Last week, the New York Times published a story full of Mark Bittman’s deep-fried veggie recipes. If you follow Bittman, you know that he’s known for being health-conscious—so why is he writing about deep-frying, the ultimate nutrition-related sin? He justifies it by saying that, “You can eat fat as long as it’s high quality and you don’t eat it to the exclusion of plants.” He’s also careful to say that you have to consume fat in moderation (and that he deep-fries foods at home only about once a month).
So does this mean that it’s actually a smart idea to have deep-fried foods on occasion? Not exactly.
Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., president of A Nutritious Life and weight-loss advisor for Women’s Health, agrees that fat unfairly gets a bad rap. “Healthy fat not only has a place in your diet,” she says. “It has an essential role in your diet—and there’s even emerging research that suggests some types of saturated fats may have health benefits, like helping to burn fat stores and lower bad cholesterol.”
Glassman isn’t against using fat to cook veggies—but deep-frying is a whole different story. Sure, you can use a healthier oil (Bittman suggests olive oil, for example). But when the oil gets hot enough for deep-frying, its chemical structure changes, which turns into an unhealthy oil. Plus, whatever you’re cooking will absorb way more oil during deep-frying than it would through other cooking methods (there goes that whole moderation thing). To make matters worse, deep-frying veggies breaks down a lot of the vitamins and minerals they contain.
So while you certainly won’t wreck your health by eating deep-fried foods once a month, Glassman wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to eat deep-fried vegetables, either. “I wouldn’t say that deep-frying is the way to get in your healthy fats,” she says. Ultimately, using healthy oils for other cooking methods like roasting or pan-frying—or eating foods like avocados and salmon that naturally contain good-for-you fats—are going to be the best way to make sure you work enough fat into your diet. Not sure how much you should be eating? Check out this guide to the amounts (and types) of fats you need each day.