The heavenly taste of a cheeseburger and french fries masks a hellish reality: These greasy foods – and many others – put us at risk for a slew of serious health woes, ranging from obesity to heart disease.
Meals that end up greasy almost always are prepared in the same way, says Caroline West Passerrello, a Pittsburgh-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“If the word ‘fried’ is in the name, the food will likely be greasy,” she says.
Fried foods tend to be high in saturated fat and are energy dense – meaning they have a lot of calories, but few nutrients.
Eating greasy foods in place of more healthful options can prevent you from getting the proper balance of nutrients. That can alter your gut microbiome, the population of microbes in your intestine that help you digest foods.
“Fat slows down digestion and takes a toll on your digestive system, which in turn can leave you feeling bloated or uncomfortable,” Passerrello says.
As greasy foods upset your stomach, you may find yourself running to the bathroom more often. This is particularly a problem for people with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, who may experience cramps, diarrhea or constipation after eating greasy foods.
Some studies also have found links between eating greasy fast foods and a decline in both learning ability and memory function.
Perhaps worst of all, eating greasy foods is associated with many chronic – and even deadly – conditions.
“There is a relationship with fried-food consumption and many chronic diseases -- coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity,” Passerrello says.
A 2017 study even found a link between eating fried potatoes – including french fries, fried potatoes and hash browns – more than twice a week and an increased risk of early death.
Not all of the alleged negative effects of eating greasy foods are grounded in sound science, however. For example, most experts say it is a myth that eating greasy foods leads to acne.
How to avoid greasy foods
French fries, fried chicken, potato chips and doughnuts are well-known greasy foods. But some healthful goods also can be greasy if they are not prepared the right way.
“Skip the veggies if it’s fried zucchini, mushroom poppers or onion rings,” Passerrello says.
Finding alternate ways to cook foods can cut back on or eliminate the grease. In addition to using the “super trendy air fryer,” Passerrello suggests preparing foods by baking, broiling or sautéing them.
When eating out, try to order items that are not fried. “If you have no other options available, take a napkin and try to soak up any excess oil before eating it,” Passerrello says.
Although it’s OK to occasionally eat greasy foods such as fries or doughnuts, make it a rare treat.
“Try to limit your greasy food intake to no more than a few times a week,” Passerrello says. “And on those days, be sure to balance those foods out with a lot of produce, whole grains and lean proteins at your other eating occasions.”
Just remember that simply adding healthful foods to a greasy diet is not enough. So, don’t think that ordering a salad with your cheeseburger and fries is going to help much.
In fact, doing so might just put more calories on your plate than your body needs.
“More calories in than out leads to weight gain,” Passerrello says.