Food frying revisited

food-frying-in-butterFrench fries, donuts, onion rings, and deep-fried twinkies – in the minds of the health conscious these words set off a mental alert system, signaling for self-control against the enemies of health. Ok, maybe most people aren’t tempted by deep-fried twinkies, but what is it that makes these foods so tasty, yet so atrociously unhealthy? Sugars, processed ingredients, and being fried in oil?

If you follow CREUS, you already know that eating too many sugars and other carbohydrates is disastrous for health, but you may be surprised to learn that fried foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy. I think the stigma against fried foods picked up after researchers discovered that a number of industrially produced potato chips and fast food items contained free fatty acids and toxic chemicals that occur as a result of over frying. But did you notice, I said over frying.

Vegetables oils are stable at fairly high heating temperatures; however, every oil has its own max temperature. When an oil reaches its max temp it starts to smoke and break down. That temperature is called the smoke point, and it’s different for every oil. After an oil reaches its smoke point, it breaks down into free fatty acids and a number of carinogenic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are harmful when ingested or inhaled.[1] Yet, if used within a stable range, cooking oil remains a source of healthy nutrients (depending on the type of oil).Thus the problems with frying food aren’t inherent in the frying itself. There are number of other factors that can cause frying to be an unhealthy practice. Problems start to occur when food is fried in oil at a temperature beyond the smoke point. Some people and restaurants are also in the habit of reusing oil; however, when reused, oil’s smoking point is lowered and carcinogenic compounds start to form. Another problem, of course, is what’s being fried. If you’re frying carbohydrates, you already started down an unhealthy path (unless you did a particularly hard workout and need those extra carbs).

The final trouble with frying revolves around the type of oils used.Not all oils are created equal. When choosing an oil, the ones most readily available in God’s creation, the ones that require minimal processing, turn out to be the healthiest. The top three are butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. The reason being is that most other vegetables oils contain a ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids that is disproportionately high in omega-6 fatty acids. Recent studies have found that cardiovascular disease and other health problems are attributed to having far too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s.[2] By contrast, the three cooking oils I mention above primarily consist of saturated fat (butter and coconut oil) or monounsaturated fat (olive oil) and therefore don’t negatively affect the the Omega-3 to Omega 6 ratio. The approximate smoke point for the recommended cooking oils are:

Whole Butter: 300 F
Extra Virgin olive oil: 300 F
Virgin coconut oil: 350 F

Smoke points are always estimates because they depend on the particular oil’s characteristics (which vary between batches) and the methods of oil refinement. Generally, the more whole the oil is, the lower its smoke point will be. In conclusion, if you want to fry something in oil – meats, vegetables, or eggs – it’s OK to do so. The important thing is to chose a healthy oil, keep the oil below its smoke point, and only use your oil once. Here’s to all my friends in the South!

[1] PubMed
[2] PubMed