Dangers of deep-fried food you rather not know about

Fried chicken Dangers of fried food (Image: Sandhya Raghavan)

I was watching a Will & Grace episode back in the day. The titular characters were eating Chinese takeout when Grace wonders aloud whether a suspiciously-shaped morsel was a mushroom or a cockroach. Will responds: “What do you care?  It’s deep-fried.” The thought really resonated with me because I love deep-fried food. But then, who doesn’t?

Yet, here I am again, being the bearer of bad news again, all thanks to a BMJ study. No surprises here, but fried food is bad for us.

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Life simply doesn’t want us to enjoy good things, and that’s a fact.

The study says that eating fried foods leads to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. But we know those are not the only negative health effects. Despite this knowledge, most of us are hypnotically drawn to fried foods.

Why does deep-fried food taste so good?

Food businesses all over the world know that we are cuckoo for fried stuff. That’s why most restaurants push fried foods in the menu because they know it sells.

Deep-fat frying is widely used in food industries because of its low cost and high demand, since it produces convenient food of high acceptability.

That’s from a study published in 2013 in the journal Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion.

Ever wondered why French fries taste much better than regular, steamed or boiled potatoes? Technically, boiled potatoes have two of the three ingredients in French fries — potatoes and salt. How does the addition of only oil or fat make the food exponentially better in taste?

The answer lies in changes in food brought on by deep-frying. Fat or oil changes the texture, aroma and flavour of foods through certain physical and chemical processes.

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Deep-fried “flavour” is a result of lipid oxidation, Maillard reaction ( a chemical process that creates new flavours, textures and aromas during cooking), hydrolysis and amino acid degradation. Frying also dehydrates the food, making it pleasingly crispy.

It’s this deliciousness that makes us oblivious to the dangers of deep-fried foods and we end up eating copious amounts at one go. Remember the taglines of potato chip brands — Pringles’ “Once you pop, you can’t stop” and Lays’ “No one can eat just one”? Corporations are already in on it.

Here are some scientific reasons why we are better off without deep-fried stuff.

Deep frying causes nutrient loss

Research points to nutrient loss during frying. Some nutrients like vitamins, thiamin and riboflavin, which are unstable at high temperatures, are lost when the food is fried. So deep-frying could leave your food a little less nutritional than before.

Deep frying nutrient loss table
Nutrients lost during deep frying (Image: Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion)

Could raise risk of heart problems

The conclusions on the effects of fried food on cardiovascular health have more or less been sketchy. Even as the debate rages on, most conventional views say that higher frequency of fried food eating is connected to adverse health effects. 

A 2015 study published in the Journal of American Heart Association says that there is a connection between the consumption of fried foods and the risk of heart failure.

Recent research in The BMJ has linked regular fried-food eating to heightened risk of death from any cause and of heart-related death among postmenopausal women.

Is high in calories (duh!)

Anything fried is obviously more calorific, because, hello, fat!. In case you are wondering whether there are studies to indicate the waist-expanding properties of fried food, there are plenty, just in case.

boiled vs fried potatoes calories
Fried foods are calorific (Image: My Food Data)

In a standard low-fat diet, only 30% of your calories should come from fats. National Cholesterol Education Program recommends reducing intake of saturated fats to less than 7% of your total calories. Just eating 100 grams of French fries breaches the limit.

Could worsen hypertension

Fried foods can be bad for your blood pressure, especially if you have hypertension. The connection between fried food and hypertension is debatable. But there is a study that says making a shift from frying to boiling foods has a positive effect on controlling blood pressure and obesity.

A cross-sectional study from Spain reported that eating fried food is linked to a higher prevalence of hypertension.

Oxidation during the frying process increases the amount of trans-fatty acids in food, increasing the risk of hypertension.

Raises risk of type 2 diabetes

If you like fast foods and if you like them fried, be prepared for type 2 diabetes. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked frequent fried-food consumption to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Even gestational diabetes (seen in pregnant women) seemed to rise with increased fried-food consumption.

Increases toxic content in food

Deep-frying food causes the Maillard reaction, which gives a certain flavour and texture to it. However, the effect can also increase acrylamide content in food.

Acrylamide is a neurotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic compound. Exposing food to high temperatures through deep frying changes the chemical composition of food. And voila, you have acrylamide!

Widely believed to be cancer-causing, acrylamide could increase the risk for cancers of the kidneys, uterus, gastrointestinal tract, brain and ovaries, studies say.

Can alter gut health

Your stomach houses millions of beneficial microbes that help regulate your immune system, improve the bioavailability of nutrients, decrease allergies and reduce risk of certain cancers. While eating fermented foods can nurture them, fried-food consumption may destroy their delicate balance.

Greasy foods are difficult to break down and can irritate the stomach, causing — you guessed it — diarrhoea. This can flush out the good guys and even boost the presence of bad bacteria in the gut.