Is pressure cooking healthy? Are Instant Pots safe? Set your mind at ease – here’s the research, logic, and a video to explain it all.
If you finally got an Instant Pot but were hesitant because you heard that pressure cooking is unhealthy because of the high temps, high pressure, and the speed at which it happens, fear not – let’s talk through the research and see what we find out!
Is My Pressure Cooker Healthy and Safe?
Funny story – I got a pressure cooker (the stovetop kind) for our wedding because my husband’s favorite meal called for one (we can talk about the impracticality of getting a $70 item for one recipe later!).
I used it a bit, but then when I read Nourishing Traditions, I was too scared to use it.
The ironic part is that I wasn’t at all afraid of it exploding, but that one source got me to stop pressure cooking because I feared losing nutrients or denaturing my healthy food in some way.
The pressure cooker supposedly got the food too hot, cooked too fast (which is certainly not “traditional”), and the authors claimed that putting food under pressure was like the extruded grain problem with cereal, which oxidizes the fats.
On Facebook a few years back when pressure cooking was just coming back in vogue in a big way, one reader said, “This Instant Pot craze feels like the microwave movement!” That’s what I felt like too, back when I read Nourishing Traditions and the reasons for not pressure cooking. I
bought it hook, line and sinker, but I’ve come around to better research and information (and I believe the authors of NT have also recanted that statement). For the record, I still try to avoid my microwave.
VIDEO: Yes, Pressure Cooking is Still Healthy and Safe for your Food
If you can’t see the video above, click Is Pressure Cooking Unhealthy? to see it on YouTube directly.
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Research Showing The Health Benefits of Pressure Cooking
In this study, pressure cooking was shown to be the best method for preserving the ascorbic acid and beta-carotene in spinach and amaranth. And in a March 2007 study published in the The Journal of Food Science pressure cooking broccoli preserved 90% of its vitamin C compared to steaming (78%) and boiling (66%). (Food Renegade)
In fact, a 1995 study found that pressure cooking preserved nutrients in food more than other cooking methods. Another study measured levels of Vitamin C and B-Vitamins in food and found these levels of vitamin retention (the amount remaining in food after cooking):
- Boiling reduced nutrients the most with a range of 40-75% retained (up to a 60% loss of nutrients!)
- Roasting and steaming preserved up to 90% of nutrients (but in some measurements, almost half of nutrients were lost!)
- Pressure cooking did the best job at preserving nutrients with a 90-95% retention rate
Pressure Cookers Actually Preserve MORE Nutrients
The studies above are pretty clear with statistics, and you can also logic your way to what the stats are showing because:
- The food doesn’t always have to be immersed in water, so there’s less loss into the liquid.
- There’s less time cooking, so there’s less time for nutrients to leach out.
Besides that, the pressure cooker may even reduce anti-nutrients – compounds that make digestion more difficult – like phytates and lectins, more than other methods of cooking. Thanks to Kristen at Food Renegade again for great research:
In this study done on peas, the phytic acid content of peas soaked overnight and then boiled was only reduced by 29%. But in peas that had been soaked overnight and pressure cooked, the phytic acid was reduced by 54%!
It’s still BEST to soak and then cook dry beans if you’re using a pressure cooker (like an Instant Pot), but if you forget to soak, it’s awesome to know that your Instant Pot can get the beans cooked in just over an hour AND that you’ll still experience some benefit from the reduction of anti-nutrients.
When cooking, you are going to lose some nutrients in vegetables in particular because they’re damaged by heat (Vitamin C is an example).
On the other hand, cooking releases nutrients in grains and beans and increases lycopene in tomatoes, so it’s not all bad! Regardless of your cooking method, you can remember a rule of thumb for preserving nutrients: if water is involved, much nutrient loss goes into the water – so try to use the cooking water in your recipe if it makes sense.
Don’t use cooking water of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale or other greens though. Not only can it be bitter, but it will be full of goitrogens and oxalates, both anti-nutrients that can increase your risk of poor thyroid health and kidney stones respectively. #randomfactoftheday
So cooking under pressure is not traditional – true. That is often my measuring stick for trying something new in the world of food: “Would people have done this/eaten this 200 years ago?” But I’ve learned that can’t be the only litmus test.
Cooking over a fire was traditional, but we know now that those little crunchy (sometimes delicious) black parts on our meat, the “char marks” steakhouses are famous for, are actually pretty packed with carcinogens, cancer-causing compounds. So “traditional” can’t always be the beginning and end of every single health conversation.
Let’s just look at the arguments one by one:
Is Pressure Cooking Too Hot?
As we discussed in last week’s post on how a pressure cooker works, the heat in a pressure cooker only gets up to about 250F, max. That’s certainly not “too hot” for food, considering we think nothing of baking at 350F, and a good sauté or even making pancakes is going to get up to 350-400F or higher.
Pressure cooking isn’t too hot for your food, it’s just hotter than water normally gets.
I’m not worried about it.
Is Pressure Cooking Too Fast?
Microwave cooking is fast, but that’s not the only reason I don’t like it.
