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A Burning Topic: A Nutritionist’s Perspective on Food Preparation Methods

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

June 9, 2020

Long ago, humans conquered fire and started using it to prepare food. Our ways and means of cooking have developed over the years, but we love to revisit those primitive cooking methods. Grilling and frying our food almost feels American. These long-standing, and admittedly tasty, cooking techniques don’t come without risks.

Grilling, barbecuing, smoking
Cooking methods involving high heat, like grilling, barbecuing, smoking, produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). According to a study in breast cancer survivors published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, an increased risk of death was associated with women who ate large amounts of grilled/barbecued and smoked meat. The study also showed evidence that the women who continued to eat large quantities of grilled/barbecued and smoked meat after diagnosis, their risk of death was elevated 31%. It should be noted that grilling fruits and vegetables do not generate carcinogens, only when grilling meats.

Every day, about 25-36% of North American adults consume fried foods, usually from fast-food restaurants. The nutritional impact of frying depends on the type of fat or oil used as the frying medium, the food being fried, the duration of frying time, and the frequency of the consumption. A growing body of evidence shows there is a direct correlation between the amount of fried food consumed and the risk of developing certain chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart failure, obesity, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension. Also, fried chicken and fried fish/shellfish was observed to be associated with a higher risk of death from a cardiovascular event among postmenopausal women in the United States. A healthier alternative for frying would be using a convection oven or air fryer, or simply cooking foods with a completely different cooking method such as sautéing, stewing, etc.

Final notes
Cooking food improves digestion and increases the absorption of many nutrients, but some cooking methods, as well as overcooking, can destroy nutrients too. Pressure-cooking and water-based cooking methods such as boiling and simmering cause the most significant loss of water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and B vitamins). To preserve the most nutrients in food, apply dry cooking methods that use little water, such as steaming, sautéing and stir-frying, griddling, microwaving and baking.

Chicken Stir Fry
2 pounds skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large package frozen stir fry vegetables

Hot cooked rice (about 6 cups cooked)

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup cold water

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

Pepper to taste

1/4 cup vinegar

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Optional: red pepper flakes


  1. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the center.
  2. While the chicken is cooking, add all of the sauce ingredients to a bowl and mix to combine.
  3. When the chicken is cooked through, reduce the heat to medium and pour the sauce over the chicken. Stirring continuously, cook until the sauce thickens and the color changes from a muddy brown to a cleaner, reddish color. This should take about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the frozen vegetables, and cook until the veggies are heated through.
  5. Serve over cooked rice.
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