By Bisma Safdar
You dream about fried chicken and French fries make you swoon. Alas, what your heart wants isn’t so good for your heart’s health. What’s a fried-food lover to do? Although we’re not that far into the 2021, it’s pretty safe to say the air fryer is the appliance of the year. Sure, it’s based on technology we have had for decades (you can make the same foods with the convection setting on your oven), but that fact isn’t stopping the small appliance from taking over our kitchens. It’s easy to see why. Air frying is a cooking method that’s easier and faster than baking or deep frying, and many air fryer recipes are healthier than their deep or pan-fried counterparts. But does air frying a food make it a healthier alternative, or is air fried food simply healthier because it doesn’t require oil or butter?
Social Diary digs deep to find the answers.
Air frying is touted as a healthy alternative to deep frying. This promise all lies in how air fryers operate: Air fryers cook by rapidly circulating hot air around food. Because of their smaller sizes, air fryers can get hot faster, reducing both the cook time and the need for cooking agents, such as oil. This eliminates much of the fat and calories that exist in deep-fried foods. Since you’re not consuming as much fat or as many calories, you may cut your risk of developing health issues associated with eating high levels of fat and calories, such as heart disease and diabetes.
To be fair, an air fryer won’t perfectly simulate the texture of French fries cooked in a vat of hot grease. But it will get you closer to that crispy outcome than baking or steaming your foods will. Air-frying creates that great crispy texture you’re looking for, without any oil. WHAT’S WRONG WITH OIL?
Even healthier oils, including olive oil and avocado oil, contain a lot of calories. Gram for gram, fats (such as cooking oil) contain more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates.
When you’re frying food, those calories can add up quickly. Deep-frying uses a tremendous amount of oil, and even pan-frying meat or vegetables requires a fair amount. Deep-fried foods can also be high in trans fats. Trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils (liquid fats made solid, like vegetable shortening) that can raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Fried foods from restaurants are especially likely to have been bubbled in oils containing trans fats. Just because a food is air fried doesn’t mean it’s healthy. While air frying itself is a healthier cooking method because it doesn’t require much oil (if any), there are plenty of unhealthy foods that can be prepared in the air fryer, even if they do contain less fat and calories than their deep-fried counterparts.
AIR FRYERS COOK QUICKLY.
That’s a good thing when you need to get dinner on the table. But foods can go from baked to black in the blink of an eye. Charred food may contain cancer-causing compounds, so keep an eye on your entrée to avoid burning. Air frying and baking both work by exposing food to higher temperatures. Air fryers circulate hot air around the food, while ovens direct heat at the food from at least one direction, sometimes two. So in terms of healthfulness, both methods are about the same. However, air fryers are equipped with a few advantages, such as a grease tray, that can minimize the amount of fat and calories in air-fried food. But, smart cooks can easily adjust the roasting or baking technique to separate oven-cooked food from the grease it expels. For example, you can roast meat on a baking rack set in a roasting pan so the excess calories and fat drip away.
The health benefits of the air fryer really depend heavily on the quality of food you are using. If you are making a high-fat meal or a meal based on refined carbohydrates, then it will not be healthy simply because it is being cooked in an air fryer. That being said, much of an air fried food’s overall nutrients depends on the ingredients you use. Cooking nutritious ingredients with a low-fat and low-calorie method such as the air fryer can — and will — yield nutritious recipes. If you plan to use an air fryer to reduce dietary fat, consider using ingredients in their most natural state such as cubed tofu, skinless chicken breast, and freshly sliced potatoes.