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Frying foods in olive, sunflower oils may not be bad for your heart

January 25, 2012|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Frying foods in olive or sunflower oils may not increase the risk of coronary heart disease, a study finds.
Frying foods in olive or sunflower oils may not increase the risk of coronary… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Rejoice, those who love fried foods: eating them may not put you at higher risk for coronary heart disease--if you're frying those foods in olive or sunflower oils.

A study published this week in the British Medical Journal analyzed data on 40,757 Spanish adults age 29 to 69 who were followed for an average 11 years. Free of coronary heart disease at the beginning of the study, they were asked what they ate and what cooking methods they used, then were tracked to see who developed coronary heart disease and who died.

During those 11 years, there were 606 events linked to coronary heart disease, such as heart attack or chest pain, and 1,135 people died from all causes. However, eating fried foods was not associated with incident coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease events, even after adjusting for various factors such as calorie intake, age, sex, body mass index and high blood pressure. The types of oils used to fry foods--olive, sunflower or other vegetable oils--didn't change the outcome.

Eating fried foods cooked with those oils was also not linked with death from all causes.

On average the study participants ate about five ounces of fried food a day, or about 7% of their total amount of food. As for what oil they used for frying, 62% used olive oil, and the rest used sunflower or other types of vegetable oil. Of all fried food eaten, 24% was fish, 22% was meat, 21% were potatoes and 11% were eggs.

Although the participant group was large and they were followed for a number of years, one of the study's limitations was that researchers couldn't separate the effects of frying with oil from the food that was fried, such as fish, some of which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, shown in some studies to be beneficial for heart health.

Frying foods with some types of oils or solids, such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, can increase intake of trans fats, considered the worst type of fat since it raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol.

For some tips on frying using olive, sunflower or other vegetable oils we talked to L.A. Times Test Kitchen manager and professional chef Noelle Carter.

She suggests not using olive oil to deep fry, since it doesn't have a high smoke point, the temperature at which it  begins to break down and produce smoke. Frying with canola oil or other vegetable oils is better, she added, since they have higher smoke points. When frying at higher temperatures foods tend to absorb less oil.

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