Is fried food a danger to your health? A new study does not seem to think so.
While many doctors might urge patients to shy away from fried foods, a recent study published in Wednesday's British Medical Journal has found that the connection between fried foods and cardiovascular health is a mistake.
In an eleven-year study, the diets and cooking styles of over 40,000 adults between the ages of 26 and 69 were tracked in Spain. The study found that amongst the individuals the consumption of fried foods was not necessarily associated with coronary heart disease or with mortality.
In many studies in the past, fried foods had been associated with hypertension, higher LDL cholesterol and obesity, all of which can prove dangerous to cardiovascular health.
Frying food is normally considered unhealthy and dangerous because the process modifies the food and increases the amount of fat and trans fat included in the product. Fried foods absorb the fat they are cooked in and the process changes the quality and composition of the ingredients. The amount of change and fat-added depends on the type of frying; deep frying has a very different impact on food than pan frying does.
However, the type of oil food is fried in seems to have a more significant impact on the health risks than previously expected. According to the BMJ study, chefs and diners in the Mediterranean country use olive oil and sunflower oil to fry food rather than the lard, butter or palm oil that are more common in other countries, like in the UK and in the U.S.
The researchers found that olive and sunflower oil do not pose a threat to cardiovascular health.
In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death, the study concluded.
When the study began all of the adults were free of coronary heart disease. After eleven years, the study found 606 cases linked to heart disease, either stroke or heart attack, and 1,134 deaths. However, researchers believe the deaths and heart disease incidences were not related to fried food consumption, but other factors instead.
During the study, participants were asked about the foods they had consumed during a 12 month period. The cooking methods used were party of the dietary history questionnaire as were the type of oil used.
For the participants, an average 138 grams of fried food was consumed daily, including 14 grams of oil, meaning about 7 percent of total food consumed was fried. 62 percent of participants used olive oil when frying food, while the remaining 48 percent used sunflower oil or other vegetable oils.
The bottom line here is, most of what they were consuming were these healthful oils - olive and sunflower - and a lot of fish, Andrea Giancoli, a Santa Monica, Calif. dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told WebMD. The Mediterranean diet is different from ours [in the U.S.].
Doctors in the UK also warn that the new findings should not encourage an increase in consumption of fried foods.
Before we all reach for the frying pan it's important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet, rather than British fish and chips, Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, told the Telegraph.
Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too, she continued. We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down and this study gives further cause to make that switch. Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
In order to keep the fried food you eat from increasing your risk of heart disease, be sure to follow these tips.
1. Shy away from butter, lard and palm oil, opting instead for sunflower oil or olive oil.
2. Do not confuse fried foods with fast food. The study warns that fast food is cooked in the same oil for many times whereas food fried at home is normally not. Use fresh vegetable oil each time you cook a meal.
3. Do not add salt when cooking fried foods. The study also warns that salt intake in Spain is fairly low, whereas in other countries, like the U.S., higher salt levels might negatively impact cardiovascular health and increase your risk of hypertension.
4. Frying foods in a pan can be less damaging to the products than deep frying. Because deep frying or frying multiple times may modify the food more drastically than frying pans, you should stick to frying pans for most of your frying experiences.
5. Eat fried food in moderation. Although frying food in sunflower oil or olive oil may not increase your risk of heart disease, fried food can still increase your LDL cholesterol, cause hypertension and lead to obesity. Fried food should not be a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet.