5 Tips For How to Make Stir Fry Meals Healthy1
Editor’s note: Please welcome back Alex James of Alex James Wellness. Alex had previously written about Vitamin Water, and now she’s back with some ways on how to make stir fry meals healthy – healthier than you already think they are! After you read this, put these tips to practice by trying out these stir fry recipes: Paleo Cantonese Chow Mein, Lo Bak (daikon) noodle stir-fry, Weeknight dinner stir-fry, Dumpling stuffing ground pork stir-fry, and the ever-popular (and quick!) Bacon Coleslaw stir-fry.
I love a good stir fry, don’t you? So simple, easy, and delicious. Here are my top 5 tips for a healthy homemade stir fry!
1. Use coconut oil.
Not vegetable oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, or even olive oil. Coconut oil! Using the right fat is foundational for healthy cooking. Because coconut oil is mostly saturated, it’s heat stable. This makes it the safest option for frying. The same is true for other saturated fats from animals – butter, ghee, lard, etc – these are the ones you want to use for frying, grilling, and sautéeing.
Vegetable and seed oils are usually rancid (oxidized) when you purchase them, due to the high heat that’s involved in processing. These unsaturated fats are highly unstable when heated, and cause free radical damage in our bodies. Plus, they’re high in omega 6, which can lead to a deficiency in omega 3 and consequently, systemic inflammation.
My advice? Throw out your vegetable oils entirely, save your olive oil for salad dressings, and use healthy saturates like coconut oil or animal fats for your stir fry.
2. Skip the soy.
What? No soy sauce? You heard me correctly. I’m sure you’ve read debates on the issues surrounding soy: it’s a highly genetically modified crop, it can increase estrogen levels, it can inhibit thyroid function, it’s a legume and therefore difficult to digest…all of this information can be overwhelming.
So let me keep it simple for a moment. Above all else, avoid the regular ol’ soy sauce on your grocery store shelf. These commercial, non-traditional varieties are filled with additives like wheat, caramel colour, sodium benzoate, and other gross chemicals. So if you’ve got any bottles in your cupboard, toss ’em.
For me, while the downsides of soy generally outweigh any potential benefit, I don’t see an issue with a little soy consumption once in a while, provided it’s organic, non-GMO, and preferably fermented. You need to find what works for your body and what you can tolerate. Best options for your stir fry? Try organic wheat-free tamari, or use coconut aminos as a delicious soy-free substitute.
3. Steam fry.
Here’s a technique that will not only healthify your stir fry but probably improve the taste and texture. I’m no chef, but I believe this method is what you would call ‘braising’, wherein you use both dry and moist heat. After sautéeing in oil for a few minutes, throw in some liquid(s) of your choice (tamari, coconut aminos, bone broth, or my homemade almond sauce), then cover and let the steam finish the cooking. You don’t need too much liquid to do the job.
Think about it: if you were making a big stir fry using only oil, you’d need quite a bit in order to cook all of the ingredients at once. Let’s face it, we don’t want to drown our stir fry in excessive amounts of oil, even healthy coconut oil. Deep frying isn’t a great choice (duh), and I’ve found the results can be inconsistent and frustrating. Plus, steam frying is a great way to flavour your stir fry with delicious coconut aminos, or add some sweet nutrition with a little bone broth.
What I personally like to do is cook my harder textured veggies (carrots, celery, etc) first, and add the softer veggies (sliced mushrooms, zucchini, etc) with the liquid. I don’t bother trying to saute everything in oil because that has led to some soggy stir frys (boo). It all takes practice, but I’ve found this method works the best for me.
4. Don’t forget meat.
For a full and balanced meal, be sure to include chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc. Protein is essential at every meal because it’s what satiates us – veggies alone will leave you hungry and reaching for snacks a couple hours later.
What about tofu and tempeh? See my thoughts above about soy. Decide what works for you. In general though, animal proteins are more bioavailable, nutrient-dense, and don’t contain any worrisome phytates, lectins, or phytoestrogens, so that’s what I recommend. Choose grass fed, pasture raised, and chemical-free animal products when you can.
5. Make rice/noodle alternatives.
There’s a few reasons I encourage reducing consumption of grains. To sum up: they contain certain proteins (gluten is the most well known/studied) and other components (lectins, phytates, etc) which are incredibly hard for us to break down and can actually damage the gut lining. This leads to systemic inflammation and a whole slew of health problems and disorders.
The cool thing about reducing grain consumption is that it helps us increase our vegetable intake! Veggies are more nutrient-dense than grains, and don’t come with all the potential downsides. Try serving your stir fry over cauli-rice, zucchini noodles (aka zoodles), or spaghetti squash.
Now it’s time to hear from you lovely readers: what are your tips for making a healthy and delicious stir fry?