Healthy fried food that’s just as delicious as the real thing? This isn’t the stuff of legend. The air fryer is officially the go-to kitchen appliance of keto-dieters, Whole30 doers, and really anyone who is looking to enjoy healthier versions of crispy fries and chicken wings.
The gadget, which “fries” food using a small amount of oil and hot air to dehydrate and cook to get a crispy texture, has boomed in popularity within the last few years—and it doesn’t appear to be dying down anytime soon.
But is the hype really warranted? Are air fryers healthy? The experts have some thoughts.
What is an air fryer exactly?
Air fryers are countertop appliances that work like powerful, mini convection ovens. The inner chamber and suspended basket allow hot air to circulate around the food, causing it to cook, quickly, evenly, and to crispy perfection, says Dana Angelo White, registered dietician and author of the . You can also place other properly sized dishes and pans inside for baking, she adds.
Registered dietician Natalie Rizzo, says you can use an air fryer to replicate pretty much any traditionally fried food your heart desires. “You can use to it to create a crispy coating on anything you would normally fry, like french fries, chicken fingers, or veggies.”
It can also be used to make a great nut or oat topping to add some crunch to roasted foods, she says. All you do is brush oil on the foods you’re about to fry and heat the device to the temperature you need. “It depends on what you’re cooking, but usually the 150- to 180-degree Celcius range is typical,” she says.
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Smartlife Mechanical Air fryer, R1279
So, are air fryers healthy?
Air-frying is definitely healthier than a regular fryer, says Rizzo. By slashing the oil, you’re cutting a ton of calories and fat. The exact amount is hard to pinpoint because cooking preparations can vary by machine and by person, but you’re using a tablespoon of oil versus the whole bottle used in traditional deep-frying, says Rizzo.
Plus, you can make a lot of veggie-heavy recipes taste just as satisfying as an order of fries, says White. “Some of my favourites are quinoa stuff peppers, sweet potato hash, asparagus wrapped with crispy prosciutto, and zucchini ribbons with fresh herbs,” she says. Yum!
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Philips Essential Airfryer, R2499
Are there any downsides to air-frying?
It’s important to note that air-frying isn’t healthier than other non-frying cooking methods. (You’re still eating fried food, here.) “It makes things like chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks a little better for you, but they are still breaded, making them less healthy than eating grilled chicken or good old-fashioned cheese,” says Rizzo. You also might run the risk of eating bigger servings of foods that aren’t super nutritious (like fries) just because they’re made in a slightly healthier way than normal.
Your best bet is to use the air fryer on occasion as a treat, but not daily. “I think it’s good to not go overboard on the air frying, and limit it to once a week,” says Rizzo.
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What are the best ways to use an air fryer?
Of course, an air fryer is a great option for lighter chicken wings and French fries but it’s also ideal for making healthier versions of breaded fish, pizza, and even cakes, says White. “For best results, I suggest always preheating the machine before cooking and be sure to clean the machine well between each use. Crumbs can accumulate in the bottom of the unit, which can burn and smoke,” she says.
You don’t always need a recipe. “I usually use my air fryer for from-scratch cooking, but I’ll occasionally put some easy convenience foods like bagged frozen sweet potato fries in the air fryer,” says White. “They come out so much better than baking them in the oven on a sheet pan.”
Bottom line: Yes, air fryers help you prep classic fried foods in a healthier way. But it’s important to still eat air-fried foods in moderation to maintain a balanced diet.