Most people probably know that fried foods aren’t usually health foods — after all, they tend to have more fat and calories than roasted, grilled or sautéed alternatives. And there’s a wide range of fried foods, from sources of protein like chicken and fish to carbohydrate-heavy offerings like potatoes. So some sources of dietary advice have shied away from singling out fried foods as inherently bad, while noting that there are usually better alternatives available.
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But a new report shows that fried foods are linked to serious cardiovascular health risks — and that this risk increases with additional servings of fried foods that people consume. These findings may be especially relevant to people with diabetes, who already face a higher risk of heart disease and are more likely to be overweight or obese.
Links to heart attacks, stroke, other heart disease
For the new report, published in the journal Heart, researchers looked at a variety of published studies that examined participants’ fried food intake based on dietary surveys. Since different studies looked at different health outcomes, the researchers pooled different studies together to look at various outcomes, including heart attack, stroke, death from cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.
As noted in a press release on the report from Heart’s parent journal, BMJ, a total of 19 studies were included in the new analysis. Out of those studies, 17 involving a total of 562,445 participants were pooled together to evaluate how fried food intake affects the risk of major cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. And six studies involving 754,873 participants were pooled together to look at deaths, both from cardiovascular disease and in general.
In the analysis of cardiovascular events, there was a total of 36,727 heart attacks, strokes or similar events. Compared with the lowest level of fried food intake, the highest level was associated with a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% higher risk of coronary artery disease, and a 37% higher risk of heart failure.
And in the analysis of deaths, 85,906 participants died over an average follow-up period of 9.5 years. No association was found between fried food intake and death risk, either overall or from cardiovascular disease.
The researchers noted that some of the included studies looked at only one type of fried food, such as fried fish or potatoes. As a result, they may underestimate the risk posed by these foods — which may help explain why the data showed an increased risk of heart disease and major cardiovascular events, but not a higher risk of death associated with these foods.
Overall, every additional 114 grams (4 ounces) of fried food that participants ate each week was tied to a 3% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 2% higher risk of coronary artery disease, and a 12% higher risk of heart failure
Why is fried food bad?
The researchers noted that while it isn’t clear exactly why fried foods appear to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, there are a few possible explanations. One is simply that they contain more calories than alternative forms of these foods, which may lead to greater overall energy intake and contribute to overweight and obesity.
Another possibility is that because the frying process — often at very high temperatures — can create harmful trans fats even when liquid vegetable oils are used, this additional intake of trans fat could explain the higher disease risk. Frying at high temperatures also creates other chemical byproducts that may increase the body’s inflammatory response.
And finally, fried foods often contain high levels of salt, and people often consume them along with sugary beverages. Excess levels of both salt and sugar may increase the risk of certain types of cardiovascular disease.
Whatever the reasons for the connection, it’s clear that most people — and especially people with other heart risk factors like diabetes — would be wise to take a look at how their intake of fried foods might be increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Want to learn more about keeping your heart healthy with diabetes? Read “Tips for a Healthy Heart,” “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease” and “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods.”