The effects of pressure cooking on nutrient retention have been researched for decades, and the findings are, well, pretty confusing.

Lauren Wicks

The Instant Pot has become a kitchen essential over the past few years, as the appliance significantly reduces the time and effort to make a home-cooked meal or staples like steel-cut oats and yogurt. The Instant Pot has even helped people eat healthier and lose weight! But there are some concerns out there that the pressure cooker has some major drawbacks when it comes to nutrient retention.

Researchers have been studying the effects of pressure cooking on nutrient retention for more than 70 years, and their findings are still pretty inconclusive. We took a look at several studies to help determine if the Instant Pot deserves a rightful spot in your kitchen. But first, let's take a look at how your Instant Pot works and dispel a major pressure cooking myth.

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How the Instant Pot Works

The Instant Pot is comprised of three elements-an inner pot, cooker base, and lid-that create a highly pressurized environment for your food. When heated, the liquid inside the inner pot produces steam and creates pressure buildup. This helps your food cook faster and more efficiently. The appliance also has a sealing ring that ensures pressure and heat are building at safe levels and prevents your Instant Pot from exploding or overheating during cook time.

Contrary to popular belief, the Instant Pot doesn't utilize high-heat cooking temperatures. According to the Instant Pot website, the appliance actually functions around 250 degrees Fahrenheit. So we can go ahead and dispel the myth that cooking meat in the Instant Pot will produce carcinogens like other high-heat cooking methods can. Because the pressure cooker traps steam and heat, the high-pressure environment raises the boiling point of water faster than other cooking techniques and therefore doesn't require a high temperature to cook properly.

Related: 10 Cooking Tips to Make Your Favorite Foods Healthier

Can the Instant Pot Have a Negative Effect on Nutrient Retention?

Possibly. Since we just mythbusted the idea that pressure cookers operate at high temperatures, we can ignore the thought that its high-heat temperatures could also lead to nutrient loss. Pretty much any type of cooking is going to alter the nutritional composition of your food at some level, but high-heat methods are likely going to have the biggest impact.

However, some methods of cooking have also shown to make certain nutrients more readily available and certain foods easier to digest. Here are several studies concerning pressure cooking:

  • One 1995 study found pressure cooking was better than blanching and searing when it came to preserving Vitamin C and A content in spinach.
  • A 2004 study found beans to be more digestible-and the nutrients more readily absorbed by the body-when pressure cooking versus microwaving. Neither of the methods affected nutrient retention.
  • A 2009 study found pressure cooking and boiling saw the greatest nutrient losses, compared to griddling, baking, or microwaving vegetables.
  • A 2010 study found pressure cooking was better than boiling for nutrient retention, improving digestibility and reducing antinutrient compounds.

It looks like there's a pretty good argument for saying pressure cooking is a better option than boiling, blanching and steaming, while there are some mixed results comparing it to microwaves or pan/griddle cooking.

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Keltha Shelke, PhD, a food scientist and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, gave us her expert take on how pressure cooking can affect nutrient retention of a variety of foods, reminding us all cooking methods do to some extent:

  • With vegetables and fruits, the heat-sensitive nutrients (e.g., vitamin C, folate and bioactive phytonutrients) are generally most susceptible to degradation during pressure cooking. Consuming the cooking water can help restore some of these losses.
  • 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.
  • Pressure-cooked meat-based dishes show a significant reduction in unsaturated fat contents, but it appears that iron is not lost.
  • In addition to making foods like grains and legumes more digestible, pressure cooking does not create any of the unhealthy chemicals associated with baking and grilling methods.

Related: How to Meal Prep Instant Pot Freezer Packs for Easy Weeknight Meals

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, pressure cooking seems like a safe option, as short cooking times and low temperatures can help prevent nutrient loss.

While it might not be the best option out there for nutrient retention, you should never feel bad about making a home-cooked meal in your Instant Pot, as there is no "perfect" preparation method for food. Meals made at home are pretty much always going to be healthier than anything on a takeout menu or at a restaurant, so give yourself a pat on the back for taking your health into your own hands!

Related: Easy Healthy Dinner Recipes to Make in Your Instant Pot

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