Is Air Frying Healthy?

You've heard air frying is healthier, but is that the truth?

Although we're not that far into the 2020s, it's pretty safe to say the air fryer is the appliance of the decade.

Sure, it's based on technology we have had for decades (you can make the same foods with the convection setting on your oven), but that fact isn't stopping the small appliance from taking over our kitchens.

It's easy to see why. Air frying is a cooking method that's easier and faster than baking or deep frying, and many air fryer recipes are healthier than their deep or pan-fried counterparts.

But does air frying a food make it a healthier alternative, or is air fried food simply healthier because it doesn't require oil or butter? We dug deep to find the answers.

Air fryer machine cooking potato fried in kitchen. Lifestyle of new normal cooking.
CASEZY via Getty Images

Is Air Frying Healthy?

Air frying is touted as a healthy alternative to deep frying. This promise all lies in how air fryers operate: Air fryers cook by rapidly circulating hot air around food. Because of their smaller sizes, air fryers can get hot faster, reducing both the cook time and the need for cooking agents, such as oil. This eliminates much of the fat and calories that exist in deep-fried foods. Since you're not consuming as much fat or as many calories, you may cut your risk of developing health issues associated with eating high levels of fat and calories, such as heart disease and diabetes.

"Air fryers are versatile and can do just about everything a traditional fryer can, without the added fat and calories. These relatively new pieces of cooking equipment are able to provide consumers with the same crispy outer and tender inner textures we all love about fried food by using hot air," says Trista Best, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements.

Is Air Frying Healthier Than Deep Frying?

Because air frying requires significantly less oil than deep frying, it's absolutely a healthier cooking method.

Deep frying necessitates hot oil, and a small amount of it gets absorbed by the food, upping the calorie and fat content.

"With air frying, you are removing the added calories and the negative impact that those fats could have on an individual," says Zach Cordell, MS RDN.

Is Air Frying Healthier Than Baking?

Air frying and baking both work by exposing food to higher temperatures. Air fryers circulate hot air around the food, while ovens direct heat at the food from at least one direction, sometimes two. So in terms of healthfulness, both methods are about the same.

However, air fryers are equipped with a few advantages, such as a grease tray, that can minimize the amount of fat and calories in air-fried food. But, smart cooks can easily adjust the roasting or baking technique to separate oven-cooked food from the grease it expels. For example, you can roast meat on a baking rack set in a roasting pan so the excess calories and fat drip away.

Bottom Line: It Depends on What You're Eating

Just because a food is air fried doesn't mean it's healthy. While air frying itself is a healthier cooking method because it doesn't require much oil (if any), there are plenty of unhealthy foods that can be prepared in the air fryer, even if they do contain less fat and calories than their deep-fried counterparts.

"The health benefits of the air fryer really depend heavily on the quality of food you are using," Best says. "If you are making a high-fat meal or a meal based on refined carbohydrates, then it will not be healthy simply because it is being cooked in an air fryer."

That being said, much of an air fried food's overall nutrients depends on the ingredients you use. Cooking nutritious ingredients with a low-fat and low-calorie method such as the air fryer can — and will — yield nutritious recipes.

"If you plan to use an air fryer to reduce dietary fat, consider using ingredients in their most natural state such as cubed tofu, skinless chicken breast, and freshly sliced potatoes," says Shannon Costillo, RD and culinary coach.

Other Benefits of Air Frying

In addition to executing a healthier cooking method, air fryers can promote a healthier lifestyle because they're simple to operate and cook relatively quickly. By streamlining the cooking process, air fryers can encourage people to cook at home more and consume smaller amounts of processed or pre-made food.

"For me, having an air fryer has encouraged me to cook more and made it easier for me to cook," says Jeff Chen, RDN and wellness coach at Yanre Strength. "The faster cooking time also means I'm more likely to cook rather than get takeaways if I want food quickly.

"This cooking method reduces the risk of toxic acrylamide formation, which is a result of high frying temperatures used in traditional deep-frying methods. It is the healthiest way to cook because it produces healthy oils that won't oxidize when cooked at higher temperatures, unlike standard frying methods that use beef tallow or vegetable oil," Chen concludes.


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