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Is Air Fried Food Really Healthier?

Home made fish and potato chips with air fryer.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Air fryers are insanely popular these days, and there are many reasons why. They have evolved over the years from machines that do one task (air fry) to ones that have several cooking capabilities. There are thousands of creative air fryer recipes that are readily available online. A quality air fryer is relatively inexpensive for all the functionality it can provide, and they don’t take up much space.

However, the original selling point of the air fryer was its health benefits over traditional frying, and it still holds as one today. Yet, the question remains: Is air-fried food really healthier? It can be said with confidence that the number of saturated fats consumed from deep frying foods is significantly lower, so it’s fair to conclude that air frying is generally healthier. However, that’s not the end of the story. To get a definitive answer to the question, we must examine precisely how and what we’re cooking in our air fryers.

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Fresh vs. Frozen Foods

First and foremost, it’s critical to remember that air fryers aren’t intended to make only fried foods. You can bake, roast, broil, and perform an array of other cooking functions. The name “air cooker” might have been more apt for the machine and could have led to more healthy cooking associations.

That said, air fryers aren’t magic boxes that can convert the nutritional content of your desired meals. So the most significant factor in an air fryer producing healthy meals is your personal eating habits. Pre-made, processed frozen foods typically can’t hold a candle to fresh, even if you’re investing in healthy frozen meals.

Even if you’re indulging in a pizza, which air fryers can cook up with no problem these days, a homemade from-scratch pizza is going to contain fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients than a frozen one. We understand that part of the appeal of an air fryer is its convenience, so it’s probably unlikely that many people will go the from-scratch route with an air fryer.

But, looking at it from a nutritional standpoint, it is possible to cook healthier meals in an air fryer simply by making healthy choices. However, this is not something an air fryer can do for you with any of its preset functions.

Amount of Oil Used

Many air fryer brands advertise that you don’t have to use any oil when cooking with them. That statement is technically true, especially with frozen foods that likely already have some sort of oil content to them. However, the fact of the matter is that using at least a little oil results in a tastier end product. Oil prevents food from sticking together or sticking to cooking surfaces. It also promotes the browning and crispiness of the food.

It’s crucial to remember that, with an air fryer, a little bit of oil goes a long way. It really depends on what you’re cooking. Still, a light spritz of cooking spray over the food, or even just the basket/rack, will be enough and result in an overall healthier meal. Tossing food in multiple tablespoons of oil before air-frying is overkill and is an easy way to make your healthy air-fried food unhealthy.

Types of Oil Used

When it comes to overall health, not just fat and caloric content, it’s essential to pay attention to the types of oils used in any sort of high-temperature cooking. Air fryers can get close to 500 degrees, so it’s important to cook with oil that has a high smoke point when cooking at high temperatures. When an oil with a low smoke point (such as olive oil, and flaxseed and pumpkin seed oil) is heated above its smoke point, it breaks down.

According to Healthline, when oils break down, they have several adverse side effects on your health. First, they produce free radicals that can disrupt cellular development and lead to the development of diseases. Also, when oil breaks down, it makes acrolein, a substance that tastes bad and has been linked to lung damage when inhaled. Low smoke point oils should be saved for cold-cooking applications such as dressings and marinades.

The thing about some high smoke point oils (like peanut and soybean oil) is they aren’t great for your health. If you’re planning on some high-temp air frying, use some heart-healthy fats that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Avocado, sesame, and safflower oil are all great options. Suppose your air frying isn’t going above 350 degrees. In that case, you can use olive and coconut oil, which are rich in antioxidants.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, an air fryer is just a cooking appliance designed to make your life a little bit easier. Stripped down, it’s a modified convection oven that circulates air around a confined space, making foods cook faster than your traditional oven. They’re no magic bullet when it comes to your health choices, though, and ultimately those will be what determines if air-frying is a healthy option for you. However, the device has made it possible to replicate (if not quite duplicate) some of your favorite fried foods, which can be better for your health overall when cooked correctly.

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Steven Johnson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven Johnson is a chef-turned-content strategist. He now helps companies attract and retain more customers through content…
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