Is Air Frying Healthy? A Dietitian Dishes on Benefits & What to Cook

Stephanie Skinner-Lucas - The Upside Blog

by | Read time: 5 minutes

You’ve made a conscious decision to eat ‘healthy.’ So why can’t you stop thinking about fried foods? Perhaps it’s because you’ve told yourself they’re off limits. Well, we have some good news. Thanks to a brilliant new kitchen appliance, they’re not. Air fryers have skyrocketed in popularity among people looking to enjoy fried foods but wanting to stick with healthier eating habits. So what, exactly, is an air fryer? How do they work? What can you cook in them? And (most importantly), is air frying healthy? Let’s dig into the details.

Man Cooking Food in Air Fryer in Kitchen to Represent Concept Is Air Frying Healthy

What is an air fryer, and how does it work?  

Air fryers are countertop kitchen appliances that come in a variety of sizes. Food is placed inside a slide-out perforated basket or on grated racks. If you’d like, you can drizzle on a light coating of oil before cooking.

Air fryers do not actually fry food. The cooking method is somewhat between deep frying and cooking in a convection oven. Hot air up to 400 degrees F is circulated with a fan. The fan blows faster, and the food compartment is often small. The hot air hits the food more rapidly, decreasing heat loss. This swift roasting or rapid convection produces a crunchy, crispy exterior that quickly browns chicken, potatoes, frozen snacks, veggies and fish without overcooking the inside. Deep-frying works similarly, explaining the name and the comparison.

As foods cook in an air fryer, the container below the basket catches any grease that drops. The result is a product with similar characteristics to fried food with less fat and calories. The chemical reaction is known as the Maillard reaction, present in most cooking methods (including air frying), aiding in changing the color and flavor of foods.

What are the benefits of air frying?

1. Weight management

Air fryers can support healthy weight management and even weight loss. Deep-fried foods are high in calories and fat, which promote weight gain and  place a person at higher risk for obesity. Making the shift to air frying can encourage weight loss by reducing the regular intake of unhealthful oils.

2. Less oil consumption

What’s wrong with oil? Oils contain many calories, including the healthier olive and avocado oils. Gram for gram, fats (such as cooking oil) have more than twice the calories (nine calories per gram) of protein and carbohydrates (both four calories per gram). Many deep-fried recipes call for up to three cups of oil, while air-fried foods need only about one tablespoon, if anything. This equates to a significant drop in the overall fat content.

3. Reduced consumption of acrylamide

Air fryers reduce the risk of toxic acrylamide formation. Acrylamide is a dangerous compound that develops in carbohydrate-rich foods during high-heat cooking methods, such as deep frying. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide may be linked to a certain cancer development. The risk of acrylamide presence in food can be reduced by air frying.

4. Disease prevention

Decreasing the amount of deep-fried foods we eat can impact disease risk. Cooking with oil and eating traditional fried foods have been adversely linked to several health conditions. The replacement of deep frying with other cooking methods can reduce a person’s risk of these complications.

What foods can be cooked in an air fryer?

It depends on the type and size of the air fryer purchased. An air fryer can cook pretty much anything that is typically fried in oil, such as:

Meat and fish

Air fried lightly breaded chicken breast or fish is a healthy alternative to fried chicken or fish fingers. Try to choose a seasoning/breading mix made with whole-grain flour, whole-grain cereal or ground flax seeds. The final product will have a crispy outside and be done ‘just right’ on the inside.


Fresh and frozen vegetables can be livened up in an air-fryer. Just toss the veggies in a small amount of olive oil or avocado oil and add your favorite herbs and spices to taste. This keeps them from getting dried out. For a nutrient-packed snack substitute for chips, try transforming chopped kale into crunchy kale chips or sliced beets into crispy beet chips.

French fries and onion rings

The air fryer is great for cooking fries that satisfy the strong urge for something with texture. Oven cooking fries takes longer, and it can be challenging to achieve a perfect crispness. Air frying is especially good for sweet potato fries which often turn out soft or mushy cooked in the oven. Keep the skin on to maximize fiber and nutrient consumption. Onion rings in the air fryer result in a substantial, crunchy treat or side.

So much more…

Other foods you can cook in an air fryer include cheese sticks, pizza and even doughnuts. Some models have a toast and bake setting, which makes the air fryer more like a convection oven. A chicken can be roasted, or brownies can be baked in them, depending on the overall size of the air fryer and basket.

Is air frying healthy?

Research on the effects of air-fried food is currently limited, but experts generally recommend that people should limit their intake of fried food. The dietary guidelines recommend fat makes up 20-35% of your diet. Eating too many fried foods is an easy way to overdo it on fat and calories.  Air fryers can cut calories by 70-80%, equating to less fat intake.

Air fryers may be better for you than deep fryers. But remember this; air fryers are as healthy as the food put inside of them. Don’t expect them to work magic (like removing the saturated fat from bacon or the trans-fat from a bag of processed chicken wings!). Many other cooking options provide healthy, delicious foods, including oven roasting, grilling, baking and pan searing. They do not provide the same crispy results as an air fryer. To reap the great benefits of air frying, reach for better-for-you options like vegetables and lean proteins.

Air fryer recipes to try

Air Fryer Sweet Potato Chips

Air Fryer Apple Chips

Air Fried Artichoke Hearts

Air Fryer Smoked Broccoli Florets

Air Fryer Apple Fritters

Air Fryer Sweet Potato Falafel

Air Fryer Plantain Chips

Air Fryer Custard Yogurt Toast

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