Image: Kari Perrin

We all love a good French fry or fried chicken, but what if you are trying to eat healthier and still maintain delicious flavor in your cooking? The air fryer, a countertop appliance that cooks food with a high-heat air vent, has been touted as a tool to make healthy dishes that still possess the crispiness of traditional fried foods. Nutritionist Bonni London from London Wellness in Sarasota has mixed feelings as to whether this gadget is a healthier way to go.

"Air fryers certainly allow people to cook with little to no oil, reducing overall calorie and fat intake," says London. "However, there are some healthy fats found in high-quality, organic oils that are necessary for our health. Skipping them altogether can be unhealthy."

London suggests the type of oil used in the air fryer can determine how healthy the outcome is. She recommends using small amounts of animal-based fats, or peanut or coconut oil if you are vegetarian. Olive oil, rich in beneficial polyphenols and antioxidants, can also be used, but only when cooked up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit, the oil's smoke point. Air fryers can reach temperatures up to 450 degrees.

"Cooking at super-high temperatures, like the air fryer does, breaks down the fat compounds in the food," says London. "The thing about certain fats, like animal products, chicken or meat of any kind, is that you should cook it at a low temperature."

One benefit of air frying is convenience. You can cook frozen foods in half the time, with little cleanup, and avoid deep-fried foods, which we already know are harmful to our health, when eaten in excess.

What about veggies? London believes there is less harm in air frying vegetables than meat. Potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts cooked in an air fryer with a bit of oil can add a delicious crunch. But London still suggests steaming or roasting veggies as the healthier option.

"Bottom line, for someone really craving fries, we know air frying could be the lesser of two evils," says London. "It is certainly healthier than the fast food option, in moderation." 

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