minerals you were admirably looking for in the first place.

I do realize however that most of us will continue to cook our food. (And it’s usually considerably over the recommended 10-20%.) The next thing to consider is how you’re going to heat it up.

When it comes to cookware, two of the least offensive include ceramic and occasional cast iron. Notice I say “least offensive” and not best. There is nothing “best” about these choices. When you cook with these or any pans, it has the potential to leach the metals contained in the pans into your food. This leads to enzymatic alteration of the food and deposition of that metal in your system, which as a society that consumes a large quantity of cooked food, we can accept that this is going to happen.  The idea is to be aware of it, and minimize it the best you can.

If you do use any of these pots or pans, you can hedge your bet by turning down the heat. I know it may take longer to cook, but harmful metals and chemicals are less likely to leach at lower heats. Also, if you are fortunate enough to have a variety of pots and pans, mix it up to prevent overexposure to one particular metal.

Cookware you should absolutely not be using anymore is of the non-stick, Teflon variety. Seriously, if you still have these, do yourself a favor and throw it out. These contain the harmful chemical PFOA which has now been linked with cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease and reduced fertility.

The second major thing to be cognizant of no matter how you are cooking is the color changes of your food. More specifically, you want to try to avoid that scrumptious browning reaction from taking place.  This reaction signifies the formation of acrylamides (carcinogen), and AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs also form in the body whenever carbohydrates react with internal proteins. As mentioned in a previous post:

our body does come equipped with a mechanism to break these down, but not when presented in a such a large volume.

AGEs can attach to and react with any tissue that contains a receptor for them, known as a RAGE. RAGEs are known to be present in smooth muscle cells (heart and intestines), endothelial cells (blood vessels), cells of the immune system, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc. These chemical complexes damage proteins, enzymes, DNA, and hormonal receptor sites and contribute to normal aging and the diseases we attribute to it like Alzheimer’s, CVD, peripheral neuropathies, deafness, etc. This link demonstrates the power each one of us possesses to prevent or at least lessen the severity of ample conditions.

My wife and I are always on an evolving quest to discover the safest way to heat foods like chicken, Brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes. We currently utilize cookware glass (such as Pyrex) to bake chicken and a ceramic steamer for the sprouts or sweet potatoes. (For me these two veggies need to be heated. I tried them raw. It wasn’t pretty.)

Steaming vegetables has long been a healthy recommendation, but the problem with simply following the steaming advice is that most steamers are plastic. As mentioned in our discussion on water, when plastic is heated, the chemicals contained in the plastic leach into the food or water. Simply stated, you should never cook with plastic.

(The optimal time to steam your cruciferous veggies to unlock those sulforaphanes or tomatoes to liberate the lycopenes is ~3 minutes and 30 seconds.)

Last thing to remember is that sometimes there is no better substitute than some common sense. Hopefully you realize the potential power the food you put in your body has. Hopefully you’ll respect this and make some good choices. But ultimately you’re going to eat what you’d like. Enjoy your life. If need be, indulge every so often. Just don’t go tricking yourself into thinking that deep fried broccoli and those honey roasted nuts are in any way, shape or form healthy.

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