Hold the Fries

Some foods should be enjoyed in moderation. And fried foods — especially deep fried foods are exactly the kind of food that I’m talking about. I know, they are crispy and delicious, and oh, so hard to resist! From french fries to onion rings, fried chicken to doughnuts.  Some of my favorite comfort foods are of the fried variety. I know I should only enjoy them as an occasional indulgence though, and not an everyday menu item. Here’s why…

The Calories and fat!

Oil is very calorie dense because of its high fat content. The breading and batter that is often added to fried foods can also bump up the calorie count. When eaten regularly, these extra calories can really add up and add inches to your waistline.

Check out how frying foods can turn them into calorie bombs:

Potatoes

  • A small baked potato (weighing 148 grams) has 138 calories and 0 grams of fat.  
  • Turn that into 148 grams of french fries (med-lg order) and you’ll be consuming 461 calories and 22 grams of fat.

Chicken breast

  • A grilled or baked chicken breast without skin has about 140 calories and 3 grams of fat.  
  • If you keep the skin on and grill or bake it, you get about 190 calories and 8 grams of fat.  
  • Turn that into a batter dipped and fried chicken breast (with the skin) and that bumps it up to 290 calories and 15 grams of fat.

Source: USDA Food Composition Database 

Put that together in a meal, and the fried chicken and french fry meal has 473 more calories and 34 more grams of fat than the baked chicken and potato meal.  Okay for an occasional splurge.  But, add it up once a week for a year and you will be packing on almost 7 pounds!

The Increase in Disease Risk

Risk for cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and obesity may all increase with increased consumption of fried foods. (1-6)

When oil is heated to a high temperature for frying, toxins – such as acrylamide, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be formed.  These toxins can also increase when oil is used for repeated frying.  There may be a link between exposure to these toxins and different types of cancer in humans.  Research is ongoing.

Eating fried food may also increase diabetes and heart disease risk. According to new research presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle meeting in 2015 “A large study of men suggests fried food consumption is associated with a higher risk of heart failure.” (4) According to a long-term study led by a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, men and women who eat a lot of fried foods may have a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (5) And, if you are planning to become pregnant, there is even more reason to limit your fried foods … A study found that women who ate more fried food before conceiving, had an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. (6)

Of note, most restaurants are transitioning to using healthier types of oils. Partially hydrogenated oils (high in trans fat) used to be the industry standard. That has changed over the past several years though, as the dangers of these artery clogging fats have come to light. In 2013, the FDA announced trans fats were no longer generally regarded as safe (GRAS) because they substantially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many companies began substituting palm oil, safflower oil, canola and corn oils. The reduction in trans fats may mean that the fried foods are not quite as bad for your heart as they used to be. More research is being done with the various types of oil.

Nutrient depletion 

While deep frying is adding fat and calories, it can simultaneously be destroying some of the healthy nutrients in the food. Deep frying can destroy some fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and E. Quickly steaming vegetables or pan-frying them in a small amount of olive oil are generally better methods for nutrient preservation.  (7)

Acid reflux  

And, if you need one more reason to cut down on that fried food, it might just make you uncomfortable! Eating fried food can increase the acid production in your stomach causing acid reflux and heartburn.

If you want to occasionally enjoy some fried mozzarella sticks or delicious cheesy fries (my personal guilty pleasure), go for it! Savor the flavor and enjoy the moment. Healthy eating is not about deprivation. It’s about balancing your choices with variety and moderation. What you want to avoid is grabbing that fried doughnut every morning out of habit, or ordering the fries and nuggets at the drive-thru because they are cheap and convenient.  TB member Lorri Sulpizio found the perfect quote to sum it up: “you are what you eat so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake!”

References

  1. Eating deep-fried food is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Today’s Dietition. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  2. Acrylamide and cancer risk.  American Cancer Society. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  3. How to reduce your risk of cancer from fried foods.  Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Dec 2, 2013. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  4. The more fried food consumed, the bigger the heart failure risk. American Heart Association News. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  5. Heid M. Fried food linked to diabetes and heart disease — with an asterisk. Time Health online. Jun 20, 2014. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  6. Oaklander M. Here’s why women should avoid fried food before pregnancy. Time Health online. Oct 9, 2014. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
  7. LaMotte S. The Healthiest Ways to Cook Veggies and Boost Nutrition. CNN Health. May 5, 2016. Accessed Feb 16, 2017.
Jen Kim, RDN

About Jen Kim, RDN

Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She completed her Bachelor’s of Science degree at the University of Illinois, and holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from San Diego State University. Jennifer also has a Certification in Adult Weight Management. She has worked in hospitals as a Clinical Dietitian, done obesity research and worked as a Corporate Dietitian for a national weight loss company. Jennifer is passionate about helping people live healthier lives. She believes in a balanced approach to nutrition – where all foods can fit – centered around a natural, plant-based diet. Jen lives in San Diego with her husband and two boys – where she enjoys playing soccer and tennis, hiking, playing on the beach, playing board games and shooting pool.