Fried foods are often the first foods eliminated for a heart healthy diet but it appears the connection between fried foods and heart disease may not be so clear. The changes caused by the frying process have caused reasonable concern. For example, frying forces oil into the food, this increases calories and fat content. Another concern is the degradation of the oil during the frying process. This degradation is responsible for the development of trans fats, which are thought to be a very unhealthy type of fat. Separately high fatty diets and trans fats have been shown to increase risk of heart disease. However, previous research has not found a strong link between heart disease and consumption of fried foods.
Spanish researchers reviewed information collected during a large long-term cohort study called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). The study, published in British Medical Journal, found that people who ate fried foods prepared with olive or sunflower oils did not have increased risk of heart disease.
Information was collected from the EPIC project. This large study assessed dietary habits of 41,438 adults in Spain. The participants have been followed since 1992 or 1996 and were assessed for the development of illnesses. Participants filled out a food history at the beginning of the study to determine their dietary habits over the previous 12 months. For the purpose of this study, researchers looked at the development of heart disease in participants that reported consumption of fried food. Fried food consumption accounted for about 7% of their calories. Olive was used in 62% and remaining oil options were sunflower or other vegetable oils.
There were 606 heart disease events over an average of 11 years. Heart disease events may have included heart attacks or chest pain that required medical intervention. There was no significant difference in risk for the heart disease events between participants with highest level of fried food consumption and participants with lowest fried food consumption. There was also no increase in mortality for any reason in people at the highest level of fried food consumption.
This study shows the complexity of nutrition and medical research. Although it may seem logical to make the connection between a high fat food and heart disease, this study suggests otherwise, at least for fried foods. The reasoning is not made clear in this trial because it is an observational study. This limits the conclusions that can be drawn from the data and limits the reliability of conclusions that were drawn. However, there have been some previous studies that arrived at similar conclusions. The more studies there are that reach the same conclusion, the more likely it is to be true.
Keep in mind that the fried foods were a limited part of the participants' diet, about 7%. The key to any healthy diet is a balanced approach. Having high amounts of fats in the majority of food you eat may not be as benign as it appeared in this study. The food culture in Spain is also a Mediterranean-based diet. This diet is associated with lower risks of heart disease because of its focus on healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. Their overall diet may have played a role in lower heart disease risk.
Eat Right - Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Guallar-Castillon P, Rodriquez-Artalejo F, et al. Consumption of fried foods and risk of coronary heart disease: Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study.BMJ. 2012 Jan 23;344:e363.
Last reviewed April 2012