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Could fried food be healthy?

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By Denise Foley

 

From Completely You 

Wish you could enjoy fried food, without feeling guilty? Go ahead! A recent Spanish study found it might not be all that bad for you after all.

Of course, there's a caveat. (Isn't there always?) 

The frying has to be done with olive or sunflower oil. 

With this kind of oil, according to the study, eating fried foods won't up your risk of heart disease or premature death. At least, that's what the researchers found in a group of more than 40,000 people between the ages of 29 and 69 whose cooking habits were surveyed over 11 years.

But don't yank that deep-fat fryer out of storage just yet. Another caveat: The type of food you fry might make a big difference. 

The Spanish people who took the survey ate a lot of fried fish -- not French fries -- and so they were getting a healthy dose of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Was it the fish or the oil that counted? The researchers couldn't be sure.

But one thing is certain: Whenever you cook with oil -- whether you fry or roast -- you must never let it reach its smoke point. That's the temperature at which the oil starts to burn (although it might not actually give off smoke), destroying the healthy fatty acids and producing harmful molecules called free radicals. Oil that's reached its smoke point also doesn't taste as good.

Smoke points can vary based on both the purity and age of the oil, so most are estimations. In general, the less refined an oil is, the lower its smoke point is. For example, extra-virgin olive oil starts to smoke at only 375 F, but refined extra-light olive oil (the light refers to the taste) starts to smoke at 468 F. So save the good stuff for salads.

Sunflower oil also has a high smoke point (around 440 F), so it might be the best choice for your homemade sweet potato fries or fish and chips. Look for high oleic acid versions, which are higher in healthy monounsaturated fats. Compare these both to butter, which smokes at only 300 F and contributes saturated fat.

And yes, one more caveat: Oil, no matter where it comes from, is fat, and fat can be fattening if you don't practice moderation. One tablespoon of sunflower or olive oil is 120 calories. Remember: Overweight and obesity are also risk factors for heart disease and a shortened lifespan.

 

Denise Foley is Completely You's "News You Can Use" blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women's health and parenting.

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