How Healthy Are Air Fryers?

They're healthier than deep fryers.

Most people might find the concept of crisp, golden French fries without the grease quite appealing, so they turn to an air fryer. But do these relatively affordable kitchen appliances cook food in a healthier way than traditional deep fryers? Here's a take on their health benefits, plus some tips for using one.

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How Does an Air Fryer Work?

Air fryers seem quite miraculous: You fill a basket with food, pop it into the device, and after hitting a few buttons, you've got morsels that are crunchy on the outside but still tender on the inside—little to no oil necessary.

But despite their name, air fryers don't "fry" food, per se. They work by "spraying hot air around raw materials to promote the even contact between food and oil droplets in hot air," according to a January 2022 Food Science & Nutrition article. In other words, the airflow, combined with temperatures of about 350 degrees to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, crisps the outer layer without drying out the center. So, unlike deep fryers, which rely on submerging food in sizzling oil, air fryers work by rapidly and evenly circulating hot air around your tasty bites.

However, while nearly anything can be deep-fried, the same isn't true for air fryers. For example, air fryers don't do well with high-moisture foods like cheese. They also don't get along with battered fare since light, loose ingredients will get whipped around in the appliance. Therefore, you may be unable to use the machine as an alternative to deep frying for absolutely everything. Instead, stick to air-frying ingredients like tofu, pumpkin seeds, chicken, or starchier veggies.

How Are Air Fryers Healthy?

Generally, air fryers can be a healthy cooking method when compared to deep fryers in a few ways.

Air Fryers Can Aid in Weight Management

When using an air fryer, the food is typically lower in fat: The authors of a November 2019 Food Reviews International article noted that "the air frying process allows the manufacture of a product that contains low-fat content." This is important because, as a February 2021 Nature Medicine article noted, diets low in fat are associated with appetite control—a crucial component of weight loss.

Air fryers also can reduce calories since they require significantly less oil. For example, air-fried foods may only need one teaspoon of oil, adding 40 calories. In contrast, just one tablespoon of oil absorbed into foods during deep frying adds about 120 calories.

Air Fryers Reduce the Amount of Acrylamide in Food

Deep-fried foods contain high amounts of acrylamide—a substance formed when carbohydrates are heated to high temperatures—which is linked to heart disease, per an International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article published in November 2021.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also classifies acrylamide as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" based on animal studies that have found it can lead to cancer. However, results from human studies are mixed, and more research is needed, according to the NCI.

The good news is air fryers appear to produce lower amounts of acrylamide. In fact, researchers found that air frying chicken reduced acrylamide formation compared to deep frying chicken in a Foods study published in May 2020.

Air Fryers Don't Produce Some Toxic Compounds Found in Deep-fried Foods

Cutting back on oil via air frying has other health benefits as well. For instance, when oil is reused for deep frying (as is often the case at restaurants), the quality degrades, depleting food of antioxidants and producing harmful chemicals called reactive oxygen species, according to a September 2015 study published in the International Journal of Science Technology and Management.

Per the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), antioxidants can help delay or prevent some instances of cell damage. Thus, consuming foods with fewer antioxidants and more harmful byproducts compromise the body's antioxidant defense system, thus increasing the risk of disease. It also might cause blood vessel inflammation (which reduces blood flow) and high blood pressure.

Tips for Using an Air Fryer

An air fryer can be a great addition to your kitchen beyond being a healthier alternative to a deep fryer: It can also save time spent cooking and cleaning. However, here are some health-focused tips to keep in mind when using an air fryer:

  • Read the instructions: Most air fryers require you to leave at least five inches of space above the exhaust vent. Otherwise, they become a fire hazard.
  • Use minimal amounts of oil: Toss or brush food with about one to two teaspoons of oil per serving. Not only can too much oil up the calorie and fat content, but it can also cause smoking, making food taste bad and impacting your health by producing free radicals that can harm cells.
  • Avoid aerosol sprays: Aerosol cooking oils can potentially break down the air fryer's non-stick basket, releasing toxic fumes.
  • Pair with other cooking methods: While air fryers are great, switch up your cooking methods throughout the week via sautéing, slow cooking, and steaming. This will further reduce your exposure to chemicals like acrylamide. It also ensures you enjoy a wider variety of foods—not just those compatible with air fryers—which increases the spectrum of nutrients you consume.
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