Published: 05/22/2015 - Updated: 04/04/2016
Sometimes, when sitting in the comfort of our homes, especially in the city, it can be easy to forget the reasons we do certain things or have certain protocols that permeate a large part of society. Sometimes these things are forgotten, or become questioned in fits of rebellion, sparked by a lecture or something you overheard in the hallway, but which you also never get around to fully researching, or consulting authorities on the subject.
This becomes very clear in our diet and foods we eat. When you open the fridge you see a series of foods that you love to eat, but which you can’t trace their origins, or why they’re so important to you. At the end of the day, not knowing about these foods doesn’t prevent you from enjoying them. This understanding can be a tool for valuing them more. This also applies to cooking methods used to prepare food before consumption.
There are certain benefits to cooking different foods. I would like to remind you of this because we have been doing it for thousands of years (we’re the only living being to do so). Cooking foods is not only enjoyable, but it is also a safety net for survival. Because we have learned to cook foods, we have access to a lot of vegetables that would otherwise be inedible. This eliminates the inherent dangers of eating animal products. All foods need to be washed and disinfected in some way before being consumed, and cooking is one of the safest methods of disinfection. Not only does it clean the food, but it allows us to use certain nutritional benefits that otherwise would be impossible.
The potato provides a clear example of the benefits of cooking vegetables. When raw, both the taste and consistency of potatoes is not very appealing. Because they develop underground, they could come into contact with a large amount of pathogens, and they also contain components known as glycoalkaloids (which can also be found in other vegetables, like eggplants). If enough of this component is eaten, it could cause diarrhea, cramps, or headaches, but there is no reason to worry because cooking potatoes takes care of the pathogens and toxins in this tuber. Cooking not only helps eliminate dangers, but it also breaks down the potato’s cell walls, which allows us to use its starches. Some types of beans are also another good example, which could contain toxic substances like lectins. It’s difficult to imagine eating dry and raw beans without breaking your teeth. These toxins can and should be eliminated by soaking the beans, and then cooking them. Cooking vegetables could make a lot more nutrients available which are contained with the cell walls, and would not otherwise be available.
Meats and other animal products abide by several of the same principles used in cooking vegetables. Meet can harbor tiny parasite eggs that have complex development cycles (including fish). Consuming raw meats exposes one to these parasites, and there are well-known intoxication cases caused by poor meat handling before it was served on a platter. Another animal product which is famous for needing to be cooked before consumption, are eggs. Eating them raw is not a good idea both for hygienic reasons (don’t forget salmonella), and it also makes certain nutrients, like iron and biotin, available that would not be if the egg were eaten raw.
Cooking foods is not a bad habit. There’s a reason that it has a place in our lives, and it’s important to remember that rarely is anything completely good or bad. Cooking works and it is great for some foods. There are also other foods, like apples or celery, that don’t require cooking. Rumor has it that cooking foods reduces their nutritional value or causes cancer, but the appropriate preparation method must be used for each different food. This makes each food safe and preserves nutrients. Becoming informed about these differences should definitely be on your list of things to do. Over cooking foods can eliminate several nutrients in a food (even we would disappear if we were thrown in a fire), or lead to the formation of potentially carcinogenic components. But there are also inherent dangers to eating some foods raw, and there’s nothing strange about this. These foods are organisms that don’t want to be eaten, and they will do anything possible to stay far away from our mouths. Try to steam your vegetables and fish rather than frying them, or find the best temperatures for cooking meat on the grill. Most of all, accompany them with salads. There’s nothing in nature that doesn’t come with a cost, but it’s important to find a balance in your diet, and to know how to take care of yourself and the ones you love, as best as possible. Both extremes are dangerous, and so is not appreciating existence from other points of view.