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The Latest Claim: Some ‘Fried Foods’ OK for the Heart

Article / Review by on January 31, 2012 – 9:16 pmNo Comments

The Latest Claim: Some ‘Fried Foods’ OK for the Heart

The Latest Claim: Some ‘Fried Foods’ OK for the HeartNo, it’s not carte blanche to toss aside the carrot sticks and gleefully chow down on drive-thru fare.

Rather, new research from Spain (which followed 40,000-some Spaniards for 12 years), suggests that not all “fried foods” deserve to be demonized. Researchers found that, so long as the cooking involves healthier fats, like olive and canola oils, the occasional indulgence might not significantly increase risk for heart disease. What’s more, it may even be a smart part of a balanced diet.

“Like so much nutrition advice, this all boils down to moderation,” said registered dietitian Tracy Cherry, a clinical nutrition specialist with URMC’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. “Integrating a reasonable amount of heart-healthy oil into our cooking can go a long way toward keeping our diet interesting – and maintainable.”

In the interview below, Cherry talks about the rightful place for some “fried fare” on our daily plate.

Scripts: There seems to be a bit of a disconnect, here. In the U.S., the term “fried” is usually a dead giveaway that a food item is chocked full of fat, salt, and other unsavory ingredients – but this study is almost putting a halo on some fried foods. Can you expound?

Cherry: Here in the U.S., the notion of “frying” foods conjures up thoughts of battered fish fries and greasy, sugared donuts (which almost act like sponges to soak up fats!). But this study took place in Spain, where residents eat a more traditional Mediterranean diet; they’re rarely breading and deep-frying salty, sugary foods in Crisco-like fats – but rather, they’re stir-frying veggies or pan-frying undressed fish, using just a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. There’s a world of difference between these two concepts of what it means to “fry.”

Scripts: Tell us more about heart-healthy oils.

Cherry: Really, oils in general – especially olive and canola oils (though peanut, grape seed, and sunflower oils aren’t a bad second choice) – are more heart-healthy than solid, saturated fats, which tend to raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood, upping one’s risk for heart disease.

But portion size matters, too. Oils and solid fats pack the same calorie content, tablespoon for tablespoon, so it’s smart to budget just a teaspoon of oil per serving when you’re cooking. That’s why stir-frying, sauteing and pan-frying are far better options; you can cook a really flavorful meal without having to douse it in a bath of bubbling fat. For an even leaner option, you can supplement the pan oil with a few splashes of water, or a cooking spray; it can help with the cost, too, and no one will be the wiser.

Scripts: You touched on this earlier, but does breading really make a big difference?

Cherry: You’d be surprised, but yes, it does. Again, it almost mops up oils – and the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend just one or two tablespoons of fats per person per day. (Remember, there are plenty of other sources that can supply fat – mayonnaise, peanut butter, olives, and walnuts – so there’s no need to “spend” all of your allowance in one place.)

Scripts: You talk about fats very matter-of-factly – as if they’re not necessarily bad. Why is that?

Cherry: It’s the truth! Back in the 80s and 90s, the party line was that all fats were evil; diet foods touted “no-fat” labels with pride, as Americans ruthlessly ridded the full-fat versions from their cupboards.

Now, we’re much savvier; we realize that small amounts of fat are beneficial, even essential, to our diet. Brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like walnuts and fish, promote vigorous neurodevelopment in infants (even in-utero). Omega-3’s are also thought to help pull down triglycerides (bad fats in the bloodstream), help patients with arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and lower overall blood pressure.

Scripts: So, what’s the takeaway?

Cherry: I might sounds like a broken record, but it’s important: Moderation. Using modest amounts of healthy oils while cooking can go a long way toward creating a flavorful, heart-healthy meals that won’t derail your diet.

To learn more about heart care at URMC – including our cardiac rehabilitation programs –click here.

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*  The above story is adapted from materials provided by University of Rochester Medical Center

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University of Rochester Medical Center

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