Many people in the West have several ways to prepare food, each have advantages, and no single way is best for all food — or makes it taste the way people like it.
Quite a lot of food can be eaten uncooked. And if it’s very fresh and stored carefully, that even includes eggs, fish, and beef. Your insides are perfectly capable of breaking down all those, whether they are cooked or not. (Some meats, such as chicken and turkey must always be cooked for health reasons.) Although vegetarians would like all veggies to be eatable uncooked, the fact is that your insides cannot break down vegetable cells unless they’ve been burst by cooking or chewing.
That brings us to discussing stir frying. To get a vegetable’s full nutrition, by breaking all the cells it must be cooked. (A blender might work, I’m not sure.) According to common wisdom, the less cooking time and at the lower temperature, the better nutrients. So stir frying comes out ahead in some ways by keeping cooking time down. However it isn’t that simple, because cooking also can change the chemical composition of food. So unless some kind of cooking is done, nutrients may not be there at all!
Other kinds of cooking have significant nutritional disadvantages compared to stir frying. Deep fat frying adds a huge amount of fat calories. Boiling or stewing tends to leach a lot of vitamins. Microwaving is a favorite, because the microwaves penetrate a good way inside what’s being cooked — with other kinds of cooking, you’re stuck with applying the heat to the outside, and letting it seep in — so everything else being equal, the outsides will be more cooked than the insides. Stir frying avoids this problem by making the pieces of what’s being cooked small. I.e., one doesn’t stir fry a whole chicken.
Of course, very many people in the West get far more nutrients daily than their body needs — or in some cases even can process. So many North Americans and Europeans don’t need to be excessively concerned with losing even a major portion of nutrients.
Most people are very concerned about taste and presentation, however. That’s why when you open a cookbook you’ll see a huge variety of ways to cook: stir fry, pan fry, deep fry, bake, broil, char, roast, boil, sear, blanch, steam, stew, microwave, etc.
I have a very good meat store nearby. They always look at me in disgust if I have to I explain that I like the mild taste of microwaved meat.
In my opinion, heat diminishes some nutrients, but does not remove them (meaning that only some of the nutrients are destroyed). The link I attached gives you a chart that I copied below. USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors (2003) for more information.
This gives you a basic idea of how nutrients react to processing, but the most important parts are the temperature at which you cook, the conditions (oil, water) and the length of cooking. The longer you cook or the higher the temperature, you are killing off some nutrients faster. Water and oil can be a good thing, considering some nutrients are oil soluble are will be more readily available for absorbtion. Water is not always a good thing and I have heard arguments made for steaming vs. boiling.
Also, keep in mind that some antioxidants and molecules become more available when cooked, like lycopene (I think) so it is weird that the chart says loss of lycopene with cooking.
Stir fry I think is one of the better cooking methods for retaining nutrients, because despite the high heat, it is a rather short cooking time.
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