Expert Q&A

Stir-Frying: What Makes It Healthy?

If fried foods are bad for cholesterol, why is stir-frying okay?

-Tom from Canada

It is all a matter of degree. American fried foods such as French fries and onion rings are unhealthful because deep frying and adding breading causes much oil retention, doubling or tripling the food's caloric content.

In stir-frying, a Chinese cooking technique called chao, a small amount of oil is used at high temperatures to quickly sear or steam the food. Vegetables and small pieces of meat, seafood, or tofu used in this technique retain much less oil. While the traditionally used peanut oil is moderately saturated, the small amount in the food is acceptable.

Heating destroys some nutrients so vegetables cooked more quickly and thus exposed to heat for a shorter time retain more nutrition. Steaming and stir-frying help to retain the heat sensitive nutrients.

Traditional stir-frying is difficult in a typical American kitchen. The high heat needed tends to cause fumes that household ventilation systems cannot evacuate efficiently. Because of spattering oil, cooks may keep the oil temperature lower and negate the quick cook benefit of stir-frying. Performed properly, however, stir-frying is a reasonably healthful way to prepare food which will not make cholesterol worse.

John Messmer, MD
Contributing Expert

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