While all fried foods are high in calories, that doesn’t mean you need to eliminate them from your diet completely. Fats are a necessary part of every diet, as they are essential for the healthy functioning of your body. However, using the wrong oils to make fried foods can lead to harmful byproducts that can increase your chances of cancer and other diseases.
Oils with a High Smoking Point
When the temperature of an oil is raised past its smoking point, it begins to break down and can result in dangerous compounds, like acrylamide, which is considered a carcinogen. You should never let cooking oil reach this point, as at this temperature it may quickly catch fire. However, you should fry foods at a high temperature, preferably higher than 350F. At this temperature, the moisture inside the food pushes out as steam and prevents oil from soaking in, resulting in crispy food. If you fry food at lower temperatures, it will result in oil soaked, soggy food.
The best oils for frying are refined, as they have much higher smoke points than unrefined oils. Some oils with high smoke points include canola, sunflower, grape-seed, rice bran, avocado and peanut. Extra light olive oil has a high smoke point, but virgin olive oil does not.
Oil mixtures may have a lower smoke point than pure oils. You can keep oils in good condition by storing them in a cool, dark place, and using them before their due date. It is also prudent to heat oil for use only once or, at the most, twice before throwing it away (or recycling it).
Oils and Heart Disease
One of the largest concerns you may have about using cooking oils to fry foods is with the potential for heart disease. Different types of oil have been implicated in the development of high blood cholesterol, and the jury is still out concerning some of them. Saturated fats, such as coconut oil and lard, have a bad reputation, and are thought to add to your chances of heart disease if you eat too much of them. However, they are a lot more stable at room temperature than other fats and less likely to produce dangerous compounds when used for frying.
Poly- and mono-unsaturated fats are generally seen as good for the heart, and most vegetable oils fall into these two categories. Canola oil is sometimes said to be more likely to produce harmful effects, however, there are only a few studies that back up this viewpoint, and hundreds that show canola to be one of the safest oils to use.
There is a current consensus that trans-fats are one of the main causes of heart disease and should be absolutely avoided. They can be found in any oils which are said to be “partially hydrogenated” on the label and are also included in most margarines and some vegetable shortening.
You should only cook with oil occasionally, but in moderation, there’s no reason it can’t be included as part of a healthy diet. Use the right oils to ensure that you get the most benefits.