Jan. 24, 2012 -- Eating foods fried in healthier oils such as olive or sunflower is not linked to heart disease or premature death, Spanish researchers have found.
They followed more than 40,000 adults for 11 years, tracking fried food intake and heart disease.
However, this tentative morsel of good news for fried food fans comes with a heaping side dish of caution, especially when it comes to typical U.S. fried foods and diets.
"We should emphasize that our results were obtained within the context of a healthy diet, the Mediterranean one, and may not be replicated with other types of diets," researcher Pilar Guallar-Castillon, MD, PhD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, tells WebMD.
Another big difference between Spanish diners and U.S. diners may also play a role. "In our study, most meals were prepared and consumed at home," Guallar-Castillon says. It's difficult to know which type of oil you are eating, she says, when you are dining out.
However, research on fried food and heart disease itself has produced conflicting results.
The researchers evaluated 40,757 adults, ages 29 to 69 and free of heart disease when they enrolled in the study in 1992 through 1996. The researchers followed them until 2004.
The researchers interviewed the men and women at the start of the study about their usual eating habits. They asked them what they'd eaten in a typical week during the previous year.
The questionnaire included up to 662 different foods, including 212 that were fried.
Frying methods included deep-fried, pan, battered, crumbed, or sautéed. Most used heart-healthy olive oil.
The researchers separated participants into four groups, depending on their intake of fried foods. The lowest group ate about 1.6 ounces of fried foods a day. The group with the highest intake had about 8.8 ounces a day. On average, the men and women ate a little less than 5 ounces a day of fried foods and used about a half-ounce of oil to fry it.
Fried food was about 7% of all food eaten.
During the follow up, 606 heart attacks and other heart ''events'' occurred, and 1,135 deaths occurred from all causes.
When the researchers looked at the heart disease and deaths, they found no link between fried food, whatever the intake, and heart disease or death from any cause.
As for why, Guallar-Castillon says, "Food was fried with oil rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy." Olive oil has antioxidants that may protect the heart.