How to Cook Your Meat and Vegetables – The Best and Worst Methods



Many of us don’t think twice how grilling versus boiling affects the nutrient content. But have you ever considered the effect these methods can have on your favorite foods, and even your health?

It turns out that different cooking methods can not only cause a loss (or even a gain) of some nutrients and antioxidants, but can also create harmful compounds that can increase your risk for many diseases, including cancer.

Read on to discover what these compounds are, as well as the best and worst cooking methods.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)

AGEs are harmful compounds that form in our bodies in two ways: when fat and sugar combine in our bloodstream, and when we consume certain foods that are cooked at high temperatures.

While our bodies have processes to remove these compounds, they accumulate as we age, especially if we’re continually exposed to them through our diet. In fact, diet and the way we cook food is one of the highest contributors to our AGE levels.

So what makes AGEs so harmful? They cause widespread inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage DNA and exacerbate many diseases (1).

Different cooking methods can have a significant impact on the level of vitamins, antioxidants, and beneficial enzymes and probiotics in your foods.

For instance, high levels of these products can contribute to the development of several diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s (2). One study found that participants with the highest levels of AGEs in their blood were almost twice as likely to die from heart disease than those with the lowest levels (3).

To avoid accumulating too many of these products, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re cooking your food. Certain methods that involve dry, intense heat can increase AGE levels by 10 to 100 times (4).

Heterocyclic Amines

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are compounds formed when certain foods – particularly meats – are cooked at high temperatures.

These compounds provoke a change in your gene expression that can lead to DNA damage and cancer. One study showed that heterocyclic amines contribute to the development of cancers in several organs when fed to animals. The study recommends avoiding HCAs as much as possible (5).

Lipid Oxidation

To add fuel to the cooking fire, certain fats in foods can become oxidized when cooked the wrong way.

This is especially true when it comes to polyunsaturated fats found in meats or meat marinades. Cooking these fats at too high of a temperature can destabilize them, causing them to circulate in our blood stream and contribute to atherosclerosis and inflammation (6, 7).

Vitamin Loss

Different cooking methods can have a significant impact on the level of vitamins, antioxidants, and beneficial enzymes and probiotics in your foods.

One study showed that all cooking methods apart from steaming resulted in a significant loss of chlorophyll, vitamin C and total soluble proteins and sugars in broccoli (8). In carrots, certain carotenoid antioxidants like lutein were slightly increased when boiled, but were significantly decreased after frying, one study noted (9).

The Worst Ways to Cook Meat


Unfortunately, many of the cooking methods that give us flavorful, crispy edges on our meats are some of most AGE-forming.

Meat is susceptible to forming AGEs and HCAs due to its high fat and protein content, which also means it can easily go from a nourishing food to a potentially cancer-causing one.

For instance, several studies found that the way meat is cooked can impact your cancer risk. In one study, participants who preferred well-done red meat were 8.8 times more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who preferred their red meat rare. (10) Another found that well-done meat is associated with a higher risk of developing breast, colorectum, and prostate cancers in humans (11).

Which cooking methods have this effect on meat?

  • Grilling, especially over an open flame
  • Deep-frying
  • Pan-frying
  • Smoking
  • Broiling
  • Searing
  • Blackening

The Worst Ways to Cook Vegetables


Steaming versus frying certain veggies can make all the difference in how many vitamins remain intact by the time they reach your mouth.

These cooking methods cause the most nutrient damage to veggies:

  • Frying
  • Deep-frying
  • Oven-roasting until brown at the edges (this is what AGEs look like)
  • Grilling over an open flame

Of course, this doesn’t mean we all can’t enjoy a nice barbecue every now and again. The idea is to simply limit the amount of food we eat that is overcooked to create AGEs and other harmful compounds, and to avoid overcooking veggies to the point of damaging many of their nutrients.

The Best Ways to Cook Meat


We know that high, dry heat results in the most nutrient loss and AGE formation in both meat and veggies. This effect is increased when there is more fat and protein in the food, which can create other harmful substances, like oxidized fats. Because of this, gentler cooking methods over lower heat with slightly more moisture work best for both meat and veggies.

The best way to cook meats is to avoid creating chargrilled edges, as well as extremely high heat that can oxidize fats. These include:

  • Steaming
  • Poaching
  • Boiling
  • Braising
  • Pressure Cooking
  • Cooking low and slow

The Best Ways to Cook Veggies


Again, lightly cooking your veggies with water instead of fat and high heat is your best bet. These methods include:

  • Steaming
  • Boiling
  • Lightly baking, covered, with water
  • Pressure cooking

Foods Best Left Uncooked

Major nutrient Vitamin C is extremely sensitive to heat. In fact, the longer a vegetable or fruit is exposed to heat or light, the greater the loss of Vitamin C (12). If you’re looking to get Vitamin C out of your food, it may be best to limit cooking high-Vitamin C foods.

For example, if you’re eating apples for their Vitamin C content, it’s probably best not to roast them and eat them as a dessert. While super yummy, this can damage the Vitamin C considerably.

The Bottom Line

In general, the gentler the cooking method, the better. Higher heat tends to destroy delicate nutrients while forming harmful AGEs and HCAs.

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