Frying food could be good for you!

Posted by Shaleen Meelu on Monday, 26 March 2012 in General

Does frying food cause heart attacks? 

Above we see a picture of the good old English breakfast. If the image also squeezed in pictures of mushrooms and a glass of OJ, it could be a nutritionally balanced meal. However, most of us equate this as unhealthy primarily because the eggs, meat and often the bread are fried. Yet an article published in last weeks British Medical Journal (BMJ 2012; 344:d8274) says that 'frying itself may not be bad as long as the type of oil used for frying is good.'

The article was written by Professor Michael F Leitzemann (Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine at the University of Regensburg) and Tobias Kurth (director of research at Universite Bordeaux Segalen). They cited a study conducted in five regions of Spain and including 40,757 participants (many of whom were women). The study found that 62% of participants used olive oil and the remainder used sunflower or other vegetable oils. There was no association between frying food and risk of heart attack. The authors go on to say that a review of other studies show that the association between eating fried food and risk of heart disease is weak. They even cite a study where fried food is actually beneficial. 

This is interesting but in a sense not surprising. The authors feel that practical advice should focus on an appropriate balance of fried foods such as fish, meat and potatoes. Well, we'd say slow down...any food and nutrition advice should focus on a balance of food groups including fresh fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates (not  restricted to potatoes), protein sources (meat, fish and non-vegetarian sources count), good fats (vegetable based are better). However, we do agree that studies should reflect upon method of cooking (in this case deep fried versus pan fried) and whether oil is re-used. Also, although a Mediterranean diet is frequently cited as health promoting this may be due to the overall balance of items included - fresh produce, oil, vegetables, fish, pulses, fruits, red wine and lack of processed foods. A similar diet is also observed in Middle Eastern countries. That said even Mediterranean countries are experiencing a rise in obesity.

So we would also add that if practical advice is being given the food culture of the group and individuals the advice is being given to should also be considered. In the UK telling people to cut down 'fatty foods' is still appropriate if you think about the type of 'fatty food' frequently consumed. Donna Kebab and Chips? Deep fried pizza stuffed with chips?  Conversely, advising groups to switch to olive oil doesn't make sense if the amount consumed and the method of cooking does not preserve the beneficial structure of the fat. We've worked with South Asian groups who think that using liberal amounts of olive oil is totally fine when cooking. These communities experience higher risks of heart disease and diabetes. We've also worked with parents who think that deep-frying food is the only possible method of cooking and consume little or no fresh produce. Practical advice needs to take all of the above into consideration as well as access to food. Not everyone can afford olive oil and fish and some people are vegetarians.  

So let's reflect...

  1. Fat is an ESSENTIAL macronutrient and required to carry fat-soluble vitamins around the body (vitamin A, D, E and K). We need to consume fat in order to function properly. 
  2. In the UK the RDA for fat for men is 90 g per day and for women this is 70 g per day. Reduced to 70 g and 50 respectively for individuals embarking upon a healthy weight loss programme. 
  3. Overconsuming fatty foods may contribute to weight gain. Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. 
  4. Frying food using polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat is not associated with heart disease. This includes vegetable oils such as olive, rape-seed and sunflower.
  5. Repeatedly frying in the same oil is not a good idea as this leads to the production of trans fats which are considered very risky and have even been banned in the US. 
  6. It is not necessary to cook oil. Some oils taste nice as dressings for example. 
For further information feel free about how you or the group you work with can achieve a health promoting diet, feel free to contact us. 










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Hi, my name is Shaleen Meelu and I am the founder of Healthy Futures. I’m also a registered nutritionist and I have helped over 3,000 people embark upon healthy living programmes.


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