Yes, my title is a play on a classic hair product jingle, but I have no desire to delve into tired, century-old debates about ‘good and bad hair.’ My article is
Despite the insanity of taco shells made of fried chicken, it’s common knowledge that fried chicken isn’t the healthiest food. Even Kentucky fried chicken has grilled chicken on the menu nowadays. Nonetheless, how unhealthy is fried chicken? Is it R Kelly unhealthy, or is it just Lauryn Hill unhealthy? Should we stop eating it altogether? Or, should we just think twice before trying to see it in concert…I mean eat it?
A recent study in BMJ provides some insights into how unhealthy fried foods are, including fried chicken. In this post, I breakdown the study’s findings for the sake of helping you next time you break out flour, a paper bag, and an old jar of triple-fried, golden-brown oil that looks like the ghost of Crisco’s past.
Why did the researchers decide to study adverse health effects associated with fried foods?
According to national nutrition surveys, 36% of adults in the US eat at fast food restaurants every day. Fried foods account for most of the fast foods people eat. This notion isn’t surprising; French fries are nearly universal side dishes at fast food joints.
Despite popular belief, no single racial or ethnic group has the market cornered when it comes to consuming fried foods. Eating fried foods is as American as eating hot dogs or watching NASCAR.
Prior studies have associated higher consumption of fried foods with an elevated risk of developing type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In contrast, the researchers in this study examined the association with eating fried foods and an increased risk of death from heart disease, cancer, or from any other cause in American women.
How did the researchers assess the association between fried food consumption and the risk of dying?
The researchers used data from dietary questionnaires from 106,966 women, aged 50-79, participating in the Women’s Health Initiative study. The study enrolled women between 1993 in 1998. The researchers recently re-evaluated data from the study’s participants in February 2017.
During the study’s duration, over 31,000 women died. Of these women, 9320 women died from heart disease, whereas, 8358 and 13,880 died from cancer and other causes respectively.
To determine if fried food consumption was associated with an increased risk of dying, the researchers assessed the dietary questionnaires for the following fried foods:
- French fries
- Fried rice
- Potato chips
- Corn chips
- Tortilla chips
- Crispy tacos and tostadas
- Fried Indian bread
- Fried crackers
The researchers additionally looked at demographic characteristics, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol intake, coffee intake, drug use, medical history, and overall dietary quality.
What did the researchers find out about fried foods and the risk of mortality? Take a guess…
After taking into account lifestyle factors, overall dietary quality, level of education, and income, the study’s investigators found an association with frequently eating fried foods and an increased risk of death from any cause. They also found an association with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. In fact, those who consumed one or more servings of fried foods per day had an 8% higher risk of death compared to those who did not.
The researchers also assessed the association frequent consumption of specific fried foods and an increased risk of death. They found that one or more servings of fried chicken every day were associated with a 13% increased risk of death from any cause and a 12% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to people who didn’t eat fried foods.
The researchers also linked eating fried fish/shellfish every day to a 7% higher risk of dying from any cause and a 13% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to not eating fried foods.
In terms of cancer, the researchers did not find a clear association between fried food consumption and an increased risk of developing cancer.
The researchers also found that regularly eating fried foods was associated with a poor diet overall.
They found that one or more servings of fried chicken every day were associated with a 13% increased risk of death from any cause and a 12% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to people who didn’t eat fried foods.
What are the study’s weaknesses?
Only including women is one of the study’s major weak points. It’s not that women don’t deserve special attention. The issue is that it’s hard to generalize the findings to men since they were not in the study.
Despite the lack of men in the study, it’s obvious that frequently eating fried foods isn’t ideal for men either #ijs.
The study also relies on questionnaire data. Studies of this nature inherently can fall victim to recall bias.
The researchers also pointed out that they didn’t tease out the impact of subtle variations in frying food. Would frying foods in olive oil versus peanut oil have different associations with mortality? Does it matter if you deep fry or pan fry foods? What about the batter—surely using an egg-based batter affects mortality more than water-based tempura batter? The investigators acknowledge that they did not answer these questions.
Also, the researchers did not evaluate the association between the degree of frying and the risk of mortality. Chicken wings fried ‘hard’ are probably worse for you than lightly battered ones.
Why am I writing about fried foods?
I get it; fried foods are delicious. My family has roots in the South, so I’m familiar with the deliciousness of deep frying. However, I’ve seen this deliciousness contribute to heart attacks and strokes.
In my weight management, I routinely discuss cutting back on fried foods because of their effects on body weight. Most people aren’t surprised by the need to cut back on fried foods when trying to lose weight. However, the clear association between fried foods and an increased risk of dying may surprise a few people.
The point of this blog post isn’t to scare you into buying an a
What’s the bottom line?
- Consider buying an air f
- The study found an association between fried foods and increased risks of death overall and specifically from cardiovascular disease.
- Be careful with eating fried foods every day.
- Don’t forget that tortilla chips, some crackers, and potato chips count as fried foods.
Sun, Y., Liu, B., Snetselaar, L. G., Robinson, J. G., Wallace, R. B., Peterson, L. L., & Bao, W. (2019). Association of fried food consumption with all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed), 364, k5420.
Powell LM, Nguyen BT, Han E. Energy intake from restaurants: demographics and socioeconomics, 2003-2008. Am J Prev Med. 2012 Nov;43(5):498-504. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.07.041.
Leah E Cahill, An Pan, Stephanie E Chiuve, Qi Sun, Walter C Willett, Frank B Hu, Eric B Rimm, Fried-food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease: a prospective study in 2 cohorts of US women and men, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 100, Issue 2, August 2014, Pages 667–675, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.084129
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.