Research clears vegetable oils, but use them wisely.
Fried food is usually near the top of a dietitian’s no-no list, both to protect your cardiovascular health and to fight weight gain. But a recent Spanish study published in the journal BMJ suggests that fried foods’ bad rap comes not from the fact that they are fried, but from the type of oils used in frying.
In the study, foods that were fried in healthy vegetable oils, such as olive oil, did not raise the risk of heart damage or clogged arteries. “Healthy oils can lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk of cardiac arrhythmias,” says Dr. Helen Delichatsios, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
In Spain, where the study was conducted, vegetable oils are used for frying. As a result, Dr. Delichatsios says, “the results of this study do not apply to most fried foods available in the U.S. population and other countries.”
Unhealthy vs. healthy frying
In our country, foods are often fried in oils rich in saturated and trans fats, which are linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Americans also have a habit of frying foods that are already bad for heart health. “At some fairs in the United States, people consume fried Twinkies, fried cheesecake, and even fried butter,” says Dr. Delichatsios.
She also says the Spanish study demonstrates that the process of frying food is not as unhealthy as the type of fat that is used. “Unsaturated fat is best. Saturated fat should be minimized, and trans fat should not be consumed.”
That means sticking with vegetable oils when it comes to cooking. Avoid using butter, lard and palm oil. Instead, use canola, corn, or peanut oil.
Consider sautéing your food in these oils instead of immersing them. Immersing food in oil causes it to absorb more fat, which adds calories. Reusing oil for cooking is also harmful, say researchers, since oil deteriorates during frying, leading to a loss of unsaturated fats and an increase in trans fats. As a result, fried food absorbs the degraded oil products.
Dr. Delichatsios emphasizes that despite what you might have heard, all fats are not unhealthy. In fact, you need healthy fats for good health. Choose foods with healthy fats such as nuts, fish, and foods made with vegetable oils. With foods like that, Dr. Delichatsios says, getting up to 30% to 40% of your calories from fat is fine.