While air frying uses less oil than other cooking processes, the question of whether air-fried foods are healthy depends on many different factors. Read on to learn which recipes work best and how this appliance compares to your oven or deep fryer. Despite a few disadvantages, you’ll find the benefits of this method can boost taste and your overall health!

An air fryer is used to cook this seafood dish.
Glazed salmon that’s perfectly flaky.

Is air frying healthy?

When deciding whether to make air-fried or deep-fried foods, the healthier option is always air frying because you aren’t using massive amounts of oil.

When deep frying, the food absorbs inflammatory compounds from the oil. Air frying uses hot air and minimal oil to crisp and cook your food. This allows your food to absorb little to no inflammatory compounds. Even though air frying is healthier than deep frying, there are some recipes that are better for you than others.

Consider the type of oil you use when air frying. Healthier options like avocado and coconut oil help reduce saturated fats in your cooking. Unless the recipe directly states it, try to substitute your oils with the healthier options. This is a great way to have a more balanced diet which can reduce the risk of weight gain, obesity, and more.

Ultimately, air frying is a better cooking process for your health compared to deep frying. But it’s important to remember that a kitchen appliance is not the only determining factor in choosing healthy meals. More importantly, choose recipes that provide the right amount of fats, protein, and carbohydrates to your overall health.

Keto broccoli is roasted in the air fryer.
Air frying makes perfectly cooked broccoli in half the time.

Benefits of Air Frying

Because they use hot air to cook your food, air fryers can lower fat, preserve nutrients, cut calories, and decrease your acrylamide levels.

  • Lowers fat. Air fryers can significantly reduce the overall fat content in meals because they only require about one tablespoon of oil, compared to at least three cups of oil when deep frying. This is possible because hot air, instead of hot oil, does the work of crisping your food.
  • Cuts calories. Deep-fried foods contain higher calories, which contribute to weight gain, heart disease, and other illnesses. The National Library of Medicine study also shows that air fryers reduce calorie intake by 80% because this kitchen appliance uses less oil.
  • Preserves nutrients. Since air fryers work from convection heat, this cooking process preserves important nutrients like vitamin C and polyphenols that are usually lost when deep frying.
  • Lowers acrylamide levels. Acrylamide is a carcinogen (substance capable of causing cancer in living tissues) that forms when starchy foods (e.g., potatoes, bread, pasta) are cooked over 248°F. The National Library of Medicine found that an air fryer reduces the acrylamide compound up to 90% compared to deep frying.
Crispy chicken wings are cooked in a Ninja air fryer.
Easy, crispy wings are just as crispy in the air fryer.

Disadvantages of air frying

Considering the disadvantages of air fryers can help you decide what foods to cook with this method. One issue to keep an eye on is the level of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. According to Healthline, AGEs are harmful compounds that form when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Whenever you eat food that has been exposed to high heat for a long period, these compounds are more likely to form.

Bodies generally eliminate AGEs through antioxidants and enzymatic activity, but when you consume too many AGEs, your body can’t keep up. This causes an accumulation of AGEs that can result in inflammation and negative impacts to your overall health like higher cholesterol levels and cancer.

To minimize the risks of this disadvantage, choose air-frying recipes where food is cooked for shorter periods of time.

Is the air fryer healthier than the oven?

The air fryer and oven have similar heating techniques, so generally your food will result in the same nutrient profile with both methods. However, there are some foods that have been recognized to lower the fat intake when cooked in an air fryer.

For example, the Journal of Food Science has found that air frying fish with anti-inflammatory herbs (black pepper, ginger, red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, or turmeric) can support the healthy breakdown of fat.

Figuring out what is healthy in the air fryer versus the oven depends widely on the kinds of food you eat and cook. Nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and lean meats are basically just as nutritious in the air fryer as in the oven.

Sweet potato fries are placed in an air fryer.
These fries are just as good, if not better than deep-fried fries.

Do air fryers destroy nutrients?

Air-fried foods are not guaranteed to always make your food healthier. For example, cooking fatty fish in an air fryer can lower the healthy fat content (polyunsaturated fats), and may increase your cholesterol levels.

Are air fryers harmful to your health?

Generally, air fryers are not harmful as long as you take proper precautions:

  • Be sure to carefully read recipe instructions and the manual that comes with your appliance to ensure correct usage.
  • When preparing your foods, rub them down with olive oil or avocado oil instead of aerosol cooking sprays. Aerosol may break down the air fryer’s non-stick basket or tray, releasing toxic fumes.
  • In terms of health, a quality air fryer is better than a cheap one. Low-tier air fryers can be made from harmful materials or plastics that release chemicals in your food while cooking. Consider stainless steel materials or plastic that does not contain bisphenol A, also known as BPA.

One concern are the free radicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines that can result from all fast, high-heat cooking with meat. These compounds do run the risk of cancer. If you are concerned about free radicals, avoid cooking meat with an air fryer.

A spatula is used to remove the eggplant from the air fryer.
Keeping it crispy with these eggplants, but still perfectly cooked on the inside.

Tips to Make Air-Fried Foods Healthier

Here are some ideas for maximizing this cooking method’s benefits:

  • While air frying does call for less oil, lightly brush food with good oils to add healthy fats, enriched flavor, and a more crispy, developed color.
  • Skip the breading and choose spices and seasonings for a flavorful meal.
  • Choose to cook green vegetables over potatoes.
  • Air fry kale or sliced apples for a healthy crunch instead of processed potato chips.

Healthy Air Fryer Recipes

Cooking in a rush? These crispy chicken nuggets will be the perfect first recipe to try in your air fryer. Don’t forget to add the anti-inflammatory herbs in these tangy fish tacos. Enjoy these Maryland crab-style cakes with golden crispy sweet potatoes. You’ll never want to cook a meatloaf in an oven once you try this less-than-thirty-minute meatloaf in the air fryer.

If you’ve forgotten to prepare a side dish ahead of time, try these rosemary-crusted carrots that everyone will eat up. This Parmesan broccoli recipe will take your flavor game to the next level. If you’re looking to freshen up your vegetable repertoire, give some rosemary eggplant a shot. And these fried pickles will fly off of any appetizer platter!

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