Fried chicken. French fries. Even fried vegetables. If it’s edible, Americans have probably fried it. We then feel guilty, because we’ve been told to avoid fried food at all costs, not only for the weight it can pile on but because it’s unhealthy in so many ways.
There’s something about dropping food into hot oil until it comes out all brown and crispy that makes us gravitate toward this method of cooking. We want to explore this common cooking method, and show you a way to enjoy fried foods without endangering your health.
Why does frying have such a bad reputation?
1. Added calories and fat.
Frying versus baking can sometimes double or even triple the number of calories in foods. A small baked potato contains 93 calories and zero grams of fat. Take that same small potato and turn it into French fries and the same-sized potato will deliver 319 calories and 17 grams of fat.
2. The presence of acrylamide, which is a suspected carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance.
Foods cooked at the high temperatures required for frying causes amino acids to combine with natural sugars present in many foods like potatoes, producing acrylamide as a byproduct.
3. The cooking method.
When oils are heated to the high temperatures required for frying, they become hydrogenated, transforming them into the very unhealthy trans fatty acids. Trans fats are difficult for the body to break down, causing the inflammation which has been linked to heart disease. They lower the so-called “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins—HDL) and raise the “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins—LDL).
4. Salt & Breading
In addition, fried foods are often liberally dusted with salt, which is known to raise blood pressure and increase cardiovascular risk. Can you imagine French fries without salt? Finally, many if not most fried foods are breaded, which soaks up additional cooking oil, making the dish even higher in fat and calories.
What’s the good news?
First, an occasional helping of deep-fried chicken won’t kill you, as long as it’s balanced with a healthy diet the rest of the time. So dig into a heaping pile of French fries or fried fish once every couple of weeks, and have a salad along with them.
Second, there are ways to enjoy the taste of fried foods without all the extra guilt. When frying, skip the trans fats (e.g., lard, butter, coconut oil) and use oils high in the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats: canola, olive, and sunflower oils. And don’t crowd food in the pan. Doing so temporarily lowers the temperature of the oil, increasing the required frying time, allowing the food more time to absorb oil. Another trick is to drain the finished food on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
For the taste of fried food with almost no guilt, oven “frying” is the go-to solution. Prepare any food as you would to pan fry, then spritz with olive oil and bake in the oven. You’ll still get the same crispy result without the extra fat calories. And if you can manage to get along without adding salt afterwards, you’ll be even better off. Many herb combinations and salt substitutes are satisfying substitutions that your heart will thank you for.
We don’t want you have a long-but-joyless life, just to make healthier choices most of the time. If you have any questions about these or any other diet issues, please your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida.