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Fried food for thought: Study

26/1/12  www.bupa.co.uk

Eating fried foods cooked in olive oil or sunflower oil may not be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

The study followed the diets of over 40,000 people for 11 years to see whether or not they developed coronary heart disease. During this time, 606 people had a coronary heart disease event, for example a heart attack, and 1,135 people died. But overall, no association was found between people eating foods that had been fried (using olive oil or sunflower oil) and coronary heart disease.

The researchers concluded that in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, where frying foods in olive and sunflower oils is common, there is no link between eating fried foods and the risk of coronary heart disease.

Shweta Bhasin, Dietician at the Bupa Cromwell Hospital, commented: “Although this is an interesting study, this doesn’t mean we should be eating more fried food.

“The most important thing to remember is that this study looked at people from Spain, where the Mediterranean style of cooking, using olive and sunflower oil, is common therefore these results can’t be generalised to the Western world where some people use butter and lard instead. Generally, the Mediterranean diet and Western diet are made up of different foods, for example, more fish and less red meat is eaten in Mediterranean countries. This hasn’t been taken into account by the researchers.

“It’s also worth noting that this study relied on people accurately self-reporting and remembering how much fried food they ate during a 12-month period. People may have been more likely to under-report foods that are perceived as unhealthy, such as fried foods. The study also only asked people about their diet once. Instead, it would have been really useful to have seen whether people’s diet and lifestyle had changed over the 11 years of the study and whether this affected their risk of developing coronary heart disease.

“Remember, if you’re eating lots of fatty foods, it’s highly likely these foods will also be high in calories as well as fat. Eating more calories than you use over time can cause excessive weight gain, resulting in an increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Although sunflower oil is a better way of frying food, if you use too much of it or use it too often, your food is still likely to be high in calories. Try to bake, steam or grill your food rather than fry and remember not to re-use the oil if you do fry.”

“A healthy, balanced diet is the best way to protect yourself from heart disease. Getting a good mix of fruit and vegetables, eating enough fibre and limiting the amount of fats and sugars in your diet will go a long way to keeping your heart healthy.”

The study followed 41,757 Spanish adults, aged 29 to 69, who had no history of coronary heart disease. Researchers interviewed people to find out which types of food they consumed during a typical week over the previous 12 months. During the 11 years of the study, researchers telephoned people and checked hospital records and death registers to find out whether or not they had developed coronary heart disease or died. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking and the amount of physical activity each person did, as well as their medical history, were all taken into account.

Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team.

Key facts

  • Not all fats are bad. Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are good fats that the body needs for energy and to help absorb certain vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Good sources of unsaturated fats include sunflower oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon and trout.
  • Frying changes the quality and composition of food. Deep frying, using saturated fat and re-using oil can all increase the amount of trans fatty acids (bad fats) that end up in fried foods.
  • Saturated fats should be limited as much as possible. These fats are usually solid at room temperature and often come from animals. Foods high in saturated fats include fatty meat, dairy products, pastries, cakes and biscuits, chocolate, and coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats are thought to increase cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease.
  • The ‘Mediterranean diet’ contains many elements that are thought to protect the heart. It’s made up of a high intake of fruit and vegetables, fish, very little red meat, healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as olive oil, and wine in moderation.
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