Are air-fryers healthy?
Air-fryers are sold as a healthy alternative to deep-fat frying, but do they live up to the claims? We asked registered nutritionist, Nicola Shubrook to explain the health benefits and drawbacks of air-frying
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What is an air-fryer and how does it work?
An air-fryer is a kitchen appliance that cooks by circulating hot air around the food. The food is heated by convection which creates a crunchy, crispy exterior requiring minimal fat, making it both convenient and a lower fat method for cooking foods like chips and fried chicken.
The benefits of air-frying include:
- It uses less fat
- Lowers calorie instead, thus helping weight management
- Can be a safer way of cooking
- May preserve nutrients
- Reduces acrylamide, the compound found most in deep fried food
Top 5 health benefits of air-frying
1. A lower fat method of cooking
Air-fryers use significantly less oil than deep fat fryers, and a 2015 study demonstrated that food cooked using an air-fryer were as a result substantially lower in fat. An air-fryer does this by heating the food in hot air which contains fine oil droplets.
2. May help weight management
Deep-fried foods are both high in fat and calories, so swapping these foods for those cooked in an air-fryer may help lower calorie intake, however, this does depend on how often frying, as a cooking method, is employed in the diet.
3. Lower levels of acrylamide
There is some evidence that using an air-fryer reduces a compound known as acrylamide by up to 90 per cent, compared to deep fat frying. Acrylamide is a chemical substance that is formed when starchy foods, like potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C). Acrylamide is a known carcinogen.
Read more: What is acrylamide and is it a cancer risk?
4. Air-fryers may be safer in the kitchen
Deep-frying involves heating a large deep pan of oil to a high temperature. This may pose a safety risk in the kitchen because hot oil may spill, splash or catch fire. Air-fryers, when used in accordance with instructions, do not pose the same safety risks.
5. May preserve nutrients
Convection heat, such as that used in an air-fryer may preserve certain nutrients during the cooking process, these include vitamin C as well as numerous protective plant compounds, called polyphenols.
So, is air-frying healthy and safe for everyone?
Overall, air-fryers are a healthier alternative to deep-fat frying, but food cooked in an air-fryer is still classed as a fried food. Fried food has been shown time and again to contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, so if you use an air-fryer, use it as an occasional cooking method, rather than every day.
One example of a negative effect air-frying may have on food, and on your health was illustrated by a study that showed cooking fatty varieties of fish such as sardines in an air-fryer decreased the healthy fat content (poly-unsaturated fats) and slightly increased the cholesterol oxidation products, which may negatively affect cholesterol levels.
As well as being able to cook and bake almost anything, with the convenience of cutting your cooking time up by a half, air-frying can be a great way of managing your intake of unhealthy fats and providing you with ingredients for a balanced diet. This includes sources of lean protein like our air-fryer chicken breasts, air-fryer salmon with greens and grains and healthier air-fryer doughnuts for that post-dinner treat. We also know how important it is to make the most of the produce we buy and using dry heat via air-fryers for meals can definitely preserve the goodness we get from vegetables and proteins. This also is beneficial when considering acrylamide, the compound created when starchy foods are roasted at high heat; an air-fryer reduces this effect by 90 per cent. However, if you're using an air-fryer purely to get healthier, be sure to follow advice on how to cook foods effectively, such as using less oil, ensuring smaller portions and not relying on just alternatives to fried food. Air-fryers are, generally, best used as a way of cooking proteins with less fats, preserving nutrients, whilst also boosting your plate with steamed and oven-cooked ingredients.
Air-fryer guides and recipes
This content was updated on 20th October 2023.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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