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Air Fryers: Healthy, Hype or Hot Air?

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Get Some Fresh Air

We know eating large amounts of fried food can have some negative health effects. The high fat content of deep-fried foods leads to extra calories, weight gain, and could raise cholesterol levels and increase insulin resistance in some people. Heating oils and meats to high temperatures also creates chemicals that could contribute to cancer development.

But a lot of people have trouble completely giving up on foods that aren’t so healthy. Many have turned to a counter-top kitchen gadget to give their foods the crispy-on-the-outside-moist-on-the-inside texture of deep fried foods without all the extra fat: an air fryer.

What’s an Air Fryer?

An air fryer works like a convection oven—it blows hot air around food items to create the same crispy texture as fried foods, but uses only a fraction of the oil found in deep-fried foods.

What else do air fryers offer? We’re here to give you the skinny on their potential benefits.

Fewer calories: Foods that are breaded and deep-fried absorb a lot of the frying oil, making those foods much higher in fat and calories than grilled, baked, roasted, or air fried foods. Air fried foods have up to 70-80% fewer calories than their deep-fried counterparts. For example, deep fried chicken that contains 550 calories when traditionally prepared has only 280 calories when made in the air fryer. 340 calories of deep-fried French fries is only about 225 calories when air fried.

Less fat: Air fried foods contain as little as three percent fat, while deep fried foods have up to 24% fat. Fat has a lot of calories and can contribute to heart disease and insulin resistance in some people. Here’s a typical comparison: six ounces of deep-fried potatoes contain 26 grams of fat from a deep-fryer, but in an air fryer? Only 4.5 grams.

Fewer cancer threats: Heating oils and meats to high temperatures can cause dangerous compounds to form that have been linked to cancer risk. Experts say fries cooked in an air fryer have 90 percent fewer cancer-enhancing chemicals than deep-fried French fries (chemicals such as acrylamide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines).

An air fryer can be a great tool to help make traditionally fried foods less unhealthy without sacrificing texture and flavor. But remember, a healthy diet should also include foods that are not fried at all like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and baked, grilled or roasted lean meats.

— Carolyn Schut, MS, RD, LD, Health Plan of Nevada, Health Education & Wellness Department

Other benefits: They plug into a counter outlet or an RV kitchen. They clean up fast and easy. And you can stop buying fryer oils.

Speed, heat and sound: Air fryers cook food twice as fast as an oven and faster than a convection oven. Fries can take 45 minutes to an hour in an oven but 10 to 15 minutes in an air fryer, with no preheating. Air fryers don’t heat up your kitchen like ovens do, but they may sound louder because of the hot air they circulate.

You can also use them to grill or bake food.

Like most gadgets, there’s more than one option. Not surprisingly, some air fryers cook better than others. The best type of air fryer for you depends on what you plan to use it for most often.

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Want to cook kebabs, poultry legs, small roasts or small chickens under 4 pounds? The best air fryer for that is often a rotisserie. Others have rotating wire baskets and turntables to fry evenly. Some come with both rotisseries and wire baskets.

Want healthier fries or drumsticks? An air fryer with a rotating arm (called a “paddle”) automatically stirs foods. Air fryers with auto-rotating bowls also tumble fries evenly.

Want to make a cake or bread? An air fryer with a basket might help. If you get an air fryer with a basket that doesn’t self-rotate, you’ll pull the basket out during the cooking process and shake it.

The drawbacks: Even large air fryers usually don’t make large enough portions for a big family. So as long as you have counter space for it, the bigger the better. Keep in mind, foods aren’t made healthy just by switching to an air-fryer. Any type of fried foods should be consumed in moderation and alongside plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

The bottom line:Changing your cooking and eating habits can get you on track to a healthier lifestyle, and an air fryer may help. Not only can you make healthier versions of some of your favorite indulgences, but you can also make delicious dishes like salmon, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and more. Making healthier substitutions for unhealthier foods, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting regular exercise can lead to a longer, healthier, happier life.