Fried food is not as bad for you as you might think

Back in the day a ‘proper’ fry-up meant bacon, sausages, fried eggs, fried bread, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and possibly black pudding, all fried in lard. In fact it wasn’t unusual for children to be sent on their way to school having consumed bacon and tomato or sausage and egg for breakfast. Nowadays the fashion seems to be for sugary cereals and toast with jam or chocolate spread.

For years, various healthy eating campaigns and the diet industry have made us believe that frying food is bad for us in that it can increase cholesterol levels and clog arteries leading to high blood pressure and heart disease. It is also often cited as a major factor in obesity. The reason for this is that frying food increases its calorific value because the fat seeps into the food during the cooking process. Something which doesn’t occur through alternative methods of cooking – for example, grilling.

Now, the results of an 11 year study into the diets of 40,757 adults by the Autonomous University of Madrid have just been released.  Participants were asked about the type of food they ate in a typical week and how that food was cooked. At the beginning of the programme none of the adults showed any sign of heart disease. At the end of the programme there were 606 heart disease events and 1,134 deaths had occurred.

Interestingly, when investigated, no link to fried food could be found as being the cause of the heart problems – even though participants regularly ate fried food.

So, is it OK to go back to the ‘good old days’ when we thought nothing of melting a pound of dripping to fry up fish and chips? The answer is ‘no’.  In the case of the Spanish study, participants were using olive oil to fry food and were, on the whole, following a typical Mediterranean diet comprising fish, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. The typical British diet, as we know, differs from this.
According to an expert dietician at the British Heart Foundation, it is OK to fry food as long as you are using one of the healthier oils such as olive oil or sunflower oil which are unsaturated, rather than saturated fats such as butter, lard and palm oil. Fried food should also be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.

She says “Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease. A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg and only a small amount of high fat foods, is best for a healthy heart.”

As well as reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet, those suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) should aim to reduce the amount of salt in their diet. Current guidelines suggest that we should consume no more than 6g of salt per day. Salt is often used in processed foods to enhance flavour, so look for the Sodium content on the ingredients panel. Some studies have also suggested that garlic can help to reduce blood pressure – this certainly features heavily in a healthy Mediterranean diet.

To find out more about how eating the right kinds of foods can affect health in a positive way, why not take a look at our nutrition courses, some of which are available online.

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