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Fried food not a direct cause of heart risk, new research finds

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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Let them eat chicken fried steak

A new study has found that there is no direct correlation between the amount of fried food people eat and their risk of heart disease. Instead, the research found that long-term heart risk depended more on what kind of oil was used in the cooking process — olive oil and sunflower oil are considered the healthiest.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, studied the eating and cooking habits of 40,000 people in Spain for nearly 15 years. The Mediterranean diet favored by most individuals in the study leans heavily on fried foods, particularly fried fish, but also the healthier olive and sunflower oils for the frying.

The Telegraph reports that study participants were then broken into four different groups, based on how often they ate fried foods. Over the course of the study there were 606 medical cases linked to heart disease, but those results were fairly evenly split between the four subsets. More from the study:

"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."

Professor Michael Leitzmann from Germany's University of Regensburg said in the study that two similar research projects found comparable results showing no direct correlation between fried foods and heart disease.

"Taken together, the myth that frying food is generally bad for the heart is not supported by available evidence," Leitzmann wrote."However, this does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences," noting that the fried foods have higher calorie counts and are linked to obesity and high blood pressure.

Now, before you throw caution to the wind and sign a Jumbaco petition, bear in mind that not only do those fatty foods contain more sodium and calories, most Americans use less healthy oils to fry their foods. And even more damaging, re-used cooking oils reportedly contain higher levels of saturated fats, which are linked to poor heart health.

As Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, told the Telegraph, "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.

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