As with any new product that makes life easier, the quick cooking times and easy meal preparation benefits that Instant Pot offers might seem too good to be true. Myths and speculation abound, including that pressure cooking causes cancer, exposes people to chemicals, and destroys the nutritional quality of food.
Most of this speculation likely stems from the historically slow cooking times of some foods, such as pot roast, which pressure cookers, such as the popular Instant Pot, whip up in less time than it takes to do a load of laundry.
But the truth is, the science isn’t conclusive. Scientists began studying the effects of pressure cooking on food as early as the 1940s, and research includes findings that pressure cooking is both the best and worst method of meal preparation.
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How does Instant Pot work?
An Instant Pot is a freestanding pressure cooker that creates a highly pressurized environment by combining heat and steam to cook food quickly. Even though Instant Pot is a relatively new brand, pressure cooking has been around since the 1600s.
Instant Pot’s sealing ring creates an airtight environment that allows pressure and heat to build safely. Using an Instant Pot is relatively easy, as it’s an all-in-one appliance that cooks multiple (and often all) components of a meal at the same time. If you’re new to Instant Pot, try out these tips for a better Instant Pot experience.
Do Instant Pots use high heat?
Because Instant Pots cook food so quickly, it makes sense that people think Instant Pots use extraordinarily high heat, but you might be surprised to learn that oven baking and grilling use much higher heat than Instant Pots or any other pressure cooker.
For example, you would bake chicken breasts in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. You’d grill chicken breasts for five to seven minutes on each side at about 500 degrees. Instant Pot operates at about 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Most other pressure cookers operate at about the same temperature, give or take a few degrees.
So how is it possible that Instant Pots cook food so quickly at such low temperatures?
In a sense, pressure cookers are just more efficient. The increased pressure raises the boiling point of water and doesn’t allow steam to escape, thereby creating a faster cooking environment.
Does pressure cooking destroy nutrients?
To some degree, all cooking methods reduce the nutritional quality of food, but science offers arguments for and against pressure cooking.
No, it doesn’t
The speediness at which Instant Pots cook might seem like a cause for concern, but according to the majority of scientific evidence, it isn’t.
One 1995 study dubbed pressure cooking the best out of several other cooking methods because the pressure-cooked foods retained more nutrients than the others. Many findings in later studies followed suit:
- A study in the Journal of Food Science showed that pressure-cooking broccoli preserved 90% of its vitamin C, compared to 78% preservation from steaming and 66% preservation from boiling.
- Researchers found that boiling and steaming reduced the antioxidant activity of legumes, while pressure boiling and pressure steaming increased the antioxidant activity.
- Compared to microwave-cooked foods, pressure-cooked foods seem to be easier to digest, which could mean that your body is able to absorb more nutrients from the food.
Some research even suggests that pressure cooking destroys anti-nutrients, or compounds that inhibit the body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients. Compared to boiling, pressure cooking destroys more anti-nutrients.
Many nutrition professionals promote using the Instant Pot, too. Dr. Andrew Weil, a medical doctor who specializes in nutrition and creator of the original anti-inflammatory diet, says that pressure cookers are safe to use and may actually be the best way to preserve nutrients in food compared to other cooking methods.
The general consensus seems to be that pressure cooking is better because water doesn’t leach out nutrients like in other cooking methods, quick cooking times mean less time for nutrients to escape and lower temperatures mean fewer changes to the nutritional structure of foods.
Read more: Don’t cook these 5 foods in your Instant Pot
Or maybe it does?
Some studies suggest that pressure cooking destroys nutrients, but there is far less evidence against pressure cooking as there is for it.
- One study showed that pressure-cooked food lost more antioxidant activity than food cooked by other methods, including microwaving and baking.
- Pressure cooking seems to destroy some amino acids in vegetables, but so do other cooking methods.
No matter which way you choose to cook your food, heat and water will inevitably destroy some nutrients. Some heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C, don’t retain their integrity under heat. But home-cooked food, regardless of preparation method, will always beat fast food and packaged, processed food in terms of nutrients.
Is pressure cooking safe?
So far, science says yes.
Even though some studies suggest that pressure cooking isn’t the best way to preserve nutrients in food, no research exists to suggest that pressure cookers of any model or brand pose health risks.
If you’re a fan of your Instant Pot, don’t worry: You can continue to safely use your appliance without worry. Just keep these Instant Pot safety tips in mind for the best cooking experience.