Fried food heart risk might depend on oil

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-01-26 09:01:20-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Those who love fried foods (hello to the South) might have reason to rejoice.  A new study says that eating them may not put you at higher risk for coronary heart disease—but there is a catch. The scientific study says those foods have to be fried in olive or sunflower oils.

A study published this week in the British Medical Journal analyzed data on 40,757 Spanish adults age 29 to 69 who were tracked over an average 11 years. Mostly olive and sunflower oils are used in Spanish cooking.

None of the participants had coronary heart disease at the beginning of the study. Researchers asked participants what they ate and what cooking methods they used, then followed up to see who developed coronary heart disease and who died.

During those 11 years, only 1.5 percent or 606 of the events could be linked to coronary heart disease (heart attack or chest pain).

Researchers said that eating fried foods was not associated with coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease events. The types of oils used to fry foods--olive, sunflower or other vegetable oils--didn't change the outcome.

"In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death,” the authors concluded.

The authors of the study did note that the findings could mainly be applied to other Mediterranean countries, and noted that in North America, much of the food is cooked in re-used oils, which are higher in trans-fats.

Trans-fats are considered the worst type of fat because they raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Frying foods with some types of oil, like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, can increase intake of trans-fats.

Many experts say though that olive oil should not be used for high heat cooking, or for deep frying, because it has a low smoke point. That means it begins to smoke when heated past around 375 degrees, and also it starts to break down and turn rancid.  A food fried at a higher temperature absorbs less oil.

Fried food does contain more calories though, and has been medically linked to high blood pressure and obesity.

Dr. David Hughes, a cardiologist with Bon Secours, disagrees with the study.  He says although the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease by 30 percent, it doesn't eliminate the chances of a having a heart attack--not by any means.

“So, eating fat, oils, things that are going to give you a 70 percent chance risk of heart disease, my vote is for zero risk of heart disease,” he said.

Hughes recommends a better diet, one that is plant based, dairy free and oil free, practiced by some people living in the rural provinces of China. “They essentially have no cardiac disease at all,” he said.