There are now a bewildering variety of options available in terms of cooking technology, ranging from gas to induction, convection to conduction, and microwave to solar. So if you have the luxury of choice, and your priority is health, how do you choose?
Gas stoves have been in the news recently because of their emissions, which have become better understood in recent years. A 2022 peer-reviewed study found that 12.7% of childhood asthma in the USA can be attributed to gas appliances in the kitchen, mainly due to the nitrogen dioxide that is produced in air when gas is burned.
Apart from this issue, and the fire risk associated with exposed flames, gas has long been favoured in the kitchen because of its speed and control, and the even spread of heat across the bases of pots and pans.
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The dominance of gas has been challenged recently by the rise of induction stoves, which is a form of electric cooking that uses magnetism and special cookware (iron or stainless steel) to produce many of the same benefits but with much less energy expenditure and no exhaust gases produced inside the house, as well as fast cooling down when heat is no longer needed.
With many people now switching to induction, this technology has also been in the news recently as a possible risk for people who wear pacemakers.
Of course traditional electric conduction stoves are still in many houses, despite their energy inefficiency and danger for children. While this method of cooking will heat up any kind of cookware, there are pros and cons with different materials (remembering cast iron and stainless steel take longer to heat up, but also retain heat better than alternatives like copper and aluminium).
Each of these metals have trace effects on what you cook in them, with aluminium in particular being associated with negative effects on brain health and vitamin intake if used long term, or if used to cook very acidic foods.
Convection ovens work by heating up air, which then heats up your food, with pre-heating especially helping with browning and puffing (the Maillard reaction that makes things taste extra delicious).
This doesn’t happen with microwaves, which work instead by agitating water molecules within food.
While evidence suggests that microwave cooking is healthy when done correctly (it’s a safe way to re-heat food, destroying no more vitamins than other techniques), care must be taken to use microwave safe cookware, not poor quality plastics.
Over-cooking kills food
While burning food destroys its nutritional value, so does over-boiling, over-frying, or over micro-waving it. The answer seems to be to not over-cook whatever you’re cooking, no matter what tech you’re using.
Cooking techniques like pressure and solar cooking make it easier to get this balance right, by retaining nutrients inside the food. For lovers of fried food, air fryers offer a way to get that fried taste with less oil, but purists may disagree.
Another way to get crisp effects but less fat and oil in your diet is with non-stick cookware. While the dangerous PFAS and PFOA (traditional Teflon family of chemicals) have theoretically been phased out, with new materials now on the market, the safest way to work with non-stick pans is to not get them too hot, don’t scratch them, and discard them when their coatings degrade.
Or you could avoid all this cooking business entirely and go for a raw diet, but that’s another story!