You’ve heard of the dangers of under-cooking your food… but what about overcooking it? While under-cooking raises the risk of bacteria in the finished dish, overcooking food poses its own risks, and the worst thing is that you’re probably already doing it without even knowing it.
Overcooking your food isn’t as simple as just plain burning it. Cooking food over a certain temperature has been linked to many health risks, some far more serious than others. Here are three of the main reasons that you should be careful about overcooking your food.
1. It’s Harder to Metabolize
This fact has been the key to the popularization of raw-food diets. Metabolizing food becomes more difficult once it has been cooked above a certain temperature. The result is food that remains in the gut and can eventually become toxic. Techniques like steaming and boiling help food remain below the dangerous temperature, and a diet rich in raw foods – if not an exclusively raw diet – can help with these problems.
2. Cooked Food Loses Nutrients
This is particularly true of vegetables. Many vitamins are sensitive to heat, meaning that the amount of the vitamin depletes with long cooking. The popularity of steaming and blanching vegetables is a good start, but studies show that you should be eating some raw vegetables as well, particularly to get a healthy dose of vitamin C, which is particularly heat sensitive.
That being said, don’t go crazy! Cooked veggies have their own health benefits to offer. Try serving a raw veggie and a cooked one with every meal, and be sure to vary your choices in order to be sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.
3. Charred Foods Contain Carcinogenic Substances
When cooked until charred on the outside, certain foods can contain dangerous carcinogenic substances. This is particularly true of meats, which produce harmful chemicals like heterocyclic amines when heated above a certain temperature.
This is a problem to beware of this summer when grilling: if fat or juice drips onto the coals, hydrocarbons can rise off of them in the form of vapor and permeate the meat. Try cooking your grilled foods en papillotte instead, to counteract some of the problems linked to cooking them over a direct heat source.
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Image: Brian Chu