Microwaves actually treat the food differently, interacting with the water molecules in the food directly, through radiation.
This is different at a very basic level from any sort of heating of food via fire, radiant heat (oven), boiling, or direct heat like sautéing.
But how about pressure cooking?
Pressure cooking still uses water and direct heat to cook the food – the high pressure simply raises the boiling temperature of water and doesn’t allow any steam to escape, achieving maximum efficiency.
It should in no way denature or oxidize foods simply because it cooks quickly.
Does Pressure Cooking Use Too High Pressure?
This is the one I’m a little less sure about, but my logic tells me that if the reason for the pressure is simply to raise the temp to cook things faster, it’s not all about the pressure itself having an impact on our food, but the results of the pressure – which we’ve already covered above.
And if pressure cooking ends up retaining more nutrients in food and reducing anti-nutrients too, I’m having trouble finding a reason to be worried about this question.
How about you?
Are Instant Pots Safe?
When someone gets hurt using an appliance, especially when it’s a child, social media shares it far and wide. Yes, people have gotten injured when Instant Pots exploded or steam burned them. This tool is not without risk, just like knives, grills, and blenders.
But I don’t think people should get scared and sell their pressure cookers or keep kids out of the room when they’re opened – to me, knowledge is power. I’ve learned 3 important safety lessons recently after following one of the injury stories:
Lesson 1: Don’t Open the Lid Until it’s Time
The Instant Pot is much safer than the old pressure cookers because the temp is much more regulated and there is less human error (not zero). When the pot is up to pressure, there are mechanisms in place to prevent a home cook from opening the lid.
I have absolutely tried twisting the lid before the pin was totally down before, attempting to get moving with dinner, so from now on I’m going to wait until the pin is 100% down before touching the lid.
I’m grateful that the story was shared for that reason.
Lesson 2: Don’t Overfill the Pot
My Instant Pot has a “max fill” line, which I understood to be the fullest I can make it — but I was wrong. That line is for slow cooking, not pressure!!!
To pressure cook, these are the max fill rules:
- Don’t fill over 2/3 with food.
- Don’t fill over 1/2 if cooking legumes, grains, or anything like that that could expand or foam. (also always add some oil to prevent foaming when cooking dry beans)
Breaking that rule can lead to problems, including safety issues but also your food might not cook because the pot can’t get up to pressure without air/steam space. Read more here.
Lesson 3: No Quick Release for Thick Recipes
Here’s one reason an Instant Pot might blow food all over – poorly written recipes.
This post from Hip Pressure Cooking explains it well, but the basic premise is that thick meals like chili, rice and bean dishes, and porridge could possibly trap steam pockets inside the food, which could *pop* if the lid is opened after a quick release. Yikes!
Natural pressure release is best for these recipes, but many aren’t written that way.
If you do need to quick release steam on a “thick food” recipe, at least give the whole machine a little jiggle to release any possible steam pockets before opening the lid. (I went back and checked all my thick recipes and added notes!)
Bottom Line: Is the Instant Pot Safe for Kids?
I’m not going to keep my kids away from my Instant Pot, but I did explain to them these important lessons and showed them a photo of a girl who was burned.
I think with proper training and the right attitude (that we can’t put our kids – or ourselves – in a bubble and protect them from all harmful things all the time), kids should be able to cook in the kitchen – and I do my darndest to be the mom online giving that proper training!
In fact, you can get our special 5-video set of lessons for kids, Instant Pot and Slow Cooker Meals Kids Can Make, right here!
My kids are big fans of the Instant Pot, and they even demonstrated how easy it is to open and set up a new Instant Pot in this cute video. 😉
Where to Buy an Instant Pot
This is the 6-quart Instant Pot I started out with. After a few years, we added an 8-quart partly because I knew I would use two at the same time often enough, partly because it was the Prime Day sale, and also because I wanted more space for certain recipes. Both are a pretty basic model and you don’t need more bells and whistles than that!
If you’re deciding on size, most people say it’s better to get a deal on the 6-quart and just have 2 rather than go big, BUT if your family has 5 or more people or you really like to batch cook or do more than a pound of beans, the 8-quart may be the best choice. My full Instant Pot review and buying guide for features, size, and model.
If you’d like to shop directly at Instant Pot’s website instead of Amazon (or just compare prices), check them out here.
If you’re still on the fence about adding an Instant Pot to your kitchen appliance arsenal here are my Instant Pot pros and cons.
Always Ready to Learn More
Now, my big mistake when I put my pressure cooker away for a number of years was using ONE source for information.
I have compiled a few sources here but not as extensive as I’d like – so I’m open to help! If you have any citations to help prove that pressure cooking is healthy, I’d love to see them. And if you have some well-cited reasons that I’m wrong, absolutely, bring it on.
I’d love to learn more!
My dear friend Wardee at Traditional Cooking School can do just about anything with her Instant Pot – cakes, bread, main dishes, veggies, even “stacking” multiple kinds of food at once!
She’s offering a free sourdough cornbread Instant Pot recipe!
This cornbread is delicious, nutritious, super easy to make, and it only needs 12 minutes of cook time.