Get more from your meals by fixing these common cooking faux pas.
Even if you're a skilled home cook, you also know that you’re not immune to developing bad habits or falling prey to shortcuts that aren’t as healthy as you may have been led to believe. Even though they do the trick when things get busy, they can dilute the nutritional quality of your favorite fare—and who wants that?
Hence why we went to the experts to learn more about the not-so-great cooking habits they’d love to see put on hiatus. Below, their top picks and super easy ways to fix them:
1. Grilling, baking, and broiling meats regularly
Meats naturally contain compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), and these compounds are also produced when meats are cooked—especially in dry high temperatures, says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. In small amounts, AGEs are no biggie because the body’s defense mechanisms show them who’s boss. In large amounts, however, they can cause increased inflammation and insulin resistance. This can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, not to mention exacerbate symptoms in those who are already there. Reserving grilling, baking, and broiling for special occasions and cooking with moist heat instead (stewing, poaching, steaming) can prevent production of AGEs, says Weisenberger. Marinating your meats in acids like citrus juice, vinegar, tomato juice, and wine can also help keep them in check.
2. Cooking foods at a high temp with extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil contains healthy fats—like omega-3 and -6, which promote brain health and help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K—but this doesn’t mean we should use it for everything, says Montana-based registered dietitian Kelsey Conrow, RD. The smoke point for extra virgin olive oil, for example, is 320 degrees Fahrenheit, so once the oil reaches this temperature, it starts to burn and smoke, destroying the beneficial nutrients and creating harmful, inflammatory free radicals, she explains. When cooking foods at high temps (searing meats, frying in a wok, roasting in the oven), use oils that have a higher smoke point, such as grapeseed oil (420 F) or avocado oil (520 F) and use lower smoke point oils for salad dressings and sautéing.
3. Leaving meat out to thaw
The whole thawing-meat-in-the-sink thing is a huge food safety no-no. (Oops.) “Bacteria can grow on protein when left sitting at room temperature for too long, which can increase risk of a food born illness,” says New Jersey-based registered dietitian Mandy Enright, RDN. Instead, take items out of the freezer the night before (at least) and place them on a plate in the fridge to thaw out. Never leave frozen proteins thawing where they can leak onto other foods, Enright adds, especially fruits and veggies that can be consumed raw.
4. Storing oils next to the stove
Sure, fewer things are more convenient than having your cooking oils within reach, but the heat from the stove can actually cause harm to the oils and make them go rancid (and where there’s rancid oil, there’s inflammation-promoting free radicals), says Enright. The same goes for if they’re stored in direct sunlight. To limit their exposure to heat and light, keep your oils in a cool, dry cabinet.
5. Peeling fruits and vegetables
The skins of many fruits and veggies are typically the most nutrient dense part of the food, so discarding them means missing out on the maximal nutritional value of what we’re eating, says Philadelphia-based registered dietitian Jenny Friedman, RD. Depending on the food, the skin often contains important nutrients like calcium, potassium, and B vitamins, and is also where most of the plant’s fiber is stored. Not only will you save on food prep by hiding your peeler, but your body will enjoy an extra dose of nutrients.
6. Slicing citrus fruits in advance
While it’s definitely easier to have lemons, limes, and oranges pre-sliced for infused water, fun cocktails, and cooking, doing so can decrease their nutritional value. “Vitamin C is an extremely volatile vitamin that can lose potency from exposure to light and air,” says Enright. “The more surface area that’s exposed, the less effective vitamin C will be.” Slicing your citrus fruits on an as-needed basis (and tightly wrapping the rest in plastic wrap), freezing the slices for future batches of infused water, or squeezing the remaining juice to freeze for later use are all handy ways to help preserve the vitamin C.
7. Boiling veggies
Ever notice how your cooking water starts to turn green as you’re boiling broccoli, green beans, or asparagus? “This green represents important nutrients that are disappearing from your food the longer it cooks,” says Emily Burston, RD, California-based dietitian and founder of School Nutrition Plus in LA. (Word is you can lose between 40 to 50 percent of nutrients through boiling your veggies, depending on the type of vitamin or mineral.) Burston recommends blanching instead, which is a brief boil (no more than two minutes) followed by plunging your veggies into super-cold water or an ice bath to halt the cooking process. This can help keep your veggies crisp, vibrant, and preserve the nutrients. Simply toss into a stir fry or pasta dish for a quick reheat before serving, and dig in.