Modern pressure cookers are relatively new to the UK. I am not talking about the spaghetti-exploding-over-the-ceiling devices that you might remember from your childhood. Modern versions are safe and sophisticated in how they work. But are pressure cookers healthy?
Extremely popular in the US, pressure cookers have gone through numerous studies and research with surprising results.
Shorter cooking time helps prevent nutrients loss
The pressure and temperature in pressure cookers builds up to very high levels, usually about 225F (100C). As high as it sounds, however, it is still lower than the temperatures reached during conventional methods. Low setting in traditional crock pots tend to be around 250F and ovens easily reach 250-450F . So does that mean that both pressure cooking is unhealthy? The answer is – No! It is actually healthier than most conventional methods.
The truth is, any heat over 120F (50C) is not good for nutrients. Some temperature sensitive nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, beta-carotene and some others are sensitive to any high temperatures. This means they will be reduced in the process of any cooking.
The good news is, it’s not all about the temperatures, but also the cooking time. The shorter the cooking time, the less loss of nutrients occurs. Whilst eating vegetables raw may be the healthiest option, there is a strong argument in favour of high heat short time cooking of meat. It eliminates bacteria and can actually trigger chemical reactions and increase the variety of nutrients in some foods. Heat releases aromas in spices and herbs and makes the flavours fuller and stronger.
The pressure cooking strikes the perfect balance of high temperatures to make the food safer and fast cooking to make it more nutritious than many conventional methods.
Using less water prevents nutrients loss
We all know that steaming is healthier than boiling. Not many of us stop to think why that is, after all, both methods achieve high temperatures. The difference is – during boiling food comes in contact with boiling water, whilst in steaming it is cooked through by hot steam. Nutrients in vegetables can leach into the boiling water and that water is then thrown away, losing most of the nutritional value of your vegetables. The longer the vegetables remain in contact with boiling water, the less nutritious they become.
Pressure cooker uses a very small amount of water, essentially acting like a steamer. The cooking times are a lot shorter than in any other method, reducing the loss of nutrients even further. What it produces is meat that retains moisture and vegetables that are full of nutrients, vibrant in colour and perfect in texture.
Pressure cooking reduces anti-nutrients
If you have never heard of these before – phytic acid and lectins are found in legumes, beans, nuts and grains. They are called anti-nutrients because of their ability to bind essential minerals like calcium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1, making them harder to absorb. They can even interfere with digestive enzymes which play and essential part in absorption process.
The anti-nutrients content can be reduced by simple processes like soaking beans overnight and then boiling them, but that reduces the good nutrients too.
Pressure cooking reduces the phytic acid content by more than double in comparison with boiling. This increases nutrients absorption, making the vegetables, beans and nuts easier to digest.
Pressure cooking does not create carcinogens like frying
If you do not drink or smoke, you hope your level of exposure to harmful substances is reduced. This is of course true, but some foods that we use every day like the all-time favourite potatoes, should carry a warning too.
High temperature dry cooking of potatoes and other starchy food can cause formation of carcinogenic compounds. This is true for frying, roasting and even grilling. This is one of the reasons why roast potatoes and fries will never feature in any healthy eating guides.
This does not apply to pressure cooking because of the moist environment created in pressure cookers. Even though the temperatures that pressure cookers reach are comparable to those of frying, the steam generated by the cooker prevents the carcinogens compounds from forming.
Are pressure cookers healthy? Conclusion
I hope my summary above convinced you that pressure cooking is one of the safest and healthiest cooking methods that exist. As for me – I am a true believer that it preserves more vitamins and minerals than any conventional cooking method. It provides you and your family with meals that are full of flavour and nutritional value.