According to a recent study, it’s a myth that eating fried foods ultimately leads to heart attacks—but there’s a catch. Fried foods won’t kill you if they’re cooked in olive oil or sunflower oil and moderation is the key when it comes to calories. Plus, the results were obtained in Spain, where using those oils for cooking is common. In the U.S., where solid and re-used oils are often used for frying.
In western cultures, frying is the most popular way to cook. Everyone knows frying food adds calories because it soaks up the fat in the oil that is used. Eating lots of fried food increases heart disease risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity is a common assumption. But a scientific link between fried food and heart disease hasn’t yet been definitively established.
Fried food and heart disease
To investigate the possibility of such a link, Spanish researchers at Autonomous University of Madrid tracked more than 40,000 people—two-thirds were women—for 11 years. At the start of the study, published in the “British Medical Journal” online, none of the participants had heart disease. They began the study by asking them how often they ate fried foods, either at home or dining out. Participants were also asked about their overall diet and cooking methods, such as whether food was fried, crumbed, battered or sautéed.
The participants were divided into four groups ranging from the lowest fried food intake to highest. From the early 1990’s to 2004, the researchers tracked the study population, looking to see whether regular fried food consumption increased the chances of getting sick from coronary heart disease with conditions requiring surgery such as a heart attack or angina. There were 606 incidents linked to heart disease overall, but no significant difference in heart disease between the four groups.
Mediterranean diet is the key
The researchers concluded: “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.”
They also emphasized, however, that the results should be considered within the context of a healthy Mediterranean diet and that most of the meals eaten by participants were prepared at home. In the U.S., where dining out and fast food are prevalent, it’s hard to know which type of oil one is eating.
Busting the myth, with caveats
Fried foods from American fast food outlets tend to be cooked in re-used oils that are high in trans fats. They also contain a lot of sodium, which is proven to increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Even so, the study virtually busts the myth that fried food of any kind is bad for your heart. Especially if you quit using saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil to keep cholesterol levels down. Yet eating fish and chips or fried chicken everyday will have health consequences because even foods cooked in olive or sunflower oil are still very calorific.
A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, limited to a small amount of high fat foods will always be best for a healthy heart.