Cut the Fat in Frying

by in Healthy Tips, May 29, 2009

French Fries
Who doesn’t love the savory crunch of fried foods? Sadly, the greasy aftertaste, stomachache and fat overload often leave me wanting to break up. With a few tweaks, you can still make lighter versions of your favorites.

Too Many Calories, Too Much Fat
Americans are fascinated with fried foods. Browse our site and you can find a fried version of most everything: mac and cheese, zucchini, plantains, apple pies and even butter balls (guess who created that recipe?). Beyond that, nearly every restaurant or fast-food menu features something fried. A large order of fast-food fries has more than 500 calories and 30 grams of fat (including 7 grams of artery-hating saturated fat). Another favorite, fried chicken sandwiches weigh in at about 500 calories and 26 grams fat each. And then there’s breakfast — a simple doughnut has about 200 calories and 10 grams fat.

Many U.S. cities have started banning trans fats in restaurants (trans fats come from hydrogenated, non-wholesome cooking oils), but even fried foods without trans fat are still full of calories and other no-so-good-for you fats.

And it doesn’t stop at restaurant fries or chicken sandwiches; chips, tater tots, chicken cutlets, fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, onion rings — all fried. But there are ways to enjoy these foods without packing on the extra pounds. The most important thing: steer clear of the deep fryer. A small amount of oil in a good pan or a hot oven is all you need for similar flavor and crunch.

Step 1: Choose Your Oil Wisely
All oils have the same amount of calories and fat — 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. But some oils are less processed and better for frying than others. At home, I like to use canola or grapeseed oil. Sometimes all I need is a spritz of cooking spray! I like these oils because they can withstand high cooking temperatures and don’t have a strong flavor that will interfere with my recipes. They also contain some omega-3 fats and antioxidants. But you should use oils sparingly; focus on getting your basic nutrients from lower-calorie foods. Though healthy, extra-virgin olive oil isn’t good for any type of frying because of its strong flavor; at high cooking temperatures, it can also smoke up your kitchen.

Step 2: Fake It
Faux frying isn’t a bad thing. Light breading and a small amount of oil is the magic combo for making this work. I use coatings made from cornmeal, cracker crumbs, corn flakes, panko or whole-wheat bread crumbs to create a crispy crust. Just dredge your chicken, fish, shrimp or veggie through seasoned flour, egg wash and one of these coatings. You can trade the egg wash for a quick drizzle of honey and sprinkle on the crispy coating, too.

After coating, place food on a baking sheet and into a hot oven; then bake it until golden and crisp (follow the recipe for times). Another trick is to pre-cook your breaded foods in a nonstick pan with a few teaspoons of oil. Saute a few minutes on each side, and then transfer to the oven to finish cooking. This works well for seafood especially.

Sometimes you don’t even need a coating. Oven fries may not be the same as those fresh from the fryer but they’re still delicious. I just slice up some Yukon gold or sweet potatoes into sticks or wedges, toss the pieces with a few teaspoons of oil, add salt and pepper and then roast in a 425 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes (turning once). You can spice up your fries with seasoned salt, chili powder or minced garlic, too. Leave the skins on for a bit of crunchy texture.

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Comments (31)

  1. Frank Glover says:

    I USE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL TO FRY SWEET POTATOES—— -(FRYS). WHEN I’M I’M GRILLING-I LIKE THEM EXTRA CRISPEY -IF DONE CORRECTLY THEY TASTE A LOT LIKE FRENCH FRIES.

  2. Rachael says:

    Hi Dana – I think I found a way to bake sweet potato fries and keep them crispy… my family loves them more than the fried version, so I must be doing something right. once you coat the cookie sheet with pam and place the slices on it, drizzle about a 1/3 tbsl (per sweet potato) used over them and about 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper – I just use my best judgement. Put them in the oven at 350 to 375 for about 40 minutes. good luck and enjoy!

  3. Kathy Rector says:

    Hi everyone, I use peanut oil only when I deep fry, the trick is to put only a few pieces in at a time, as you don’t want to put to much in at a time, as it will lower the heat, which will cause the food to absorb the oil. If done correctly, they will come out crispy. I’ve been cooking for 45 yrs, and have experimented with different oils. I to use evoo for frying and saute’ing up food, and it comes out fine. Remember your stove doesn’t get as hot as a commercial stove does in restaruants, as the burner is smaller then theirs. If you notice orientals cook with peanut oil, as it has a high tolerence to high heat and doesn’t smoke like other oils, it is very light compared to all the other oils. You can try using a little bit of it when baking fries in the oven, plus you can even put the fries on a cookie rack and set on cookie sheet to bake. I cook everything with Evoo, except when deep frying, I do use peanut oil.

  4. Chris says:

    I am sorry to burst the people’s bubble who think that using olive oil for frying or stir-frying is a healthy choice. It is well understood (by chemists at least) that oils are delicate and heat damages them. You do not have to reach the smoking point to create carcinogens and destroy some of the healthy substances found in oils like olive oil. Even just heating it for a short amount of time will make this happen to some extent. If you want to be safe, do not cook with oil, or at least use some more stable forms like coconut oil, but definitely not olive oil! Also, I know that oven fries taste great and are healthier than fried foods, but acrylamide (a very potent carcinogen) still forms. The browner the fries the worse. I am not sure why this has not become a big subject yet in the health community in the US, but if you go to europe, they have been aware of this for years. I guess the main research about this comes from germany… but people who are interested in their health should try to find information about this. To be honest, I wish these things were not true. Cooking just becomes so much harder when you are restricted in so many ways. I love food and cooking and the deeper I dug into the real science of it (I am a biochemistry graduate) the more I hated having this knowledge. But once you let go of these ways of cooking and try to find other ways of making food, you will discover that there are so many ways of cooking or simply preparing foods that dwarfs the food you have eaten in the past (foods you thought were healthy). I use my dehydrator a lot and sautee things in broth. I try to think outside of the box and create delicious sauces (by pureeing nuts, seeds, vegetables etc) and interesting dishes…

  5. Susan says:

    Oil is not the culprit. Acrylamide forms from sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) during certain types of high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking. High starch foods like potatoes and grains (and coffee, oddly) form acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures.

  6. Jim says:

    For frying, I use a 50/50 mix of olive oil and canola oil. The canola lessons the strong flavor of the olive oil while minimizing the smoking effect. I fry foods in moderation. It seems that no matter how you prepare food, there is always going to be something or someone telling you that it has to potential to cause cancer. Keep your bad habits to a moderate level…enjoy your life and the foods you eat.

  7. This is an interesting post, at the same time, very informative. I think we can't really stop ourselves to be delighted by the fried dishes or snacks. It is still better to have a balanced meal. If you have fried meal, then you must have vegetables as a side dish if not, a fruit must be your dessert. I think this is a better way to have a healthy diet, just don't over eat, of course.

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  11. Sandi W says:

    Mary,
    Deep fry with peanut oil.
    Sandi W

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