Healthy and positive food concepts and cooking practices are foundation for good health.
Food habits are formed early in childhood, passed on from the elders in the family and perpetuated to adulthood. Food beliefs either encourage or discourage the consumption of particular type of foods. There can be neutral, harmless or harmful practices. Unfortunately, most of the food fads and prejudices (taboos) are associated with women and children, who are also the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Exaggerated beneficial or harmful claims in respect of some foods, without scientific basis constitute food fads. In addition, the belief of heat producing and cold inducing foods is widely prevalent. Some examples are jaggery, sugar, groundnuts, fried foods, mango, bajra, jowar, maize, eggs and meat. Papaya fruit is strongly suspected to lead to abortion, though there is no scientific basis. Buttermilk, curd, milk, green gram dhal, green leafy vegetables, ragi, barley flour and apples are considered as cold inducing foods which are actually nutritious. Vegetarianism is often practiced in India on religious grounds. Since vitamin B is present only in 12 foods of animal origin, vegetarians should ensure an adequate consumption of milk. During certain illnesses like measles and diarrhea, dietary restriction is practiced. This can aggravate malnutrition in young children.
Foods, in their natural state, contain different nutrients in varying amounts. Cooking improves the digestibility of most foods. Flesh foods get softened on cooking and become easily chewable. Proper methods of cooking render foods palatable by improving the appearance, taste, flavor and texture, thereby enhancing acceptability. In addition, they help in destroying disease causing organisms and
eliminating natural inhibitors of digestion. In the course of food preparation, depending on the recipe, foods are subjected to various processes such as washing, grinding, cutting, fermentation, germination and cooking. In the Indian cuisine, fermentation (idli, dosa, dhokla) and germination (sprouting) are common practices. These methods improve digestibility and increase nutrients such as B-complex vitamins and vitamin C.
Foods should be washed well before cooking and consumption to remove contaminants like pesticide residues, parasites and other extraneous material, However, certain precautions need to be taken while washing and cutting to minimize the loss of nutrients. Repeated washing of food grains like rice and pulses results in losses of certain minerals and vitamins. Vegetables and fruits should be washed thoroughly with potable water before cutting. Cutting of vegetables in to small pieces exposes a greater surface area of the foodstuff to the atmosphere, resulting in loss of vitamins due to oxidation. Therefore, vegetables should be cut in to large pieces. Cut vegetables should not be soaked in water for long, as water-soluble minerals and vitamins get dissolved.
There are many methods of cooking like boiling, steaming, pressure cooking, frying, roasting and baking. Boiling is the most common method of cooking, during which heat-labile and water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B-complex and C is lost. The practice of using excess water while cooking rice should be discouraged since it leads to loss of vitamins; just sufficient water to be fully absorbed should be used. Use of baking soda for hastening cooking of pulses should not be practiced, as it results in loss of vitamins. Frying involves cooking food in oil/ghee/vanaspati at high temperatures. Shallow frying involves use of much smaller amounts of oils than deep frying. Repeated heating of oils particularly PUFA-rich oils results in formation of peroxides and free radicals and, hence, should be avoided by using just enough oil. Similarly, oils which have been repeatedly heated should not be mixed with fresh oil but should be used for process such as seasoning.
Microwave cooking is convenient, fast and preserves nutrients and also useful in reheating of food. But it can reheat or cook unevenly and leave some cold spots in the food by which harmful bacteria can enter into our body. So it is discouraged to use large amounts or big pieces in the microwave oven otherwise mix the food in between for even heating or cooking. Never use partially heated food. Don't cook frozen food in the microwave oven directly as it leaves some parts of the food partially cooked.
Always use glass or pottery dishes and food grade microwave friendly plastic dishes and wrap to re-heat foods.