The best air fryers have become a popular, kitchen appliance, changing the way we fry our foods. For those who haven't caught on yet, air fryers are mini, countertop convection ovens that circulate hot air at high speeds. As a result, these brown and crisp foods in no time, using little or no oil, and making it a far healthier alternative than deep frying in a vat of oil. But are air fryers actually healthy?
After owning an air fryer, I’ve certainly put mine to good use. And there’s no doubt that they produce crispier and tastier results than conventional frying. But I do often whether air fryers are as healthy as they claim to be. While there’s much praise about the health benefits of an air fryer, are there any cons of air-fried foods?
We take a look at the benefits and risks of cooking in an air fryer, and whether they really are the healthier option.
If you're new to the world of air frying, check out how to use a air fryer for best results. And if you're planning on buying, be sure to check out these five pros and five cons of cooking with an air fryer.
How do air fryers work?
Typically, air fryers work by convection heat that circulates hot air around a food item. Similar to a fan oven, this relies on a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction to crisp up the exterior of foods, with tasty results. Not only does this require minimal oil or fat but offers the same crunchy texture as traditional fried foods like chicken and French fries.
Health benefits of using an air fryer
1. Air fryers use less oil and lowers fat
The number one benefit is that air fryers use significantly less oil than deep frying or shallow frying. A study by the National Library of Medicine showed that food cooked in an air fryer had a substantially lower level of fat absorbed. In addition, while most deep-fried recipes require up to 3 three cups (750 ml) of oil, air-fried foods usually need only about one tablespoon (15 ml). This means using an air fryer can seriously reduce the overall fat content in meals.
2. Air fryers can cut calories
Deep-fried foods are high in fat, but higher in calories, contributing to weight gain and other illnesses. Since air fryers use little to no oil, these can reduce calorie intake by up to 80%. Compared to deep frying, this alone makes it a much healthier alternative.
3. Air fryers helps to preserve nutrients in foods
Since air fryers work from convection heat, this helps to preserve some nutrients often lost during the cooking/heating process. Nutrients such as vitamin C, and other protective plant compounds (polyphenols), are beneficial for our overall health and well-being.
4. Air fryers have lower levels of acrylamide
Acrylamide is a known carcinogen that is formed when starchy foods, like potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures (above 248 degrees F). Research from the National Library of Medicine (opens in new tab) showed that using an air fryer reduces the acrylamide compound by up to 90%, compared to deep fat frying. In which case, lowering levels is always a healthier option.
4. Air fryers are safer to use than deep frying
Typically, deep frying foods involves heating a large pot of oil to a high temperature, before placing foods into it. This can pose a safety risk, especially if scalding oil is spilled or splattered. Worse case, it can even catch fire if not careful. Although air fryers do get hot, as they heat up, there isn’t any risk of oil splashes or touching hot oil. However, always read the manual to ensure safety.
Health risks of using an air fryer
1. Air fried foods are not guaranteed to be healthier
Even though air fried foods are technically healthier than deep frying, let's face it, fried food is still fried food. If you use your air fryer on a daily basis and cook excessively with oil, there will always be associated health effects.These contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other ailments. Generally, it’s best to limit your intake of fried foods, and include other methods of cooking such as baking, steaming, grilling or pan-searing with one of the best cast iron skillets. What’s more, you can buy air fryer combos with one of the best Instant Pots, if you prefer convenient cooking.
2. Not all ‘healthy’ foods can be air-fried
While air frying uses less oil than deep frying, it can have a negative impact on certain foods. For instance, studies show that cooking sardines or other fatty fish varieties in an air fryer lowered the healthy fat content (poly-unsaturated fats), and slightly increased the cholesterol oxidation products. All of which may affect cholesterol levels, and cause health issues.
If you want to know other foods that won’t cook well in an air fryer, read the 9 things you should never put in an air fryer for peace of mind. While you're at it, make sure you're not making any of these air fryer mistakes as well.
3. Air fryers can prevent the consumption of ‘good oils’
Despite using less oil and lowering calories, not all oils are bad for our health. Paradoxically, air fryers can prevent us from consuming the high-quality oils. Olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil are all beneficial for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins in foods, so it’s advisable to include those into your diet if possible. In any case, there are ways to learn how to cook using less oil, and know how to dispose of cooking oil the right way.
4. Cheaper air fryers may be harmful
We all love a great bargain, but always look for a good quality air fryer. Cheap air fryers could be made from harmful materials or plastics that release chemicals into your food. In which case, you should consider one made with stainless steel materials, or plastic that is free of bisphenol A (BPA).
The bottom line
So, are air fryers actually healthy? The answer all depends on how frequently you use it, and what you’re cooking in it. There are certainly huge benefits such as low fat and calorie intake. Plus, they can retain certain nutrients in foods that are usually lost during cooking. However, you are still consuming fried foods which should always be limited. Overall, air fryers certainly are a healthier alternative to frying up a feast — just use it in moderation.
Next: Air fryer vs halogen oven — which is cheaper to use?