Frying Food in Olive Oil Improves Nutritional Value, New Study Suggests

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fish, fruits, low-fat dairy, nuts, and legumes — are well known, from reducing sleep apnea to protecting kidney health to lowering the risk of peripheral arterial disease. And according to a new study out of Spain, frying foods in olive oil, an ingredient central to this eating style, is actually healthier compared to other cooking methods.

Previous research has indicated that olive oil provides various health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and blood sugar after meals, helping lower the risk of heart disease, and normalizing blood clotting. These health benefits are attributed, in part, to the high amount of antioxidants (substances that help protect cells from oxidative damage), such as phenols, in the oil. To determine the effects of different cooking techniques on the nutritional value of foods, investigators at the University of Granada cooked 120-gram (approximately 4-ounce) cubes of potato, pumpkin, tomato, and eggplant using three different methods: the vegetables were either fried in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), boiled in water, or boiled in a mixture of EVOO and water.

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The researchers found that frying the foods in EVOO resulted in higher levels of phenols than the other cooking methods. Phenols are thought to help prevent conditions such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and macular degeneration (a disease that destroys central vision and can cause blindness). This effect was thought to be the result of phenols from the oil being transferred to the vegetables.

“We can conclude that frying in EVOO was the technique with the highest associated increases of phenols and can therefore be considered an improvement in cooking process, although it also increases the calorie density of the food because of the amount of oil absorbed,” notes study author Cristina Samaniego S├ínchez, PhD.

Boiling is recommended only if the water is to be consumed along with the vegetables, she adds.

For more information, see the article “Vegetables fried in extra virgin olive oil have more beneficial properties than when boiled” or the study’s abstract in the journal Food Chemistry. And to learn more about various types of cooking oils, see this piece by Diabetes Nutrition Specialist Lea Ann Holzmeister.

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