The pros of an air fryer: less calories and fat, less greasy smell and less time cooking. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what to watch out for…
If there’s one thing I’m honest about it’s my one addiction: french fries. While I, as a certified nutritional therapist, preach about health concerns around fried food and GMOs and “forever chemicals” (PFAs) in fast food, like kryptonite to Superman, I am powerless against frozen Russet potato slices submerged in a deep fryer, saturated with highly-inflammatory vegetable oil.
Hey, I’m not perfect but I also preach the 90% rule: live a healthy lifestyle 90% of the time and live a little, within reason.
But out of all the vices I rarely indulge in—ice cream, coffee, alcohol—eating french fries is the unhealthiest. That’s why I wanted to take a closer look at air fryers.
Because if I start using my air fryer a lot, will I eat french fries more often, duped into thinking that they are healthy so I can indulge in my favorite vice more frequently?
If you see an ad for an air fryer, the evidence seems pretty conclusive: they are way healthier than traditional frying. Here’s why:
- Air fryers use much less oil and fat
- Because of less oil, foods cooked with air fryers have less calories
- No greasy, fried-food smell
- Easy and tasty way to prepare vegetables for kids who don’t like steamed veggies
- Using an air fryer may save time
- Saves energy (lower electric bills)
Less fat. Less calories. No stank. Makes veggies more appealing. Saves time and maybe even a few pennies … What’s not to like?
Well, before I tell you about the downsides to cooking with an air fryer, how in the heck do they work in the first place?
How Air Fryers Work
If you’re a serious foodie, then you know what a convection oven is. Unlike a conventional oven, a convection oven contains a fan and exhaust system that disperses hot, dry air evenly. This process makes veggies, meat and, yes, my fave, french fries, have a crispy mouthfeel without drying out the inside like a regular oven.
Air fryers work in a similar way. They also have a hole-filled basket that you place the food in. The holes in the basket allow the air to circulate and cook every nook and cranny of the food. And it’s this circulating hot, dry air that gives my yummy french fries a very similar crispiness to a regular fryer, but without all that hydrogenated vegetable oil that leads to inflammation in the arteries.
Benefits Of Cooking With An Air Fryer
I highlighted the big benefits above. But let’s focus on the fact that air fryers use less oil than conventional frying. I’ve read estimates that say air frying can reduce the calorie count by up to 80%.
That seems a bit excessive. But cooking oil is a dietary fat, which contains 9 calories per gram. Each tablespoon of oil contains 13 grams, which is approximately 120 calories in just one tablespoon. If you’re eating a lot of fries, you’re probably consuming several hundred calories from the cooking oil. For cooking a big batch of fries in an air fryer, you only need one or two teaspoons of oil.
So you can see why this is a huge advantage of using an air fryer.
Another benefit of using an air fryer instead of conventional frying, according to WebMD, is that it produces less of the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide. In fact, air frying may reduce the amount of acrylamide by 90%.
The Downsides of Using An Air Fryer
But before I indulge in my favorite vice, I’m proceeding with caution because there are a few things I’ve read while researching air fryers that have made me think twice.
For starters, some air fryers are made with Teflon. Teflon is the trademarked chemical name of polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE. PTFE is the non-sticking chemical compound that makes it easy to clean pots and pans. Some air fryer models use PTFE in the baskets to make it easier to clean the grease and oil.
But according to a study, even at normal cooking temperatures, PTFE-coated cookware releases various gases and chemicals that present mild to severe toxicity.
The researchers of the study seem to suggest that PTFE is bad for human health, but exactly how bad is tough to say. They write, “the toxicity and fate of ingested PTFE coatings are also not understood.”
So if you’re going to buy an air fryer, purchase one with either a ceramic or stainless steel basket.
Another risk of using an air fryer frequently, especially for animal protein is that any type of frying creates free-radical damage through oxidation. Oxidation is what causes premature aging. Yes, air frying might be healthier than conventional frying, but that doesn’t necessarily give your arteries a free pass to eat animal flesh more often.
Supposedly, adding fresh parsley or chives to meat can prevent some of the oxidation, but I wouldn’t rely on that.
In addition, if you’re cooking wild salmon or grass-fed beef, both of which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, air frying can reduce the amount of omega-3s in the cooking process.
Best Cooking Oil To Use With An Air Fryer
Remember, a major benefit of cooking with an air fryer is that it reduces the amount of harmful vegetable oil that conventional french fries are cooked in. But the paradox of using an air fryer is that because it requires much less cooking oil, you might be depriving your body of healthy fats.
So if you are cooking with an air fryer, use avocado oil or walnut oil and drizzle olive oil on your salad.
Using an air fryer is better than regular frying. But for optimal health, lightly cooking your food by sautéing or baking or light grilling may produce less oxidation
But every now and then, I may just pull out my ceramic air fryer and give in to my french fry addiction.