Crock-Full of Goodness
Slow cooking gets a nutrition-makeover for healthier,
delicious, hassle-free meals
GUESS WHICH '70S FAD is back? Nope, not hot
pants or lava lamps. It's the slow cooker, aka the Crock-Pot®, and
this time around there's a delicious twist. Healthy ingredients,
like low-sodium broth, fresh veggies, wholesome beans and rich
spices replace yesteryear's high-fat, high-sodium recipes, which
often began with canned, calorieladen, creamed soup. Mix in
budget-friendly and timesaving benefits and slow is the way to go
A Vitamin Bath
Similar to braising, slow cookers produce a low, steady, moist
heat for several hours, which roughly translates to 300 degrees for
four hours when the electric countertop appliance is set on high
and 200 degrees for 10 hours on low. And if you put wholesome food
in the pot, that's what comes out-especially the vitamin- and
mineral-packed natural juice.
Sarah Krieger, R.D., MPH, LD/N, a spokeswoman for the American
Dietetic Association, explains: "Food loses vitamins and minerals
through heat, oxygen and water. Since slow cookers require some
sort of heated liquid, that's where a lot of vitamins and minerals
And that's where nutrients stay, since a slow cooker's tightly
sealed lid prevents evaporation. As Krieger points out, "Slow
cookers are great for soups, stews and casseroles because you eat
everything, including the vitamin-charged liquid."
Though best known for beef- and chicken-based recipes, slow
cookers are also great for meatless meals. "This is something we
should all do at least twice a week-to lower risk of heart disease,
certain cancers and to get nutrients only in vegetables," Krieger
Recipe favorites among vegetarians and carnivores alike include
vegetable or minestrone soup and tomato sauce to dress up pasta. An
avid slow cooker herself, Krieger reports "awesome" results with
bean-based recipes like vegetarian chili.
When it comes to money matters, slow cookers give you a twofer.
First, they're ideal for cheaper beef cuts that are generally tasty
but tough, such as chuck roasts, shoulder cuts or bottom-round
roasts. Why? "The low, slow, moist-heat cooking process breaks down
tough muscle fiber and connective tissue in less-expensive cuts,"
says Mary Bartz, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef
Association. "The result is wonderfully tender-and all
Slow cookers are also an economical alternative to pricey
takeout-without forfeiting an ounce of convenience. Dinner is
waiting at day's end, and no Styrofoam container necessary.
Time on your Side
The slow cooker has forever been the busy cook's time saver,
since there's no human intervention after loading it up. In fact,
lifting the lid to peek or stir disturbs the cooking process. That
means you prepare in the morning, let everything simmer as you go
about your day, and come home to a wholesome dinner!
If time permits, newer slow cooker recipes introduce flavor
layers with just a little extra effort. For example, browning beef
first takes about 10 minutes at the front end but adds rich color,
boosts flavor and reduces fat. In addition, certain ingredients
fare better when added during the final 30 minutes, including fresh
herbs, tender vegetables like tomatoes or zucchini, seafood and
fiery spices like cayenne pepper or hot sauce.
Now how will you fill up your time normally spent in the
kitchen? That's up to you. A healing massage might be nice, capped
off with a warm, nourishing bowl of soup that's waiting in your
-By Donna Shryer