From Men’s Health

Air fryers have been having kind of a moment.

The kitchen appliance never really felt like a thing until it latched itself onto diet tribes looking to tinker with their macronutrients.

And, no doubt, the promise of an air fryer is exciting: “healthier” fried foods!

Who doesn’t want healthier fried chicken, healthier french fries, and healthier mozzarella sticks, right?

Except that the topic air fryers and air-fried food and your health is a little more complicated than that—largely due to smart marketing behind the makers of these now ubiquitous countertop machines. There are some pretty big misnomers about how air fryers work, whether or not they actually fry foods, what foods they work best with, and if they are good or bad for your overall health.

Despite this confusion, yes, air fryers can help you manage your macros (if that’s important to you) and they can help you cut back on how many calories you consume overall by way of less fat. But there are still some important aspects of the device that you must consider if you’re going to lean on it as a healthy cooking tool.

So before you plunk down the cash for an air fryer (or fire it up again if you already have), think about deploying the machine in a tactical way to improve your diet.

This guide, informed by smart minds within the world of nutrition (who also happen to have a good set of taste buds), will help you do just that.

How do air fryers work?

Photo credit: 92/1 Moo3 Huai Yang Kham Chun Phayao, Thailand 56150
Photo credit: 92/1 Moo3 Huai Yang Kham Chun Phayao, Thailand 56150

“Air fryers essentially circulate hot air around a good to produce a crispy texture with minimal oil. The food sits in a basket that allows it to come in contact with the hot air, cooking it evenly and making it crispy,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. You often do use a touch of oil to make the food crispy, but the amount is negligible compared to a traditional fryer.

Plus, air fryers are able to cook a large variety of foods more quickly and with less energy than an oven. “Personally, I use my air fryer most often for a roasting effect, as it requires seconds to preheat and doesn’t increase the temperature in my kitchen,” says Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D.

“This saves time and even money on energy bills since my air conditioner doesn’t kick on every time I want to roast some broccoli or tofu,” Jones says.

Do air fryers actually fry food?

Photo credit: Yuji Ozeki
Photo credit: Yuji Ozeki

Frying is a method of cooking that submerges food in oil and uses the oil to cook the food. So, air frying is more like a convection oven, in that it uses air to cook the food, says Rizzo.

It is important to note that the more food you put into the air fryer, the more you may need to shake the tray or basket so that all pieces of food are exposed to the hot air in the same way, so that all pieces get roasted or crispy, says Jones.

“With the exception of fatty fish, I still believe the texture is much more satisfying when the food has been lightly coated in olive oil or an oil based marinade, versus using cooking spray or no fat at all,” Jones adds. “This allows you to obtain the texture of a fried food—whether you’ve coated it in a batter or not—without deep-frying absorbing excessive amounts of oil,” she explains.

Technically, air frying is not really frying. Both methods of cooking create a crispy texture, but traditional frying results in a food that has more oil or grease in the final product. And oil and grease contain calories.

What foods are air fryers best for cooking?

Photo credit: VO IMAGES
Photo credit: VO IMAGES

“It’s excellent for cooking most vegetables from Brussels sprouts to kale chips, proteins from chicken to tofu or salmon, and starches, such as potatoes,” says Jones.

“It’s also wonderful to add texture and life back into leftovers when reheating,” Jones adds.

Can an air fryer improve your health?

It depends.

If you’re starting with nutrient-rich foods—Brussels sprouts, kale, chicken—then, yes, using an air fryer to cook these foods can improve your health.

But: “The thing to remember is that what you cook is just as important as how you cook it. For example, if you air fry mozzarella sticks, it’s not going to be a healthy meal because it’s still cheese covered in breading,” says Rizzo. “But if you air fry Brussels sprouts, it’s much healthier than putting Brussels sprouts in the deep fryer,” she says.

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