Fried Foods May Not Be Your Friends
Say Au Revoir to French Fries
Americans like fried foods. Why? Frying often makes food taste better. French fried potatoes are one of America’s common meal items. And how about fried chicken? Or fried eggs? The science underlying the health effects of fried foods is mixed. Recent evidence suggests, however, that fried foods create health risks. But keep reading for suggestions to minimize the downside of fried foods.
A 2012 study from Spain did not find an association between fried foods and coronary heart disease or all-cause mortality. The research included 40,757 participants who were followed over a median of 11 years. Most participants used olive or sunflower oil for cooking.
Other researchers used data from previous studies and concluded that fried food consumption was associated with new type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. One study used data for 70,842 subjects from the Nurses’ Health Study and 40,787 subjects from the Health Professional Follow-up Study. Compared to subjects who consumed fried food once per week or less, subjects who ate fried foods 4-6 times per week or more than 7 times per week had 39 and 55 percent higher risk, respectively, of developing type 2 diabetes. Adjusting statistically for confounding factors reduced the risks substantially but they remained statistically significant. For coronary artery disease, the comparable increased risks were 13 and 19 percent, respectively. Adjusting statistically for diet quality did not substantially change the results. This indicates that the higher risk of type 2 diabetes or coronary artery disease didn’t arise from a poor diet.
Yet another study used data from 15,362 participants in Physician’s Health Study. Over a 9.6-year follow-up period, compared to participants who reported eating fried foods less than once per week, those who consumed fried foods 1-3, 4-6, and 7 or more times per week had 23, 30, and 96 percent higher risk of heart failure. The presence of a positive and graded relationship between fried food consumption in the higher levels of consumption suggests that overall diet quality was not the underlying reason for the observed association.
Why might frying foods make them unhealthy?
Frying degrades oil, especially if it’s heated to high temperature and reused. One of the degradation products decreases an enzyme that inhibits oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis. Frying can increase the concentration of trans-fats. Fried food absorbs oil, thereby increasing its caloric content and promoting weight gain.
What can you do to reduce the health risks of fried foods?
A recent review of studies of fried food consumption suggests the following: 1) Pan-fry rather than deep-fry, 2) Fry at relatively low temperatures rather than high temperatures, 3) Use olive or palm oil rather than polyunsaturated oils, 4) Don’t eat foods fried in reused oils, such as French fries or fried chicken at fast food outlets. The reviewers suggested a prudent path of avoiding fried food or at least reducing intake to less than four times per week. Following this advice, I pan-fry my omelets in extra-virgin olive oil at low temperatures such that the eggs don’t crackle.