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Turn Up the Slow Cooking Heat for Health

Sharon Palmer, RDThis featured post is by Sharon Palmer, RD. You can follow her at @SharonPalmerRD.

Slow cooking has been a hot trend since nearly the beginning of time. As soon as humans could cook, they were preparing their meals of plants, herbs and game over the open fire. The slow-cooking method has only seemed to gain momentum, thanks in large part to the introduction of the Crock Pot in 1971. It’s hard to argue against this method of food preparation; it enhances flavor, is kind to your wallet, requires minimal time and effort, and may even enrich nutrition.

Processed Perks
While health experts have typically been taught to argue that “fresh is best,” recent studies challenge this old-age mindset with some very revealing findings, which suggest that heating produce — such as in canning or cooking — can increase the bioavailability of some nutrients. Slow-cooked meals, in particular, often feature processed products that seem to offer a boost of nutritional benefits.

Hot Antioxidants
Canned tomatoes, for example, the superstar ingredient in a variety of soups, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes, may offer even more nutritional perks than its fresh counterpart. When tomatoes are heated, the powerful antioxidant lycopene, linked to heart protection, cancer prevention and even improved mood, becomes more available to your body. This is because cooking breaks down the cell walls of the tomato, releasing more of the lycopene.

Similarly, the antioxidants most well-known to protect your precious eyes against disease, such as lutein found in corn and spinach, also respond to heat during cooking. A 2003 study that compared the carotenoid content — mainly zeaxanthin and lutein — of fresh, canned and frozen corn found that frozen and canned varieties, both of which were processed with heat, contained more lutein than the fresh version.

Legumes seem to like the heat, too. Boiling peanuts has been show to increase their antioxidant concentration up to four times that of raw and roasted.

Benefits Beyond Nutrients
What’s more, the perks of slow cooking extend beyond increasing the bioavailability of nutrients in plant foods. If you cook meat in a liquid at low heat, you can help reduce the number of cell-damaging compounds known as AGEs (advanced glycation end products) that are produced in the meat by 50 percent, compared with broiling or grilling. That’s why slow cooking is arguably one of the safest ways to cook meats, as AGEs typically found in charred and grilled meats have been linked with inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 

So next time you find yourself asking “what’s for dinner,” turn up the heat and slow cook your meal. 

French Wild Rice Vegetable Soup

This hearty soup is the perfect accompaniment for a sandwich or salad any time of the year. Packed with fiber and nutrients, it can power up your day.

Recipe developed by Sharon Palmer, RD

Makes 6 servings (1 cup each)

5 cups water

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

1 cube vegetable bullion

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup uncooked wild rice

1 medium carrot, sliced

1 small zucchini, sliced

1 cup sliced leeks

1 tsp Herbes de Provence (seasoning blend)

Dash black pepper

Slow Cooking Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large crock pot.
  2. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or on LOW for 6 hours.

Quick Stove Top Variation Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Cover with a tight lid and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour, until wild rice and vegetables are tender.

***May need to add additional water to replace water lost in evaporation. Should make a thick, hearty soup.

Sharon Palmer, RD, is a Southern California-based registered dietitian, writer, editor of Environmental Nutrition, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Read her blog, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, and follow her on Facebook.

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