Cooking at home is one of the most important things you can do for your health. A Johns Hopkins University study found that people who cook at home six nights a week eat more healthy meals.1 But what’s the healthiest way to cook?
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4 Healthy Cooking Methods
If you are looking for the healthiest way to prepare food, consider these four methods as your go-to options. If you use these most of the time, you’ll set the stage for a healthy lifestyle.
But remember, the cooking method isn’t the only thing that matters! Added sauces, glazes, and oils can affect the final nutritional value. Steamed cauliflower is super healthy! But steamed cauliflower drowning in cheese sauce? Not so much.
Baking and roasting are both done in the oven and most people use the words interchangeably. Because you usually don’t need to add much fat or oil to meat before cooking in the oven, it is one of the healthiest ways to cook meat.
Roasting works well for a lot of meals, but chicken and turkey are especially versatile and healthy baked options. Roasting also really brings out the flavor in veggies, especially root vegetables or squashes.
One caveat: Some people have concerns about cooking methods that encourage browning, as roasting does. Achralydimide is a byproduct of the browning process that some consider a potential cause of cancer, though studies on humans have been inconclusive.2
Steaming is considered one of the healthiest ways to cook food because it doesn’t require adding any fat and oil. And it doesn’t leach away any vitamins! One detailed study on steaming broccoli confirmed that steaming keeps your veggies healthy.3
You may not have considered steaming meat, but it can be a healthy option. Steaming salmon in a rice cooker, for example, is healthy and convenient.
Microwaves aren’t only for heating up restaurant leftovers! They can be one of the healthiest ways to cook vegetables or meat.
The Harvard School of Medicine points out that if you add just a bit of water to a microwave-safe bowl full of vegetables, you are basically steaming them “from the inside.”4 (And if you use a microwave-safe serving dish, you can cook and serve in the same dish. Less cleanup!)
Microwaves also are the perfect tool for poaching eggs. That’s one of the healthiest ways to eat eggs.
Remember: Always use a microwave-safe container. Metal can ruin your microwave and spark fires. Also avoid microwaving food in plastic. Heat speeds up the leaching of chemicals from plastic to your food.5
Want the pleasure of frying without any of the guilt? Air frying to the rescue! Air fryers cook with hot, moving air that provides a taste and texture similar to frying but without all the added fat.6 Steak, chicken, and even veggies can be cooked in an air fryer.
One note: You’ll need to use a bit of oil when you air fry to make sure your food doesn’t dry out from the convection process. (It’s nothing compared to the amount of oil you’d use with traditional frying, however.) Many air frying pros recommend using a non-aerosol spray bottle (made specifically for oil) and olive oil or a neutral cooking oil like vegetable or canola to mist food for the tastiest results.
The Healthiest Way to Cook All Types of Foods
What about your favorite foods? What’s the healthiest way to cook some of your favorite dinners? Find out at a glance, and then we’ll share the details below.
|Food||Healthiest Way to Prepare||Another Healthy Alternative|
|steak||air fryer||stir fry with veggies|
|eggs||poaching or hard boiled; stovetop or microwave||roasting/baking|
Some people steam or poach chicken. But roasting and baking are more common healthy ways to cook chicken. Baking chicken is a healthy way to bring out a lot of flavor while adding little or no fat.
If you really crave fried chicken as comfort food, air frying is a healthy alternative. Finally, crispy fried chicken can be healthy! There’s one caveat: Air fryers aren’t appropriate for anything with a wet batter. Coat your chicken in a little egg wash and coarse bread crumbs (think Panko) and it’s on!
One study found that air frying is actually the healthiest way to cook steak.7 If you are going to cook steak in a more traditional way, slicing it thin and making it part of a veggie-forward stir fry is healthier than traditional pan frying. The steak will cook more quickly and with less oil.
There is no healthy way to cook bacon. Sorry! But if you choose a leaner cut – like pork loin – you can roast your way to a healthy meal. Another healthy cooking option for pork is a stew. Just a little pork in a vegetable stew is a way to create a ton of flavor in a healthy meal.8
Steaming is almost always the healthiest cooking method. It works especially well for fish. Steaming doesn’t add any fat or calories and doesn’t leach away nutrients.
Baked fish can also be a good choice that effectively preserves most of the health benefits of a fish dinner.9
The healthiest way to cook eggs is generally in water, boiling them or poaching them on the stovetop or in a microwave. Both methods avoid adding any oil. But did you know you can also bake eggs? Many people use a muffin tin for baking up several eggs at once. You may need a little oil to avoid sticking, but much less than people generally use when scrambling or frying an egg.
Of course, many vegetables can be eaten raw, but cooked vegetables do feel more like a meal! Steaming is a safe bet as the healthiest way to cook veggies, adding no fat and leaching out very few vitamins.10 Microwaving is essentially the same as steaming, and maybe even more convenient.11
What Cooking Method Is the Least Healthy?
No real surprise here. Frying, especially deep frying, is generally considered the least healthy way to cook. Studies found that even eating four ounces of fried food a week – that’s less than a hamburger a week – increases your chance of heart problems.12
But other cooking methods are unhealthy in different ways. For example, boiling vegetables, especially if they’re boiled for too long, diminishes many useful vitamins and minerals.
Cooking at home is one of the most important things you can do for your health. And taking the time to learn the healthiest way to cook will pay off for years to come.13
- Science Daily: Home Cooking is main ingredient in healthy diet
- Dietary Acrylamide and Human Cancer: A Systematic Review of Literature – PMC
- Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli – PMC
- Microwave cooking and nutrition – Harvard Health.
- Is plastic a threat to your health?
- Effects of Air Frying on French Fries: The Indication Role of Physicochemical Properties on the Formation of Maillard Hazards, and the Changes of Starch Digestibility
- Influence of Different Cooking Methods on Filet Steak Physicochemical Characteristics – PMC
- Is pork good for you? It’s complicated. – The Washington Post
- Effects of cooking methods and temperature on nutritional quality characteristics of anchovy
- Effects of Different Cooking Methods on Health-Promoting Benefits of Broccoli
- Harvard Health Publishing Microwave Cooking and Nutrition
- Harvard Health Publishing: How much will fried foods harm your heart?
- Science Direct: An evidence-based conceptual framework of healthy cooking