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Are Air Fryers Healthy?

We find out if the popular countertop cookers live up to the health hype

Air fryers are continuing to enjoy unprecedented popularity, with around 36% of American households owning one: but are air fryers healthy?

Fans of the appliance claim they can cook a wide range of foods, potentially reducing their fat and calorie intake while still being able to enjoy super-crispy, delicious treats, even with minimal oil.

But can “fried” food ever really be healthy? And should we just enjoy deep-fried foods for what they are, albeit on occasion, rather than cluttering up our kitchen counters with more gadgets?

Below, we take a deep dive into air fryers to help you come to a decision about whether or not they are a healthy option for cooking, and whether they do slash the fat and calories you consume.

What is an air fryer?

Despite its name, an air fryer isn’t a fryer at all – it’s a countertop convection oven. Frying involves cooking foods in various amounts of oil at high temperatures, either shallow frying in a pan, or deep frying where food is submerged in the oil until it’s crisp and golden.

Air fryers use little to no oil to cook, instead using convection heat to circulate hot air in the same way as a fan oven to brown food. Some air fryers now offer multiple functions, such as rotisserie, slow cook, steam and dehydration settings; but we’ll be focusing on their primary function for this article.

Are air fryers healthy?

It depends on what “healthy” means to you. We all have very individual dietary needs, and while some might be keeping an eye on their intake of saturated fat and counting calories to drop a few pounds, others will have a need for energy-rich foods or high levels of carbs.

Cooking something in an air fryer doesn’t necessarily make it healthy; eating fries on a regular basis isn’t going to win anyone any nutritional points, no matter the amount of saturated fat you may save. Ultimately, you should look at the overall nutritional profile of a food and your wider diet, rather than comparing individual foodstuffs like for like. Having said that, many of us will benefit from cutting down on saturated fats in our diet, and air fryers are often associated with lower levels. Let’s look a little deeper.

Air frying vs deep frying

Cooking the same food in an air fryer instead of deep frying is thought to represent a 70-80% reduction in fat, which of course has an impact on the calorie content, too. If you’re looking to save on your fat intake then this is a significantly healthier way to cook food, and it often presents like-for-like results.

Foods that are “fried” successfully in an air fryer are pre-packed breaded or battered foods; in our experience, homemade versions of such items using panko, breadcrumbs or other coatings don’t produce as golden and crispy results as when deep fried.

Air frying vs oven

There is a negligible health benefit here, if you’re concerned about fat and calories, since foods cooked in an air fryer use a basket, or are rotated using a paddle so that any oil drips away from the food. In an oven, depending on your cooking method, foods may be sat in the oil on a tray and could soak this up; but for other baked or broiled foods, the air fryer performs the same as a regular oven health-wise. Rather, the benefit of using an air fryer when compared to an oven is that it’s quicker and more energy efficient.

What can you cook in an air fryer?

Air fryers are brilliant for cooking fries, pastries, nuggets, of course – but they also deliver great results when cooking whole chickens (if your air fryer has the capacity) and chicken portions, fish, vegetables and even cookies and omelets.
Foods that don’t see such success when cooked in an air fryer tend to be lightweight foods such as kale and spinach; and foods with loose coatings of homemade breadcrumbs or batter. Steaks and burgers are also lackluster in an air fryer, lacking the caramelization and char of being cooked on the grill or griddle. Air fryers also tend to struggle with wetter foods such as cheese, so stick with the grill or oven here.

The verdict

While air fryers aren’t intrinsically healthy, if your diet generally consists of a lot of fried food then you’ll make fat and calorie savings by cooking these foods in an air fryer – which could prove beneficial for your health. But using less oil isn’t an automatic pass to healthy eating; our bodies process fats differently and while some people will find a high-fat diet leads to undesirable fats in their blood, others won’t respond poorly. Eating a varied diet – cooked in an air fryer or otherwise – is the most reliable way to improve your health.

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In Depth