Are You Sacrificing Nutrition For A Quick Instant Pot Meal?

Ah, the Instant Pot. By this point, everyone's got one, or even gotten rid of one. Advertised as the savior of easy dinners, Instant Pots boast a myriad of functions, but they are most commonly used as pressure cookers. That's good news for a quick meal — but it might give you pause if you're following some of the latest "healthy eating" trends floating around the internet, such as the wariness surrounding the effects of cooking.

Health fanatics have gotten so worked up about the potential health dangers of cooked food, you'd think a plate of steamed broccoli was the second coming of the McRib. Fads like the Raw Food Diet (or the even more terrifying Raw Meat Diet) are predicated on the idea that cooking food destroys some of the nutrients your body needs, according to WebMD.

It's true that vegetables like broccoli and spinach can lose water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and Vitamin B when they are cooked in water, with up to 50% or 60% of these vitamins leaching out of the veg and into the cooking water when boiled (per Healthline). This is why boiled veggies have such a bad rap, though any cook worth their salt and pepper knows that boiling vegetables should be reserved only for picky children and macro-counting gym bros.

But the truth is that all cooking methods come with their own tradeoffs. The New York Times explains that while some vitamins in vegetables might decrease during cooking, others, like lycopene in tomatoes, can increase as cell walls are broken down and their nutrients are released. So if boiling is bad, but not all cooking methods destroy nutrients, then where do pressure cookers like the Instant Pot fit in?

The Instant Pot's effect on nutrients in food

Pressure cookers work by trapping steam, which increases pressure and temperature at a rapid rate, shortening cook times while maintaining flavor (per Serious Eats). Because there is less water to leach vitamins — and less time in which those vitamins can be extracted — pressure cookers like the Instant Pot allow vegetables to retain more nutrients than they would if steamed or boiled (per The Kitchn).

Using an Instant Pot can even increase the nutrients in some foods. Legumes like green peas, yellow peas, lentils, and chickpeas showed increased antioxidant levels after pressure cooking, compared to steaming and boiling, according to a recent study. Grains can benefit as well, explained Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., a food scientist for the Institute of Food Technologists, in an interview with EatingWell: "In the case of grains and legumes, although the vitamins and heat-sensitive vitamins and phytonutrients are vulnerable to deterioration, the net result of pressure-cooking is a positive nutritional gain — from the increased digestibility of the macronutrients (protein, fiber, and starch) and the increased bioavailability of the essential minerals."

In other words, don't toss your Instant Pot just yet — it's keeping the important nutrients in your easy meals just fine.