What You Need to Know About Fried Foods

Despite what the research might suggest, fried foods aren't good for you.

February 1, 2012

"Fried foods don't cause heart disease!" "Fried foods are healthy!" The headlines about a new study from Spain were hard to miss this week, after researchers there announced that they were unable to find a link between eating fried food and an increased risk of heart disease.

The research, published in the British Journal of Medicine, followed 40,757 Spaniards for 11 years and tracked their rates of heart problems along with their habits around eating fried foods. Most of the participants ate a lot of fried food, both at home and at restaurants, and when they fried food at home, they used olive and sunflower oils, which are traditionally part of the Mediterranean diet. At the end of the study, it appeared that foods fried in those oils didn't increase the risk of heart disease.


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The authors accompanied their conclusions with warnings, first and foremost among them being that, even at high levels, Spanish adults don't eat as many fried foods as Americans do. And olive oil is healthier than most of the highly refined vegetable and plant oils used in American kitchens. "Our results are directly applicable only to Mediterranean countries with frying methods similar to those in Spain," they wrote.

Even if fried foods in the U.S. were determined not to cause heart disease, they're still not a good idea, says Drew Ramsey, MD, coauthor (with Tyler Graham) of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body (Rodale, 2011). "Fried foods lead to an increased risk of depression," he says, "and that's the most dangerous disease in America right now." (Antidepressants are the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the country.)

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"In general, I'm against home fryers. I don't have one, and it's not a smart, healthy, easy way to cook," he says, adding that you should also take any advice to use sunflower oil with a grain of salt. "It's high in omega-6s, which have been linked to depression, and when you heat sunflower oil up over and over again, it leads to the creation of trans fats," he adds; though you may never reuse oil for frying foods at home, it's common practice at restaurants.

If you are trying to make something that resembles a fried favorite, Ramsey recommends a small amount of olive oil, butter, or lard and pan-frying it. "Olive oil isn't great for high heat," but he says it's useful for quickly pan-frying vegetables or meat. "And remember, you don't need much. A little fat goes a long way."