The Not-So-Savory Truths of Fried Foods
By Brigitta Bly, Dietetic Intern
We all deserve the occasional indulgence but keep these facts in mind if you can’t seem to get enough of these greasy treats.
Little More than Empty Calories
Higher calorie foods are not necessarily bad, if they are providing our body with lots of important nutrients, such as nuts, avocados and salmon. But fried foods are typically lots of calories and no nutrients, or “empty calories.” Most of those calories are coming from fat, and the dietary guidelines for Americans recommend less than 35% of daily calories from fat. Let’s use French fries as an example:
- Fresh russet potato cooked without added fat: 70 calories, 0 calories from fat
- Frozen pre-fried French fried made in the oven or air fryer: 140 calories, 35 calories from fat
- Fast food French fries: 230 calories, 100 calories from fat
Increasing Chronic Disease Risk
Eating fried foods four or more times per week has been strongly associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. A recent study using the Women’s Health Initiative Clinical Trials concluded that frequent consumption of fried foods was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular mortality in American women.
A Golden Pool of Bubbly … Chemicals
Frying is a science and the type of oil, temperature of frying, and how long the items cook for can result in more than just a crispy treat. Examples of potentially hazardous by-products include carbonyl compounds, mono-epoxides, aldehydes, and acrylamide. Sounds appetizing, right? These by-products can not only affect taste (bitter or fishy) but in some cases could be carcinogenic or even toxic.
In addition to chemical type by-products frying can also result in trans-fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association, eating trans-fatty acids will raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, increase your risk for heart disease and put you at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. No amount of trans-fat is considered safe.
As if that were not enough, the high temperature of the oil often destroys the vitamins and proteins that are found naturally in the food.
How To Stay Healthy
Less is best. If you indulge in fried food once a year at the fair, be mindful but enjoy. However, if you are choosing fried food more often than four times per week, find ways to start cutting back. Try to avoid pairing a fried entrée (like chicken) with a fried side (like French fries). If having fried food at lunch time, avoid choosing something fried again that evening. When frying make sure to use more stable oils: canola oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, and olive oil (this is regular olive oil, NOT extra virgin olive oil as it smokes at a much lower temperature.)