Fried foods should be eaten rarely, if ever, as a treat rather than a regular component of your diet. This is because frying adds fat—and calories—to foods, neither of which is lacking in the typical American diet.
Question: I’ve read that it is wise to avoid deep fried food altogether, but I’ve also read that if oil is hot enough, the food doesn’t absorb the oil. I like deep fried fish and deep fried skinless chicken breast, and I do my own deep frying. I’ve tried to do my own tests on this at home, but any insight you can offer on the conflicting literature would be greatly appreciated. -Anonymous Reader
Answer: You’re right on both counts.
Fried foods should be eaten rarely, if ever, as a treat rather than a regular component of your diet. This is because frying adds fat—and calories—to foods, neither of which is lacking in the typical American diet. Some fry oils are better choices than others in terms of their saturated versus unsaturated fat contents, but to keep from consuming too much fat from fried foods, we should be getting the majority of our dietary fats from foods like avocados, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds. Plant oils (i.e., olive, canola, peanut, sesame, etc.) are also great sources of healthy, unsaturated fats, but to use them in moderation, cooking methods like sauteing, grilling, and baking are better options than frying.
In terms of the oil absorption of various foods, all fried foods are going to absorb some oil, usually between 8-25% the weight of the food being fried. You’re right in that the temperature of the oil does affect the amount of oil absorbed. If the oil is too cool, the frying time lengthens, leading to more oil being absorbed—thus more fat and calories are added to the food. If the oil is too hot, the outside of the fried food becomes burnt before the inside of the food is cooked through—causing an unpleasant taste and possible food safety issue. The ideal temperature for frying is generally between 325˚F and 375˚F. Use a frying thermometer to make sure your oil is at the right temperature, and follow temperature recommendations per your recipe or cookbook. And make sure not to heat the oil too hot, which increases the risk for burning, smoking, and potential fire.