Are air fryers actually healthy? Here’s what you need to know

The best air fryers have become a popular kitchen appliance, changing the way we fry our food. For those who don’t know yet, air fryers are mini countertop convection ovens that circulate hot air at high speed. As a result, these foods brown and crisp in no time, using little to no oil, making them a much healthier alternative to frying in a tub of oil. But are air fryers actually healthy?

After own an air fryer, I certainly put mine to good use. And there’s no doubt that they produce crispier, tastier results than conventional frying. But I often wonder if air fryers are as healthy as they claim. While there’s a lot of praise for the health benefits of an air fryer, are there any downsides to air fried foods?

We take a look at the benefits and risks of cooking in an air fryer, and whether they really are the healthier option.

If you’re new to air frying, learn how to use an air fryer for best results. But you will also need to know how to clean an air fryer.

How do air fryers work?

Typically, air fryers operate using convection heat which circulates hot air around a food item. Similar to a ventilated oven, this relies on a chemical process known as Maillard reaction to crisp the outside of food, with tasty results. Not only does it require minimal oil or fat, but provides the same crunchy texture as traditional fried foods like chicken and fries.

Health Benefits of Using an Air Fryer

Cooking fries in an air fryer

Cooking fries in an air fryer (Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Air fryers use less oil and reduce fat

The main advantage is that air fryers use much less oil than frying or shallow frying. A study of National Library of Medicine showed that food cooked in an air fryer had a significantly lower level of absorbed fat. Also, while most deep-fried recipes call for up to 3 three cups (750 ml) of oil, air-fried foods generally only require about a tablespoon (15 ml). This means that using an air fryer can significantly reduce the overall fat content of meals.

2. Air fryers can cut calories

Fried foods are high in fat, but higher in calories, which contributes to weight gain and other diseases. Since air fryers use little to no oil, they can reduce calorie intake by up to 80%. Compared to frying, this alone makes it a much healthier alternative.

Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer Review

Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer Review (Image credit: Ninja)

3. Air fryers help preserve nutrients in food

Since air fryers operate on convection heat, this helps preserve some nutrients that are often lost during the cooking/heating process. Nutrients such as vitamin C and other protective plant compounds (polyphenols) benefit our overall health and well-being.

4. Air fryers have lower levels of acrylamide

Acrylamide is a known carcinogen that forms when starchy foods, such as potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures (above 248 degrees F). Research from the National Library of Medicine (opens in a new tab) have shown that using an air fryer reduces the acrylamide compound by up to 90%, compared to frying. In this case, lowering the levels is always a healthier option.

cooking oil in the pan

cooking oil in the pan (Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Air fryers are safer to use than frying
Typically, frying food involves heating a large pot of oil to a high temperature before placing the food in it. This can pose a safety risk, especially if hot oil is spilled or splattered. At worst, it can even catch fire if you’re not careful. Although air fryers get hot, when they heat up there is no risk of oil splattering or touching hot oil. However, always read the manual to ensure safety.

Health Risks of Using an Air Fryer

Crispy pork picked up by a fork in an air fryer

Crispy pork picked up by a fork in an air fryer (Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Air-Fried Foods Are Not Guaranteed To Be Healthier

Even though air-fried foods are technically healthier than frying, let’s face it, fried foods are still fried foods. If you use your air fryer daily and cook too much with oil, there will always be associated health effects. These contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other ailments. As a general rule, it is best to limit your intake of fried foods and include other cooking methods such as baking, steaming, broiling or pan frying along with any of the best cast iron skillets. Additionally, you can purchase air fryer combos with any of the best instant potsif you prefer convenient cooking.

2. Not all “healthy” foods can be air fried

Although air frying uses less oil than frying, it can have a negative impact on certain foods. For instance, studies show that cooking sardines or other varieties of oily fish in an air fryer reduces the content of healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats) and slightly increases the oxidation products of cholesterol. All of this can affect cholesterol levels and cause health problems.

If you want to know about other foods that don’t cook well in an air fryer, read the 9 things you should never put in an air fryer for peace of mind. While you’re at it, also make sure you don’t make any of these air fryer mistakes.

Row of cooking oil bottles

Row of cooking oil bottles (Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. Oil-Free Fryers Can Prevent Consumption of “Good Oils”

Despite using less oil and reducing calories, not all oils are bad for our health. Paradoxically, air fryers can prevent us from consuming high quality oils. Olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil are all beneficial for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins from food, so it is advisable to include them in your diet if possible. Either way, there are ways to learn how to cook with less oiland know how to dispose of cooking oil the right way.

4. Cheaper air fryers can be harmful

We all love a bargain, but we’re always looking for a good quality air fryer. Cheap air fryers can be made from harmful materials or plastics that leach chemicals into your food. In that case, you should consider one made with stainless steel materials or Bisphenol A (BPA)-free plastic.

The bottom line

So, are air fryers actually healthy? The answer depends on how often you use it and what you cook in it. There are definitely huge benefits such as low fat and calorie intake. Additionally, they can retain certain nutrients in foods that are typically lost during cooking. However, you are still consuming fried foods which should always be limited. All in all, air fryers are definitely a healthier alternative to frying up a feast – just use them in moderation.

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