Why and How to Steam Food

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

How to steam food has been discovered and developed by many culturesSteam cooking has been used for thousands of years by Chinese, Indians, and Africans. People around the world are increasingly learning how to steam food for healthier cooking. One of the best ways to prepare food, steaming allows foods to retain their color, form, flavor, natural juices, and most importantly, their nutrients.

A nutrient-rich diet is key to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) recovery. Your adrenal glands are responsible for producing the stress hormone cortisol, but the rest of your body has to help too. Your whole body works to support the overstressed adrenal glands by using most of its organs, systems, and pathways to produce and regulate hormones and neurotransmitters to keep your body functioning. Known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, this whole-body response means that everything must be working together on a functional level to holistically fight stress and overcome AFS, and a nutrient-rich diet can help.

Steaming cooks foods at a moderate boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is optimal for retaining nutrients that nourish your body in recovery. Baking heats foods with heats of 350-450 degrees, and frying temperatures can exceed 600 degrees, both of which can dry out natural juices and destroy vital nutrients.

Knowing the importance of keeping your entire body running as a well-oiled machine to combat stress will help you develop healthier habits in your environment and food intake. Since important nutrients that your organs and systems need to thrive can be lost during cooking, it is just as important to consider the way you prepare food as it is to consider the foods you consume.

How to Steam Food

To properly steam food, there must be adequate heat surrounding the food, but not too much, as overheating can both rob a food of its nutrients and yield an undesirable texture. You will need a steamer of some sort; there are several options. You can purchase a traditional Chinese wicker steam basket or a steaming set that contains a large pot, steamer insert and lid. You can also improvise a system using other items in your kitchen, such as a colander over a pot.

  1. Don’t Overload the Steamer – The heat created by steaming needs to circulate around the food, so be sure there is space between the pieces of food and that the steamer is not packed tightly.
  2. One important factor in how to steam food properly is to use clean filtered waterWater – Be sure to use filtered water to prevent contamination from chlorine, which is a known carcinogenic hazard and will be absorbed by the food. You only need enough water to create steam, not enough to touch the food, so keep the water well below the bottom of the steamer insert.
  3. Create the Steam – Bring the water to a boil with the lid off, then add the food and cover. Do not open the lid once steaming begins, or you will lose the steam and interrupt the cooking process.
  4. Cook Time – Do not overcook the food. Cook just until vegetables are tender but still a bit crisp, meats are cooked through, rice is no longer crunchy (rice must be par-boiled in filtered water before steaming), and breads and dumplings are firm and springy.

Why You Should Start Steaming Food

1. Steaming Lowers Cholesterol

When you steam meats, the fat is cooked out and drips down into the water, where it can be discarded instead of consumed. Traditional cooking methods seal the fat and cholesterol into the meat, making your body work harder to process it.

2. Oil Free

Steaming foods eliminates the need for cooking oil in food preparation, lowering fat and calories and creating healthier meals.

3. Preserves Nutrients

Steam cooking retains as much of the raw-state of vegetables as possible, allowing your body to take full advantage of the vitamins, minerals, and natural juices. Many vitamins are lost during traditional cooking methods, resulting in a reduction of B vitamins, riboflavin, vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, and pantothenic acid. Minerals such as potassium, zinc, and calcium are lost as well. Broccoli, for example, loses 70 percent of its vitamin C when cooked in water, but only 19 percent when steamed. When cooked in a microwave, broccoli only retains 3 percent of flavonoids, compared to 33 percent retention when cooked in water and 89 percent when steamed. In some foods, such as carrots, tomatoes and leafy greens, vitamin absorption is actually enhanced.

4. Preserves Texture

Conventional cooking methods break down fibers and rob vegetables of their texture. Fiber is important to the digestive system and the proper delivery and disbursement of the many vitamins and minerals in vegetables.

5. Retains Flavor and Color

Steam cooking allows vegetables to retain (and often enhances) their bright, beautiful colors and natural juices. Steaming does not change the flavor of the raw foods, although spices can be added during cooking for more flavor, if desired.

6. Steaming is Quick and Easy

The method of steaming with traditional Chinese steamers allows several different foods to be stacked on a single heat source, saving energy and time. It is very easy to layer foods in baskets and start steaming. The cooking process itself is also relatively quick.

7. A Cleaner Kitchen

Cooking with oil creates smoke and a greasy buildup in your kitchen over time (have you checked the surfaces above your stove recently?), whereas steam creates no air pollution or buildup, and cleanup is simple.

8. Facilitates Detoxification

An important part of AFS recovery is detoxification. Steaming foods aids in the detox process because it allows foods to retain powerful antioxidants that are necessary for cleansing your body of toxins. Steaming also preserves glucosinolates, which are cancer-fighting components that are destroyed when overheated, such as during frying, boiling, or baking.

9. Convenient

Steam cooking is convenient for your family. It’s easy to learn how to steam food, and you can prepare everything early in the day and simply start the steaming process 30 minutes before you’d like to eat.

10. Variety

Few ingredients don’t work when figuring out how to steam foodYou can cook almost any food with the steaming method. Many people think to steam vegetables, but you can also steam meats, grains, breads, and even fruits for making all natural jams and desserts.

Take the time to learn how to steam food. It is easy and quite a timesaver in the kitchen. You will be impressed with the culinary, aesthetic, and health results. The proper foods, cooked appropriately, will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover from adrenal fatigue.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

How to steam food has been discovered and developed by many cultures

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I'm a licensed Naturopath practicing in Nova Scotia Canada. I want to commend you on the wonderful information on your site. I refer many clients to it for references regarding Adrenal disorders, reproductive hormone imbalances and much more. One client actually contacted you with some adrenal questions and was very excited to hear back from you, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to listen to her question and for responding.