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Forgo Fried Foods for a Healthier Heart

Our family practice doctors certainly understand the delightful taste sensation of crispy fried chicken or fish, or the delicious combination of hot oil, salt, and potatoes that comprise a well-done french fry.

Unfortunately, a new study confirms that eating fried food is tied to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. And this risk rises with each additional four-ounce serving a week.

The study was published last month in the online journal Heart. It found just a half-cup of fried food a week is enough to increase the risk of…

  • heart attack and stroke by three percent
  • heart disease by two percent
  • heart failure by 12 percent

That may not sound like much. But researchers also found those who consumed the most fried foods weekly had a 37 percent higher risk of heart failure. They also had a 28 percent greater risk of major cardiovascular events (heart attack and stroke), and a 22 percent increased risk of heart disease than those who consumed the least.

The study

For the metastudy, researchers at the Shenzen University Health Science Center in Guangdong, China, looked at the results from 19 previously published studies. It combined data from more than 560,000 people who experienced nearly 37,000 major cardiovascular events.

They also analyzed data from six additional studies. These involved more than 750,000 subjects and nearly 86,000 deaths over ten years.

Several of the studies examined included only one type of fried food, such as fried potatoes, fish, or snacks, rather than total weekly consumption of fried foods. This caused the researchers to surmise the unhealthy associations they found were actually underestimated.

Other studies back it up

Although this metastudy had certain limitations—reliance on memory, differing study designs—it seems to track with other similar studies.

A 2014 study, for example, also linked fried foods to such serious health issues as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Another 2017 study produced much the same results. It focused on various types of fried potatoes: fries, hash browns, and fried potatoes. It found subjects who ate them more than twice a week were more than twice as likely to die early than those who ate such foods less often.

Finally, the journal BMJ published a study in 2019 of 107,000  U.S. women ages 50-79. It found those who reported eating at least one serving of fried food daily had about an eight percent higher chance of dying early compared to those who never ate fried foods. They also showed an eight percent higher chance of dying specifically from cardiovascular disease.

The possible reasons

You may be saying.,“But wait. How exactly does this enjoyable food harm my health?”

No one is certain. But the association between an increased intake of fried foods and increased risk of death has been seen in study after study for years, as shown above.

First, frying adds unnecessary calories to otherwise healthy foods. They absorb some of the fat from the oil which can lead to weight gain. This has been linked to numerous unhealthy results, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Next, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned trans fats. It still, however, allows companies leeway in their labels. They can label a product as containing “zero grams” of trans fats if one serving of the food contains less than half a gram of trans fat.

Trans fats give fried foods that distinctive taste and crunchy texture. But they have been conclusively shown to lead to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even dementia. This is all because they raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol.

Finally, foods fried at high temperatures contain a chemical called acrylamide. It has shown in animal studies to cause cancer, although it has not yet been implicated in heart disease. Other chemical by-products of frying, however, have been implicated in raising the body’s inflammatory response. This has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

What to eat instead

As alternatives to fried foods, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following:

  • Eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts. Also limit red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
  • Limit commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Other healthier alternatives to deep-frying include sautéing, steaming, grilling, and oven frying.

We don’t want to insist you give up fried foods altogether, but the research is piling up. Deep-frying is the least healthy way to prepare foods. So we suggest you follow the AHA’s recommendations most of the time, and save fried foods for an occasional treat.

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