Healthy living

Fried foods not always bad for the heart

Fried foods not always bad for the heart Sunflower and olive oils not linked to heart disease

Eating food which has been fried in olive or sunflower oil is not linked to heart disease or an earlier death, a new study has found.

Although the findings debunk the myth that all fried food is bad for the heart, the researchers stressed that the study took place in Spain, where sunflower and olive oil are routinely used for frying, and the results would likely be different for other countries which use lard and other types of cooking oils.

Frying is one of the most common methods of cooking in Western countries. Fried food is high in calories because the food absorbs the fat of the oils.

A diet rich in fat can increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, which are major risk factors for heart disease.

In the study, researchers from the Autonomous University of Madrid looked at the cooking methods of more than 40,000 adults, aged between 29 and 69, for around 11 years. All were questioned about what types of food they ate in a typical week and how it was cooked. None of the participants had heart disease at the start of the study.

The participants' diets were divided into four groups for comparison, based on the amount of fried food eaten.

During the follow-up, a total of 1,134 people died from all causes, and there were 606 "events" linked to heart disease such as heart attacks and angina.

After comparing the four groups, the researchers did not find any link between the amount of fried food eaten and the risk of heart disease or dying at an earlier age.

The authors wrote in the British Medical Journal: "In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death."

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Michael Leitzmann from the University of Regensburg in Germany, said the study exploded the myth that "frying food is generally bad for the heart," but also added that it "does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences."

Victoria Taylor, a senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Before we all reach for the frying pan it’s important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet, rather than British fish and chips.

"Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too.

"Participants in this study used unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil to fry their food. We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down and this study gives further cause to make that switch.

"Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease. A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg and only a small amount of high fat foods, is best for a healthy heart."

This article was published on Wed 25 January 2012

Image © Luis Carlos Jiménez -

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