Our team regularly cooks together during lunch breaks. Or, I should say, my colleagues take care of the food, and I'm allowed to set the table, pour the drinks and wash the dishes. They won't let me touch the stove. They know I'm more of a slapdash cook, so they think asking me to write about "preparing food gently" will do me good.
"The way to the heart is through the stomach," they say. But it takes more than wine, clean plates and Spaghetti Bolognese. A meal should be tasty, healthy and nutritious for a happy heart and body.
How to feed your engine right.
Like a car that needs oil and petrol, our organic engine needs the right ingredients for trouble-free operation. We have to feed it with up to 50 nutrients in sufficient quantities, including carbohydrates, fat, proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
Only when our organism has these substances in its tank to burn it can generate energy. Nutrients serve as building blocks for our cells, and 40% alone is used for heart, respiration and internal activities, whether we're parked comfortably on the sofa or are moving at full throttle.
That's why a nutrient-rich diet is essential at any age. Unfortunately, many forget that food is how we thrive. So much of what we willingly swallow today contains few to zero nutrients and lots of calories.
Another problem: We're hardly passing the skills of real cooking to the next generation. Cooking, apart from in TV shows, is regarded as a necessary evil. A good meal is prepared and served with love and heart – but nowadays food is often cooked too fast or with a temperature too high and becomes harmful to the health.
Food from the danger-zone.
The danger starts at the supermarket. Carcinogenic pollutants hide in many ingredients, which we throw into our shopping carts without even looking at the packaging. For example:
- Industrially-prepared meat, or smoked and salted meat, can contain cancer-producing nitrosamines. Acrylamide is formed when foods containing sugar and protein are heated together and has strong links with cancer. French fries, potato chips, cornflakes, roasted muesli, white bread, and biscuits should also be enjoyed with caution due to their medium acrylamide content. I know, they taste good. But that's because of the roast aromas released during processing or burning on a crispy crust on our food when toasting, baking and roasting on high heat.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons also make it unpleasantly hot. PAHs are mainly produced during combustion, that is when grilling and smoking over an open fire. However, they can also occur when you overheat meat or fish in a frying pan and they lurk in store-bought, industrially dried and smoked sausages.
- Heterocyclic aromatic amines, or HAA for short, have the same effect. These also come with a high risk of cancer and occur when meat or fish is fried too darkly or blackly.
Changing the way you cook can keep all these chemicals from your body. When you put more love into your food, cooking works wonderfully for body and soul. Taking extra time when cooking definitely pays off for your health.
How to get the most from your cooking process and make sure your delicious meal scores high on vitamins and minerals and low on cancer risk? Let's start by going back to the supermarket.
Have an eye on healthy shopping.
Thankfully, there are now a wide variety of local, organic products available to replace industrially produced foods and help you live a healthy life. Seasonal local fruit and vegetables protect our environment because they're fresher and come with lower food miles – much better for you than a cucumber that's travelled halfway around the world.
Happy animals mean sourcing your meat and eggs from organic farms. In contrast to industrial products, organic meat delights your palate with considerably fewer harmful additives or antibiotics. Even better if you enjoy a trip to the country – many farm shops and Farmer's Markets mean you can shop for organic, fresh foods to your heart's content.
Once you've got your fresh produce back home, you should prepare it gently as soon as possible. I don’t recommend storing it for too long, as vitamins can be sensitive to light and oxygen. However, you can keep most fruits and vegetables for a short time in your fridge's vegetable compartment or in a dark, airy place.
Fresh fish can be kept in the fridge for up to three days, ideally in an odourless container with cold packs on top. Placed on the glass plate above the vegetable compartment, meat can be kept in the fridge for a few days if it has been dabbed with paper towel before placing it in a container to avoid pathogenic germs.
How to prepare your food gently.
The first guiding principle for gentle cuisine is: Never overcook. You don't have to toast, bake, fry or cook at maximum temperature. This is the only way to keep nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the food. For example:
- Bread should only be lightly and briefly toasted.
- Bake French fries in the oven at a maximum temperature of 175 degrees until golden brown rather than dark.
- When barbecuing meat, lay it on aluminium foil so that no fat drips onto the coals during grilling. This prevents carcinogenic substances from smoking onto the meat.
The second guiding principle for gentle cuisine is: Cook your food with little water and fat for as long as necessary and as short a time as possible. Use cold-pressed oils for frying, such as coconut, pumpkin seed, canola, olive, sesame and walnut oils because they're full of valuable ingredients and gently extracted from seeds, kernels and plants at low temperatures.
Cooking and frying at lower temperatures is a good step, but sous-vide cooking is even gentler:
- Initially conceived to slowly prepare food in the oven at low temperatures, today sous-vide cooking seals ingredients in a vacuum bag. When gently heated in a water bath, vacuum packaging or sous vide, all the food's nutrients and its full aroma are retained.
- Steam cooking is a particularly gentle method, and easy to do with a simple steam cooker insert for conventional cooking pots like the one, we've got for you. Fish and meat retain most of their taste when prepared this way, and vegetables are crisp, colourful and full of nutrients and vitamins without the need for added fat and salt.
Food should be a feast for all the senses. Even if, at first glance, gently preparing food seems more expensive, it makes a serious difference to your health. After all, isn't it much nicer when the food on your plate is inviting when compared to the meagre pleasure of grey, nutrient-free fast food?
Gently cook your food for the beste, healthiest results you can enjoy.
Editorial office for nutrition: rk