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ICMR's Guidelines on Cooking Methods for Enhanced Nutrition

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued crucial guidelines emphasizing the selection of appropriate cooking methods to safeguard vital nutrients in our food.

Sarbani Bhattacharjee
ICMR's Guidelines on Cooking Methods for Enhanced Nutrition (Photo Source: Pexels.com)
ICMR's Guidelines on Cooking Methods for Enhanced Nutrition (Photo Source: Pexels.com)

While open-lid cooking might be a traditional method, it presents several nutritional hurdles such as:

Nutrient Loss: Open-air exposure accelerates the breakdown of essential vitamins and minerals, particularly water-soluble ones like Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins. This occurs due to prolonged heat and oxygen exposure, diminishing the overall nutritional value of the food.

Extended Cooking Times: Open-lid cooking necessitates longer cooking durations as heat escapes readily. This not only translates to increased energy consumption but also exacerbates nutrient loss. Heat-sensitive nutrients like folate and Vitamin C are particularly vulnerable to extended cooking times, leading to significant depletion.

Inconsistent Temperatures: Maintaining consistent temperatures with an open lid proves challenging. The continuous escape of heat and steam necessitates frequent adjustments to the heat source, resulting in uneven cooking. This can lead to overcooked sections alongside undercooked areas within the same dish.

Moisture and Flavour Loss: Open-lid cooking leads to significant moisture loss. The escaping steam carries away aromatic compounds and flavors, culminating in a drier and less flavourful dish. This is particularly detrimental for delicate foods like vegetables and fish, which rely on retained moisture for optimal texture and taste.

Increased Oxidation: Open-air exposure during open-lid cooking increases the risk of oxidation, a chemical reaction that not only affects the food's color and taste but can also lead to the formation of potentially harmful compounds. Fats and oils are susceptible to oxidation, resulting in rancidity and the formation of free radicals, linked to various health issues.

To combat these challenges and ensure optimal nutrient retention, ICMR recommends the following cooking methods:

Closed-Lid Cooking: This method retains steam and heat, leading to faster cooking times and superior nutrient preservation. It is particularly beneficial for vegetables and greens, which tend to lose color but retain nutrients more effectively in a closed environment.

Pressure Cooking:  It is an excellent method for nutrient retention, pressure cooking utilizes high pressure to cook food rapidly. This significantly reduces nutrient loss and is especially effective for pulses and legumes, as it destroys anti-nutritional factors while preserving essential nutrients.

Steaming:  Considered one of the best methods for preserving antioxidants and polyphenols in vegetables and greens, steaming involves minimal water and cooks food at lower temperatures. This reduces the risk of nutrient leaching and degradation.

Microwaving:  ICMR recognizes microwaving as another method that promotes nutrient retention. It utilizes minimal water and cooks food rapidly from the inside out, preserving vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lost through conventional methods. It is crucial to employ microwave-safe glass or ceramic vessels for safety reasons, avoiding plastic containers altogether.

While open-lid cooking might have a place in specific culinary traditions, its drawbacks related to nutrient loss cannot be ignored.

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