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Can stir-fry be healthy?

What is stir-fry?

Stir-fry is a Chinese cooking technique that involves cooking ingredients quickly over high heat while stirring continuously. The ingredients are cut into small, uniform pieces before cooking. A small amount of oil, usually vegetable oil, is heated in a wok or large skillet until very hot. The ingredients are added in succession and tossed and stirred until just cooked through. Stir-frying preserves the color, texture, and nutrients of the ingredients. It’s a quick and healthy cooking method when done properly.

Benefits of stir-fry

Stir-frying has several health benefits:

  • Uses less oil – Only a small amount of oil is needed to cook the food.
  • Retains nutrients – The high heat and short cooking time preserves vitamins and nutrients.
  • Variety of ingredients – All kinds of vegetables, proteins and grains can be stir-fried.
  • Flavorful – Stir-frying brings out the natural flavors of the foods without heavy sauces.
  • Quick and easy – Meals can be prepared within minutes.

Stir-frying is considered a healthy cooking technique because very little oil is used and the vegetables and other ingredients are not overcooked. The vegetables retain their crisp texture and bright colors too.

Nutritious ingredients for stir-fry

All kinds of healthy ingredients can be used to make a nutritious stir-fry. Here are some great options:


  • Lean beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Tofu
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs

Choose lean cuts of meat and seafood for a healthy stir-fry. Tofu is a plant-based protein that’s low in fat. Eggs also provide protein.


  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Snap peas
  • Cabbage
  • Bean sprouts
  • Bok choy
  • Asparagus
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms

Aim for a variety of colorful vegetables to maximize nutrients. Good choices are broccoli, bell peppers, snap peas, cabbage, bok choy, asparagus, zucchini and mushrooms.

Whole grains

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat noodles

For a healthy carbohydrate, add brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat noodles to your stir-fry. They provide filling fiber and nutrients.

Unhealthy ingredients to avoid

To keep your stir-fry healthy, there are some ingredients you’ll want to limit or avoid:

  • Fatty cuts of meat like ribs or bacon
  • Breaded or fried meats
  • High-sodium soy sauce
  • Cream-based sauces
  • Refined white rice or noodles
  • Oils high in saturated fat like coconut oil

Choose lean proteins, use reduced-sodium soy sauce sparingly, avoid creamy sauces, and stick to whole grains instead of refined grains. Use olive, canola or avocado oil for stir-frying instead of coconut oil or lard.

How to make a healthy stir-fry

Follow these tips for a nutritious stir-fry:

  • Use lean proteins like chicken, shrimp or tofu.
  • Include lots of vegetables – aim for a variety.
  • Choose whole grain rice or noodles.
  • Use just 1-2 tsp oil – sesame, olive or canola oil.
  • Flavor with reduced-sodium soy sauce, garlic and ginger.
  • Avoid salty sauces, cream sauces and fried ingredients.
  • Cook over very high heat and stir constantly.
  • Serve with extra vegetables instead of rice.

Sample healthy stir-fry recipe

Here is an example of a healthy veggie stir-fry recipe:


– 1 Tbsp olive oil

– 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

– 1 cup broccoli florets

– 1 red bell pepper, sliced

– 1 cup sliced mushrooms

– 1 cup snap peas

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

– 1 tsp sesame oil

– 3 cups cooked brown rice


1. Heat olive oil in a wok or large non-stick skillet over high heat.

2. Add chicken and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan.

3. Add broccoli, bell pepper, mushrooms, snap peas and garlic. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.

4. Return chicken to pan and add soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir-fry for 1 minute to coat.

5. Serve stir-fry over brown rice.

This chicken and veggie stir-fry is full of nutrients from the array of vegetables. It uses just a small amount of heart-healthy olive oil and lean protein. The brown rice provides filling fiber.

What about calories in stir-fry?

Stir-fry can be a low calorie meal when made with lean proteins and lots of vegetables. Here is a calorie comparison of stir-fry ingredients:

Ingredient Calories (per 1 cup cooked)
Broccoli 31
Carrots 45
Bell pepper 30
Chicken breast 231
Beef tenderloin 262
Tofu 145
Brown rice 216
White rice 206

As you can see, vegetables are very low in calories while providing important nutrients. Choosing lean proteins like chicken breast or tofu keeps calories moderate. Brown rice provides more filling fiber than white rice for the same amount of calories.

A stir-fry made with 1 cup chicken, 1 cup mixed veggies and 1/2 cup brown rice would come to around 300-350 calories total. That’s a reasonable meal calorie-wise for weight management. Just watch your portion sizes, especially with rice.


Stir-fry can definitely be a healthy cooking method when done right. The key is choosing lean proteins like chicken, shrimp or tofu along with plenty of low calorie nutrient-dense vegetables. Keep the oil to a minimum and opt for whole grain rice or noodles. Skip salty sauces and creamy additions. With the right ingredients and preparation, stir-fry is a fast, delicious and nutritious dinner option.