Health Hazards of Fried Foods

By:    Published: February 5, 2013

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While nearly everyone loves the taste of deep fried foods, what most people wouldn't love are the health hazards that come from eating them regularly. While it's fine to indulge in deep fried goodness occasionally, those who consume fried foods on a regular basis are ingesting little, ticking time bombs that are bound to wreak havoc on their health.

Heart-Stopping Goodness

Perhaps the most well known hazard of consuming too much fried food is the damage that it causes in the cardiovascular system. The reason, however, is somewhat complex.

Cardiovascular health can be affected by fried foods in a couple of different ways. The first is that fried foods are calorie dense, meaning that they pack a huge caloric punch into a small size. This can lead to people consuming many more calories than they need to in a day, eventually leading to obesity. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is one of the leading causes of heart attacks.

Fried foods also contribute to high cholesterol, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is a sticky blood fat that can build up on the walls of blood vessels, causing blockages. If the vessel becomes completely blocked, or an area of build up breaks off and becomes lodged in a narrower area of a blood vessel, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

When it comes to high cholesterol, all is not equal. There are three different measurements for cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. High levels of LDL, or "bad cholesterol" and low levels of HDL "good cholesterol," as well as high triglycerides are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But high triglycerides are also a marker of another serious health condition: diabetes. The fact is that many health problems contribute to one another. This is why the diet and exercise recommendations are so similar for so many, seemingly unrelated, conditions.

Liver Health

The liver is an amazing organ. It's is one of the largest in the body and it's the only organ that can regenerate itself. Among the many jobs that the liver does, producing bile is one of its most important responsibilities.

What is bile? Bile is an acidic substance that breaks down the food that people consume during digestion. It is especially important in the breakdown of the fats that people consume. When a person consumes mainly fried food, the high fat and cholesterol can significantly increase the workload of the liver. In addition, any fat that is not used by the body can be stored in the liver, leading to a type of liver disease called a fatty liver, which makes it difficult for the liver to work efficiently.

Not All Fried Foods are Created Equal

According to a study in the British Medical Journal, the type of oil used in the frying of foods makes a difference in the effect it has on the cardiovascular system. The study was conducted in Spain over 11 years and found that if foods were fried in olive oil or sunflower oil, they were not associated with the same cardiovascular or mortality risks as foods fried in other oils. These two oils are staples in the Mediterranean diet, but are not used widely in western diets.

Western diets use other oils, many of which contain trans fat or saturated fat, both of which significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. However thanks to new food labeling regulation, trans fat must be listed on food labels along with saturated fat and other types of fat, so that consumers can make better food decisions. Also, be sure to read 10 Surprising Foods with Trans Fats.

Some oils can give off dangerous chemicals if reheated. For generations people reused their cooking oil. They would simply strain out any food particles and save the oil for the next time the needed it. The problem is that this oil begins to break down and in doing so it releases toxic aldehydes that can then be inhaled and have been linked to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Healthier Options

The first option is not to fry foods at all, but to opt instead for "air frying" or "oven frying". This method involves using oil sprays to provide just enough crispness to food that is then baked in an oven. The advantage to this is that healthier oils, such as olive oil, can be used and food isn't sitting in oil allowing the extra fat to be absorbed into the food. The drawback to traditional frying with healthier oils is that those oils tend to burn at a fairly low temperature.

There are oils which are healthier than others as well. One of the safest and healthiest oils to use is olive oil. It is readily available and contains mostly monounsaturated fat, which makes it good for heart health. Other healthy options include fat substitutes made from grains. They behave like oils when cooking and eating, but in the digestive system they behave like fiber. The only drawback is that these are not as readily available as other oils.

As with everything, the key to fried foods is moderation. Enjoying some french fries occasionally isn't going to kill a person, but indulging in three corn dogs and an extra large order of spuds might. Be careful when using oil at home to avoid the other health hazards. Remember that when it comes to oils, less is definitely more.

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