Advertised as a healthy, guilt-free way to enjoy your favorite fried foods, air fryers have become a popular kitchen appliance.
Many claim they help lower the fat content of popular foods like french fries, chicken wings, empanadas, and fish sticks.
But just how healthy is cooking with an air fryer?
This article will examine the evidence and determine whether the benefits of using an air fryer outweigh the risks.
What is an air fryer and how does it work?
An air fryer is a popular kitchen appliance that makes fried foods such as meat, pastries, and potato chips.
It circulates hot air around the food to produce a crunchy, crispy exterior.
This also results in a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction. It occurs when an amino acid and a reducing sugar react in the presence of heat and alters the color and flavor of foods.
Air-fried foods are touted as a healthy alternative to deep-fried foods, thanks to their lower fat and calorie content.
Instead of completely submerging the food in oil, air-frying requires just a tablespoon (15 mL) of oil to achieve a similar taste and texture to deep-fried foods.
Summary: Air fryers are kitchen appliances that fry foods by circulating hot air around the food. It’s claimed that air-fried foods are healthier than deep-fried foods because they require less oil to produce a similar taste.
Using an air fryer can help cut the fat content
Deep-fried foods are generally more fat than foods prepared using other cooking methods. For example, a chicken breast that has been fried contains more fat than an equal amount of roasted chicken.
Some brands claim that using an air fryer instead of a deep fryer can help reduce the fat content by up to 75%.
This is because air fryers require significantly less fat for cooking than traditional deep fryers. While many recipes for deep-fried dishes call for up to 3 cups (750 mL) of oil, air-fried foods need only about one tablespoon (15 mL).
This means deep fryers use up to 50 times more oil than air fryers. Even though the food does not absorb all that oil, using an air fryer can significantly reduce the overall fat content.
Studies comparing the characteristics of deep-fried and air-fried french fries found that air-frying resulted in a final product with substantially less fat and crispy texture but a similar color and moisture content.
This can have a major impact on your health. Some studies suggest that a higher fat intake from vegetable oils increases the risk of conditions like heart disease and inflammation.
However, results are mixed, and other reviews of studies suggest that fats in vegetable oil may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Summary: Air fryers use less oil than deep fryers and can produce foods with significantly lower fat content.
Switching to an air fryer may aid in weight loss
Deep-fried foods aren’t just higher in fat but also higher in calories and may contribute to weight gain.
One large review of studies found that a higher intake of fried foods was associated with a greater risk for obesity.
If you want to trim your waistline, swapping your deep-fried foods for air-fried foods may be a good place to start.
Clocking in at nine calories in every gram of fat, dietary fat contains over twice as many calories per gram as other macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates.
Because air-fried foods are lower in fat than deep-fried ones, switching to an air fryer may be an easy way to help cut calories and help you manage your weight.
Suggested read: What is the healthiest way to cook and eat eggs?
Summary: Air-fried foods are lower in fat than deep-fried foods, which may help reduce calorie intake and help you manage your weight.
Air fryers can decrease the formation of harmful compounds
Besides being higher in fat and calories, frying food can create potentially dangerous compounds like acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a compound formed in carbohydrate-rich foods during high-heat cooking methods like frying.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide is classified as a “probable human carcinogen,” meaning that some research shows that acrylamide may be linked to cancer development.
The Environmental Protection Agency also finds that acrylamide is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans”.
Air-frying your food instead of a deep fryer may help lower its acrylamide content. One older study found that air-frying reduced acrylamide by up to 90%, compared with traditional deep-frying.
However, it’s important to note that other harmful compounds may still be formed during the process of air-frying.
Aldehydes, heterocyclic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are all other potentially dangerous chemicals formed with high-heat cooking and may be associated with higher cancer risk.
Further research is needed to determine how air-frying may affect the formation of these compounds.
Summary: Using an air fryer can reduce dietary acrylamide, a compound associated with cancer, compared to deep-frying.
Benefits of using an air fryer
Air-fried foods may be healthier than deep-fried foods in several ways.
They’re lower in fat, calories, and potentially harmful compounds in traditionally fried foods.
If you want to lose weight or lower your fat intake, switching to an air fryer may be a good choice instead of deep-frying.
Suggested read: Are baked potatoes healthy? Nutrition, benefits, and downsides
It’s also worth considering that since an air fryer uses less oil than a deep fryer, it may be easier to spring for higher quality but more expensive oils, such as avocado oil.
However, remember that just because it may be a better option than deep-frying doesn’t mean it’s the best option for your overall health.
Summary: Air-fried foods are lower in fat, calories, and acrylamide than deep-fried foods, making them the healthier option. Nevertheless, these are still fried foods.
Downsides of using an air fryer
Although air-fried foods may be healthier than deep-fried foods, there are some drawbacks to consider.
Compared with traditional deep-frying, air-frying takes longer to cook foods.
In one study comparing the characteristics of deep-fried french fries with those made in an air fryer, it took 21 minutes to air-fry the fries versus only 9 minutes for deep-frying.
In addition to requiring longer cooking times, air-frying foods produce a slightly different taste and a less crispy consistency than deep-frying.
And it’s important to note that while air-frying reduces the formation of harmful chemicals like acrylamide and advanced glycation end products compared to deep-frying, air-fried foods contain these chemicals that should be limited in your diet.
Summary: Although air-frying may be healthier than deep-frying, harmful chemicals are still present at lower levels in air-fried foods. Additionally, air fryers take longer to cook food, producing a slightly different taste and texture than deep frying.
An air fryer is a healthier option than deep frying foods and can be an inventive way to fry not only meats and potatoes but other nutritious foods such as broccoli, yams, tofu, or eggs.
Compared with deep-frying, using an air fryer can reduce the amount of fat, calories, and potentially harmful compounds in your food.