Spanish researchers have found that foods fried in healthier oils, like olive or sunflower oil, may not cause heart disease and premature death. The study was conducted on 40,000 adults who were followed up for 11 years to track the food intake and risk of heart disease. Although the study brings good news to the fried food enthusiasts, it comes with a caution about the typical US fried foods and diet. Researchers add that the results are based on Mediterranean diet (considered to be a healthy diet) and may not be applicable to other forms of diet. Researcher Pilar Guallar-Castillon, MD, PhD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, says that since the study was conducted based on food prepared and consumed at home, it may be different from that of US diners. “This difference arises because it is hard to tell which oil has been used when one is dining out," says Castillon.
Earlier studies have shown an association between intake of fried foods and conditions like high blood pressure, lower levels of HDL, and obesity. These conditions increase the risk of heart diseases. In the present study, 40,757 adults, aged between 29-years-old and 69-years-old, were interviewed at the beginning of the study about their eating habits. The researchers questioned the participants regarding 662 food items including 212 fried foods. The different frying methods under consideration included, deep fried, pan, battered, crumbed, or sautéed. Most of the participants reported using olive oil.
The participants were divided into four groups depending on their intake of fried foods. The last group had an intake of about 1.6 ounces of fried food a day, while first group had about 8.8 ounces of fried foods. The average intake was less than 5 ounces per day. Fried food accounted to 7% of the total food intake.
Results showed that 606 attacks and 1135 deaths occurred during the follow up period. Data analysis showed that there was no link between fried food and heart disease or death. Researchers suggest that this might be because of the use of heart-healthy oils in cooking. Olive oil contains good amount of antioxidants which are heart healthy.
“Although the study says that fried foods may not cause heart disease, it does not say that frying is good," says Connie Diekman, RD, director of university of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. Some of the drawbacks of the study included the fact that data collection was done only at the beginning of the study. “Data about different forms of frying was also not separated to give complete information," says Diekman. Olive oil is heart healthy oil but one has to consider the overall calorie intake.
Another limitation of the study is that data collection was based on self-reporting. Body mass index of people from different groups were found to be same even when the amount of fried food intake was as different as 600 calories and very little fried food.
Andrea Giancoli, RD, MPH, a Santa Monica, Calif., dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that the diet mentioned in the study is totally different from the typical US diet. “The study followed Mediterranean diet and hence the result should be considered with caution," suggests Giancoli.
Michael Leitzmann, MD, of the University of Regensburg in Germany, adds that even though the study shows that fried food is not bad for health, it does not show that frequent snacking on chips and other fried foods may not have any consequences.