Those of us concerned with the purity of the foods we eat are careful to check product labels for undesirable additives such as brominated vegetable oil, trans fats, or artificial colors. We do our best to bring wholesome, nourishing, unadulterated foods into our homes to prepare for ourselves and our families. However, some cooking techniques can add harmful chemicals to that very same food we have so carefully selected at the market.
The following are three common cooking techniques to avoid (or at least use in moderation):
1. Microwaving in plastic containers
Using plastic wrap or plastic containers to cook or reheat food in the microwave can impart a long list of undesirable chemicals to your foods, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), and bisphenol A (BPA). There are some FDA-approved “microwave safe” plastic wraps and containers. Of these approved products, some are only meant for single use (the materials degrade with multiple uses and may then leach contaminants into your food) so be sure to read the specifications on the label. Better choices for microwave cooking include glass and ceramic containers; wax paper or paper towels make great covers for foods that tend to splatter.
2. Cooking with damaged aluminum pots and pans
Aluminum cookware is popular due to its light weight, its ability to transfer heat easily, and relatively low cost. Coated and anodized aluminum cookware are fine choices for cooking and baking. However, once the surface is scratched or chipped, aluminum can easily leach into the food. Exposure to aluminum over time has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, kidney dysfunction, and may weaken bones due to its tendency to deplete the body of phosphorus and calcium.
If you cook with aluminum, take care to inspect your pots, pans, and bakeware regularly, and discontinue use if they are damaged. Other good options include cooking with stainless steel or cast iron cookware.
3. Grilling with charcoal
Grilling on the barbecue is a great way to spend a summer afternoon. However, one unwanted side effect of this type of cooking are the heterocyclic amines (HAs or HCAs) that form when grilling. HAs have been associated with a higher incidence of colorectal cancer and an increased risk of stomach, pancreatic, and breast cancers. Take the following steps to reduce your intake of HAs at your next cookout:
a. Choose leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry.
b. Grill vegetables and fish rather than red meats, poultry, or pork.
c. Grill protein-rich food at lower temperatures so as to not char or “blacken” it.
d. Offset the formation of HAs by using marinades containing ginger, rosemary, and turmeric.
e. Grill over a propane or gas burner rather than charcoal or wood.