Air fryers have became the hottest thing since Instant Pots and sliced bread, but can you really replace your traditional oil fryer with air as a healthy alternative?
Contrary to the name, air fryers don’t technically fry food. It’s a compact kitchen appliance that circulates hot air around the food to cook it and give it a crispy taste and browned color. You place the food in a basketlike container, the air fryer cooks it and the excess fat drops to a pan.
Cooking with an air fryer will take longer than deep frying, but not much. When comparing recipes, french fries generally take about six minutes to deep fry, where an air fryer would take 12 minutes. Deep frying chicken takes anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, but using an air fryer would take 25.
They’re marketed as a healthier way to cook foods like chicken wings and fries to tortilla chips and spring rolls, with little to no oil, while maintaining that fried flavor and crispiness that people enjoy. Sales show that consumers are buying into the newest fad, with 4 million units sold over a recent 12-month period.
And experts really do believe that air fryers may be a reasonable option for people looking to eat less fried foods and make a transition to a healthier lifestyle.
Air fryers require less oil than traditionally frying foods, making them generally healthier than their oil-immersed counterparts. Because while some oils may have health benefits, you’re still better off getting those benefits from non-fried foods.
“A lower-fat food is considered healthier than its high-fat counterpart, but it is important to look at the bigger picture and evaluate other foods typically consumed,” says Dinah Dalder, a clinical assistant professor of nutrition sciences at Purdue University.
Using less oil also means fewer calories, which can be helpful to those looking to lose weight, says Ali Webster, a registered dietitian at International Food Information Council Foundation.
For those who eat things like french fries or fried chicken regularly, using an air fryer to cook them can cut calories and fat content.
“Fats and oils are more calorie dense than protein or carbs, so calories can add up quickly when frying foods,” Webster says. “Traditionally, fried foods are also often coated in some kind of batter prior to being dropped in the oil, which ticks up the calorie count even higher.”
But if you’re looking to lead a healthier lifestyle, simply buying an air fryer won’t cut it. You also have to pay attention to the types of food you’re consuming.
“An air fryer may be a reasonable option for someone who can afford an extra kitchen appliance, but may not necessarily be the best choice for making dietary improvements,” Dalder says. “An individual’s diet may improve by eating less fried foods overall and adding more fruits and vegetables.”
It’s also important to note that eating fried foods here and there isn’t going to be detrimental to your diet.
“Having fried foods once in a while isn’t going to harm your diet or your waistline,” Webster says. “But the excess calories can really add up if you’re eating fried foods multiple times a week or possibly multiple times a day, and that will be reflected in your body weight.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are air fryers healthy?