Should we be afraid of fried?

People often ask me if fried food is bad for you. When I answer ‘not necessarily’ I sometimes get quizzical looks. That’s understandable, because we all have this notion of ‘fried’ as a ‘nice but naughty’ food choice. To my ‘not necessarily’ answer I add that it’s a case of all things in moderation.

If you took notice of every piece of food advice you ever got, you’d end up dying of starvation because you’d be too scared to eat anything. That’s why it’s important to get beyond simplistic thinking and look at the whole picture. As far as fried foods are concerned, there were some fascinating findings published in The British Medical Journal earlier this year.*

This was a Spanish study of the relationship between fried food and coronary heart disease and it involved over 40,000 adults aged 29-69.

The main conclusion stated:  “…the consumption of fried foods was not associated with coronary heart disease of with all cause mortality.” But before you go whooping off for a celebratory nosh-up down at your local chippy, I’d better give you the first part of that sentence: “In Spain, a Mediterranean country where olive or sunflower oil is used for frying…”

And that really is the key bit of the findings. The issue of whether to eat or not to eat is not about frying per se, but it is about how the frying is done, as well as how much an individual consumes. In Spain, olive and sunflower oils are most commonly used in frying. Fried fast foods in the US and the UK often used saturated or mono-unsaturated fats and they are also usually high in salt – not the case in most of the Spanish foods looked at in this study.

I do believe that too much fried is bad for you, and I’d confidently predict that any study would back me up on that one. Some fried foods – deep fried mars bars for example – are always going to be bad for you. But still, fried food, eaten in moderation, can form part of a nutritious, balanced diet. In my own industry sector, the government’s nutritional guidelines limit schools to 2 fried foods per week. This is a wise approach (although I suspect that not all have been adhering to it as strictly as they should).

The 2 items that we serve once a week make up that classic British staple – fish and chips. It’s a great choice too, cooked at optimum temperature in poly-unsaturated sunflower oil and served with a portion of peas. When fish is fried well, you should be able to cut through crispy batter into a lovely, poached fish inside.

Many people like skinny ‘french fried’ chips, but we choose not serve those because of the greater oil absorption rate. We opt for chunky chips instead, made from British potatoes, served alongside fresh fish in freshly-made batter. (We also put a few spoonfuls of ginger beer or lemonade into the batter to help it crisp up nicely and keep the fish good and moist).

And wouldn’t it add a certain something if we could serve them wrapped up in old newspaper? But I guess that’s one food tradition that may be a bit beyond us!

Till next time,

Steve

* http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e363

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