Cooking Methods – Keeping Nutrients In Foods

Cooking methods and techniques is about how we cook the food we eat. Choosing and buying nutrient dense foods is the first step in eating healthy, the next step is choosing cooking methods that help to retain nutrients in foods so that once you eat those foods your body obtains the benefits of those nutrients by being able to extract those nutrients from the food eaten and use them in physiologic processes to maintain the body.

Foods should also be prepared as soon as possible after purchase because the longer foods are stored the more the food begins to degrade and the more nutrients are lost. Food begins to degrade the moment it leaves its natural state. The longer food is stored the greater the loss of nutrients.

Foods especially fruits and vegetables should be cooked with their skins intact since it is the skin of the fruit or vegetable that generally protects the nutrients which are contained inside.

The speed at which foods are cooked is also a factor a part of the cooking method used in retaining nutrients, the longer food is cooked the greater the loss of nutrients to the cooking liquid, so faster cooking methods are best for retaining nutrients. Loss of nutrients also occurs the higher the temperature food is cooked at, and with exposure to air.

Some nutrients are especially sensitive to heat, air, water, and fat, and require care when using cooking methods, which nutrients are these and what nutrient destroying factors are they sensitive to?

Factors That Destroy Nutrients In Foods

Vitamin AHF
Vitamin DF
Vitamin EHAF
Vitamin CHAW
Vitamin B6HAW
Vitamin B12HW
Pantothenic AcidH

For more information about those factors that can destroy nutrients in foods click on the link to

Some ways to retain nutrients when using cooking methods are:

• Leave vegetables in bigger pieces thus minimizing the loss of nutrients as the food is exposed to the air.

• Cover the cookware to retain heat and steam, which also helps to reduce the cooking time.

• Use as little water as possible when cooking.

• Don’t overcook vegetables only cook them until they are crisp.

What are the best cooking methods for retaining nutrients in foods?

From fastest to slowest method: pressure cooking, microwaving, steaming, stir-frying, broiling/grilling, sautéing, poaching, braising, roasting and baking.


Baking is the slowest cooking method and is a dry-heat method of cooking that cooks foods by surrounding them with heated air in the oven. This method of cooking works well for retaining nutrients in foods when little or no fat is added to the dish. To use this method, the food should be placed in a shallow baking dish and covered using a lid or aluminum foil so that food is kept moist.

Baking is good not only for desserts and breads but fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry and seafood that are uniform in size.


Braising is the technique of first browning the food in a pan on top of the stove then slow cooking the food in a small amount of liquid such as water, broth, juice or wine with the pan opened or covered. Braising can also be done inside of the oven and is a good way to tenderize food such as a tough piece of meat.

Braising is good for meat, poultry and vegetables.


Broiling and grilling uses dry heat to cook food resulting in foods that are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. For retaining nutrients meat should be cut into 1-2 inch thick chunks and vegetables should be cut into large chunks as well. When broiling a pan with a rack should be used to allow fat to drip into the pan. Grilling should be done with caution however since the high temperatures of grilling can allow carcinogens in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form on the surface of meats that are charred or well done.

Broiling and grilling works well with meat, poultry, seafood, fruits and vegetables.


Microwaving uses electromagnetic radiation to heat and cook food. Water is the molecule affected in microwave cooking with the molecule moving back and forth and causing the temperature of the food to rise quickly. Microwave cooking is fast and uses a minimum of liquid and works well for fish and vegetables, but is less effective for cooking meat and poultry. In addition, food does not brown well with microwaving.

Regarding microwave cooking concerns have been expressed regarding the altering of protein chemistry of foods that can be harmful and as a result microwaving is recommended for defrosting and heating up foods not for longer cooking.

There is also a concern regarding the plastic containers that are used to microwave food that chemicals from the plastics can migrate into the food resulting in negative effects in the human body. Thus it is recommended that glass or ceramic containers be used in microwaving such as Corningware or Pyrex.

Food should be kept moist by covering it with a ceramic or glass lid paper towel or microwave wax paper.


Poaching is a stove top method of cooking, that gently simmer foods in primarily water, although other liquids such as broth or juice can be used. This method has the nutritional advantage that the liquid that the food is being poached in becomes part of the food with little or no added fat. The method can be further improved by choosing a pan with a cover that best suits the size and shape of the food so that the liquid that is used can be kept to a minimum which will also reduce the cooking time.

Poaching works well with meats, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruits.

Pressure Cooking

Pressure cooking is an excellent method to cook food in a healthy manner. The cooker comes with a locking lid and steam is created under pressure, increasing the cooking temperature.

With pressure cooking both timing and the amount of liquid that foods are cooked in must be precise since foods such as vegetables can be overcooked almost instantly, it only takes seconds. Therefore when pressure cooking the pressure cooker recipe must be followed precisely and the instructions that come with the cooker should be followed for the best results.

Pressure cooking works well with vegetables, beans and grains.


Roasting is a dry heat method of cooking in the oven at higher temperatures but cooking the food slower than baking. Roasting works well with large cuts of fatty or lean meats and these meats should be done in a roasting pan with a rack to allow fat to drain away from the meat, and a meat thermometer should be used to help gauge when the meat has been cooked to a thorough degree of doneness. Vegetables if roasted should be done on a baking sheet.

Roasting works well with meat and vegetables.


Sautéing is a good method for rapidly cooking small, uniformly sized pieces of food with little or no oil, and if a nonstick pan is used then no oil will be needed. Sautéing involves heating the pan or skillet quickly until the liquid is hot but without smoke, then adding the food and stirring.

Sautéing works well with thin cuts of meat, seafood and vegetables.


Stir-frying is an Asian cooking method that we in the West have adopted for rapidly cooking small, uniformly sized pieces of food, generally a vegetable mixture. This technique is also used to stir-fry thinly sliced pieces of beef, chicken or shrimp. This is a healthy method because foods cook rapidly at reasonably high temperatures with very little oil, just enough to coat the pan or wok that may also be used. Once the pan or wok is heated food is tossed in and stirred rapidly cooking foods until they are crisp and tender.


Steaming is a healthy cooking method that retains most nutrients because the food is not immersed in water which can leach out nutrients from foods. The food is placed in a steamer basket that rests above the water in the pot and as the water boils and steam is produced the food is cooked quickly and efficiently.

For other information about cooking methods click on the link to

Cookware Materials - Retaining Nutrients Through Equipment Choice

For other information on nutrition and nutrients some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

Life Cycle Nutrition
Alcohol and Diet
Chronic Disease
Nutrition Eating Disorders
Exercise and Vitamins
Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrients In Food
Energy From Food
Water and Nutrition
Dietary Minerals
Cooking and Nutrition
Cooking Recipes
Cooking Easy Recipes Home