Fried food is inherently unhealthy, right? Maybe not. A new study found that it really all depends on the kind of oil you use for frying.
Healthy oils, like olive oil and sunflower oil, don’t magically become unhealthy just by virtue of how they’re used.* Which means frying foods in olive or sunflower oil is A-OK for the health-conscious (and thank god: frying things in olive oil is one of my go-to cooking methods, though I like to call it ‘sauteeing’).
How did researchers figure this out?
Well, in general, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—i.e., the kinds found in olive oil, avocados, raw nuts—decrease your risk of developing heart disease (hello, Mediterranean diet). It’s only trans fats and saturated fats that increase this risk. You probably know this already—but it wasn’t long ago that even scientists didn’t. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that researchers began noticing the low rates of heart disease in Mediterranean countries where olive oil was a staple, and began putting two and two together about the different types of fats. It was a pretty mind-boggling discovery at the time, too, because the dominant thinking was ALL FAT IS BAD.
So a lot of studies were conducted. But until now, no one considered how these healthy fatty oils might make a difference when it comes to fried food. In this recent study, Spanish researchers looked at data on more than 40,000 people in five Spanish regions that have traditionally had very different diets. The participants were interviewed in 1992 about their typical diet and food preparation, and researchers followed up 11 years later to measure their risk of heart disease.
Overall, eating fried foods wasn’t associated with an increased risk of heart disease or death. Say what? That kind of goes against everything we’ve been told about fried foods. But the majority of participants—62%—used olive oil for frying, and a significant portion also used sunflower oil. Researchers believe this makes all the difference. Previous studies linking fried food consumption to heart disease haven’t considered the types of oils being used.
Food fried in re-used or solid oils (as is typical here in the United States) absorbs the fat of the oils, which increases the calories in the food. We’re also quite fond of deep-frying here, which is a whole different beast. A diet high in french fries, hush puppies and onion rings is still likely to kill you (or at least pack on pounds). But don’t be afraid of pan-frying things in healthy oils—olive oil, sunflower oil, or other oils made up of unsaturated fats, like walnut or avocado oil—at home.
* Frying does modify both the oil and the food being fried. Any food being fried loses water and takes up some fat (which increases its ‘energy density,’ or caloric content). And oils can lose unsaturated fats and increase in trans fats when fried (thereby passing more trans fats on to your food). This ‘deterioration’ of the oil is more of a problem when oil is reused (as at fast food restaurants and in deep frying), though not exclusively. The researchers note that the amount “depends on the frying technique (deep or pan frying), the degree of thermal degradation of the oil, the type of food, and, above all, the type of oil (the degree of oil unsaturation increases the formation of trans fatty acids).”
Originally published on Blisstree.com.