Bad news first: fried foods are still lousy for you. According to a new study tracking the eating habits and disease history of 100,000 men and women, people who ate fried foods four to six times a week faced much higher odds of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes—increasing their chances by 23% and 39%, respectively. Unsurprisingly, daily trips to the deep-fat fryer raised those odds even more.
The chief culprit, of course, is the oils foods are fried in, which can lower good cholesterol, raise bad cholesterol, clog arteries, and generally do damage to our bodies entirely out of proportion to the passing delights of a plate of cheese fries. Worst among these villains are partially hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. artificial trans fats), which made headlines last year when the Food and Drug Administration issued a “preliminary determination” stripping them of their designation as “generally recognized as safe.” This isn’t news—many fast-food chains and food manufacturers eliminated trans fats from their foods years ago, and trans fats have been banned outright in some cities, like New York, which saw the average trans fat content of restaurant meals drop from 3 grams to .5 grams from 2007, when the law was passed, to 2009. Trans fats do persist in some foods, though—including shortening and margarine, biscuits, cookies, microwave popcorn—and in the fryers of less health-minded restaurants.
As we said, though, there’s some potentially good news as well. Study co-author Leah Cahill, a research fellow in nutritional sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, said swapping foods fried in those artificial trans fats for those prepared in trans-fat-free oils may reduce some of these health risks. Cahill believes trans-fat-free oils might offer fewer hazards. Anyone looking for a list of safer foods and restaurants, however, will have to wait, as she declined to offer detailed advice beyond her general advisory.
“I wish I could give more specific recommendations when it comes to healthy cooking oils,” Cahill told Time. “But our study is really a first take, and we need to know more before we can say what’s safe.” Until that happens, home cooks will want to reach for trans-fat-free oils, such as olive oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil, instead of those that include partially hydrogenated oil. We can also regard the deep-fat fryer for what it is: not our chief ally in the ongoing effort to achieve peak health.
Are fried foods completely off your menu? Or do you still indulge every now and then? Share your thoughts in the comments below.