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JODY HOLTON: Are air fryers really a healthy option for cooking?

We all know that fried foods are certainly on the “naughty” list. Although it’s well understood that foods fried in hydrogenated oils can lead to a wide range of health complications, including weight gain, they’re still readily consumed each and every day.

Like any industry, especially the food and cooking sector, if there’s a need for something in the market, a product will be made to meet that demand. As we learn more and more about our diet, more specifically unhealthy fats, new solutions are offered to those aiming to protect their health.

Many of us are consuming a diet high in fat, salt and sugar. For those who love a side of sweet potato fries here and there, is an air fryer a healthier solution? Can you still enjoy those foods you love without the guilt and calories?

Less than a decade ago, the revolutionary air fryer was introduced to the market. Instead of using fat and oil to fry foods, this appliance was designed to fry without needing to dunk food in oil. In fact, most foods within this cooking device require no oil at all — just hot air.

In just 10 to 12 minutes, for instance, you can cook a batch of fries, using just half a spoonful of oil. And that’s just the beginning. From cakes to nuggets, burgers to steaks, foods can be rapidly cooked to achieve the same results when frying, toasting, baking or roasting.

More than 7 million have been sold around the globe. At up to $299 a unit for some models, is it really worth the investment? Is it a healthier solution?

Researchers found that air frying significantly reduced moisture and oil uptake. In terms of free fatty acids, peroxide values and other physicochemical changes, researchers reported greater changes in the oil extracted from traditional frying methods, in comparison to air frying. Overall, researchers concluded that using an air-fryer is, in fact, a healthier technique.

However, don’t stop reading yet. One important thing to note is the possibility of increased free radicals. Even if little oil is used, the type of oil, the temperature, the food that’s been cooked and aeration all influence the formation of free radicals. If you’re a fan of air frying, at least use oils that do not oxidize easily, such as coconut oil.

The simple answer, if you are in the habit of eating quantities of traditionally fried foods, is yes.

But, and you knew this was coming …Before you jump for joy, however, when looking at the big picture, it’s better to move away from “fried” foods, even if they’re not dredged in oil. At the end of the day, the foods that air-frying enthusiasts gravitate towards aren’t the healthiest options.

Fries, donuts, breaded chicken are all high in carbs and starches that turn to sugar in your system. Not only are these types of foods void of key nutrients, but when cooking at high temperatures, certain vitamins and minerals are reduced during the cooking process, including:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E and K
  • Minerals: potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium
  • Water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and B-complex vitamins

Based on the air fryer, instead of getting excited, thinking you can eat more high-fat foods without the associated risk of frying, why not invest in more fresh whole foods? After all, more nutrient-dense, raw foods will do you good — and it’s not like you’re going to be air frying eggplant or spinach, are you?

The moral of the story here is that air frying is certainly a healthier solution for those who love a bowl of fries or a quick-and-easy baked cake. But, when it all boils down, this device encourages you to choose low-quality, nutrient-void foods.

Although air frying may seem like a fancy device that can improve your health, just remember this: cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy. Go back to basics. Eat a colorful diet and you’ll be on your way to positive health.