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Ask the Nutritionist: How Bad Is Fried Food For You, Really?

posted: 06/09/16
by: Ashley Lauretta
french fries
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Unfortunately, the answer is not going to please French fry lovers.

"Eating fried food more frequently is linked to an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, developing central obesity and hypertension and gaining excessive weight during pregnancy," explains Georgie Fear, RD, CSSD, founder of One by One Nutrition and author of Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss. "One study found that people who ate fried food more than 4 times a week had a 37 percent greater risk of gaining weight and becoming overweight or obese than those who ate it less than twice a week."

That's a lot of harrowing statistics, we know. When it comes to fried foods, obviously limiting your intake is best for your health. But what exactly happens to food when you fry it?

"Frying food increases the amount of fat in it," shares Fear. "In fact, the end product can be as much as half fat by weight."

This increase in fat dramatically changes foods--for example, frying chicken--making it calorie-dense. Additionally, Fear points out that fried foods like doughnuts and that chicken we mentioned aren't usually made with the healthiest fats. Of course, it depends on where you are ordering from, but often the oils themselves are not healthy, too.

"Oils used for deep frying are generally high in omega-6 fats, saturated fats, or trans-fatty acids," adds Fear. "These are not recommended to emphasize in a healthy diet."

It turns out, the additional amount of fat added into the food isn't the only issue. There is other stuff that forms during deep frying that you probably don't know about.

"Oil changes when heated up for a long time, and oxidation products form--several of which have been designated 'probable human carcinogens' and are known to cause mutations in offspring," interjects Fear. "For this reason, breathing the air near a deep fryer has been shown to be an occupational hazard, increasing risk of respiratory problems."

Yikes! As the oil is used and reused, it only gets more harmful.

But the good news is you don't have to completely give up fried foods. There is an option if you've got to have it.

"Frying in olive oil at home would not likely be associated with so many negative health impacts, as it increases the monounsaturated fats in the food," shares Fear. "If the oil is fresh and discarded after using (as opposed to using over and over as restaurants do) the food also would have lower levels of some toxic compounds such as acrolein that arise from oxidation of fat at high heat."

Fear uses the Mediterranean diet as an example. Long known as a heart-healthy diet, cooking food in olive oil is a historical part of their culture.

You don't have to abandon fried foods completely, but it is important to consider where you are getting the food from and what oils it is being cooked in. Keeping your fat intake down and reducing the amount of saturated fats low is part of a healthy diet. Next time you want chicken nuggets, try making them yourself at home, either by baking them in the oven (this recipe is delicious!) or frying them in some extra virgin olive oil.