Deep fried food -how unhealthy?

Deep fried food are very popular street food and snacks in India. Many, if not most of our national food obsessions such as samosa, kachori, jalebi, bhajiye, namkeen etc are fried food items. Fast foods such as McDonald burger patties, KFC fried chicken, french fries are all deep fried items.  Add to that the McCain ‘ready to cook’ French fries, smileys and Yummies chicken nuggets and fish fingers; the amount of deep fried food consumed can be quite high in some Indian households!

So is deep fried food really bad food? If, so why? And how can you eat some and still manage your nutrition? Read below to find out:

What frying does to food?

There are different ways of frying: shallow frying, stir frying and deep frying. In all of these deep frying is the most extensive method of frying and involves cooking food by immersion in very hot cooking oil. This process does two things: first, it adds colour, flavour and texture to the food. Second, it also adds a lot of calories and reduces some of the healthy nutrients.

In the process of deep frying the hot oil converts the outermost layer of food into a crust due to gelatinization of starch and denaturation of protein content. This prevents further water and nutrient loss from the inner parts of the food.

In general, the water content of food goes down and fat content increases by 8 to 25%. The higher the water content of food being fried , more will be oil absorption. This means adding nearly 40-70% additional calories for less water rich food stuff such as meats, fish etc., but for vegetables such as okra, brinjal etc. the calorie content can go higher. Fried food can give as many as 75% calories from fats, way above the recommended dietary principles

Deep frying increases the overall protein content of food by water loss, but also some amino acids such as lysine are reduced by nearly 17%

Among the vitamins vitamin C, B1, B2, B6 and A are lost to some extent (20-50%). Although that happens in other styles of cooking as well, in deep frying the loss is higher. For example boiling results in a 14% loss of carotenoids in vegetables, but the loss increases to 24% in case of deep frying.

Minerals are more or less preserved during deep frying. Linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid, is destroyed by deep frying

Batter frying and breading before frying add many more calories than just deep frying

Adding batter or breading before frying leads to much higher calorie and fat overload than only dusting in rubmix/spices . In fact there are five times as many calories in same weight of batter fried okra, when compared to raw or steamed okra.

Are there toxic substances produced during deep frying?

There are some harmful byproducts of deep frying. These result from oxidation of the oil or its interaction with food at high temperature. Among them the most commonly cited is acrylamide. Acrylamide can cause harm to nerves, increase chances of having cancer and also affect gene health. It is formed when some sugars and protein components (aspargine amino acid) is heated. The higher the temperature and cooking time, more acrylamide will be added

Other toxic substances formed  some monoepoxides, aldehydes and trans fatty acids. Some of these are carcinogenic, whereas others are bad for heart

So, deep frying does add some toxic substances to the oil and the food, but detailed and conclusive studies linking these to cancer or heart disease are not available. Deep frying undeniably loads up a lot more calories than other methods of cooking. Thus too much deep fried food can itself lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease

How many calories are there in a fried chicken breast?

A 3 oz serving (nearly 85 gms) of raw chicken breast has 93.5 calories, whereas a batter fried chicken breast with skin (KFC type) has 221 calories. Similar serving if breaded and deep fried, such as chicken nuggets, has 258 calories. The raw chicken breast has 19.55 gm protein, .85gm fat and no carbohydrate, whereas a breaded chicken deep fried dish of same weight has only 6 grams of protein but 14 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbs!


How many calories are there in an order of french fries?

A medium sized serving of McDonald’s french fries has 487 calories, whereas large serving has 685 calories


So, are air fryers good for you?

Air fryers can help you enjoy the texture and flavors of fried food, without the added burden of calories due to oil. So they are definitely a healthier option than gobbling up deep-fried samosas or chips etc. But, the other big problem in Indian deep fried food, or most Indian meals is too many unhealthy carbs! Having dishes made with ‘maida’ such as kachori etc. is not healthy anyway. But air fryer can help in making yummy healthy snacks such as carrot chips or sweet potato chips or occasional french fries.

How to make deep fried food healthier?

Choose right oil for deep frying

Using a fat/oil that is good for deep frying is the first step. Among animal origin fats ghee is commonly used in India and among vegetable oils most good street food outlets use groundnut oil in north India and coconut oil in south India. These are all fats with high saturated or mono saturated fatty acid content and high smoking points. There are good for deep frying. Among these also groundnut oil has the benefit of not having too many saturated fatty acids, which can raise blood cholesterol, if taken in large quantities.

Other good oils are olive oil and canola oil which withstand deep frying well.

The PUFA rich oils, sunflower and  safflower oils and soybean oil are not great choices for deep frying

Read more on ideal oil mix for Indian cooking

Cook right

When deep frying, the higher the temperature, faster food is cooked and lesser is oil absorption. But, when smoke starts coming out of oil, it is too hot and more toxic substances will form. So maintaining the right temperature is important

Batter and breading are not good for deep frying, so be mindful of the chicken nuggets, cheese nuggets or KFC buckets. Go for grilled or non batter fried choices in burger patties etc.

Discard oil after 3-4 cycles if all happen in same day. Also, do not keep used oil for long and reuse.

To find out whether your family is eating too much oil, use our FHI family monthly oil use calculator