There’s no question celebrities and health connoisseurs are the drivers of all sorts of trends. What’s really hot right now? Air fryers are on fire as far as consumer demand goes, but are these trendy gadgets worth their price tag and do they live up to the health claims they’ve been touted for? Air-fried food is a better choice compared to deep-fried food because of reduced calories and fats, but it is still fried food. With that said, what’s all the hype really about?
Just like any trend, we’ve seen kitchen trends come and go over the years; some stick around for the long haul while others fade to become distant memories of the past. A few still with us today include the 1920s pop-up toaster, the 1930s Kitchen Aid stand mixer and the 1950s electric kettle. Air fryers seem to fit in with the current trend to eat clean and be lean. This machine allows us to remove quite a bit of fat and calories from our cooking. As much as air fryers have their pros, they certainly don’t come without cons. Before you get too excited and drop between $100 and $400 of your paycheck, get the full picture. We’ve got you covered with a full breakdown of this hot little gadget.
How do Air Fryers Work?
The air fryer was first launched in Europe and Australia in 2010. The Philips brand has sold millions upon millions of units and with marketing savviness coined the science “Rapid Air Technology.” This means they circulate heat at high temperatures, usually between 300 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. A less fancy way of putting it is to say they simply contain a fan that blows some hot air on your food.
In addition to the use of heat at quite high temperatures, air fryers allow you to cook (fry, bake, or grill) a variety of foods with the use of very little (almost no) oil—just tiny oil droplets. Unlike deep frying, you only need about one tablespoon of oil. This seems to be their main appeal, mostly for those who are against oil altogether. Also, when you cook your food with an air fryer, your food won’t dry out like it would with baking or with a dehydrator.
What Are the Benefits of Air Frying?
Like every product on the market, there are positive and negative characteristics to be considered. Let’s look at the pros, and there are quite a few.
Less toxins: From a toxin perspective, food that is cooked in an air fryer may contain fewer harmful compounds, like acrylamide, compared to traditionally fried foods. This is definitely a plus.
Less calories: Enthusiasts say the main appeal to air frying is the reduction in your food’s calorie count, usually by more than half when compared to deep frying or frying your food in a pan. This is advantageous if you have been advised to restrict your calories or lose weight due to medical reasons. It’s important to know whether you actually need to reduce your caloric intake. According to Health Canada, the number of calories a person needs depends on age and activity level.
Less fat: Eliminating most oil from recipes makes the fat content in food lower. If you’d otherwise use unhealthy fats (such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, which contains harmful trans-fats), the reduced fat intake would be beneficial. However, research is suggesting that outside of trans-fats, fat is not the macronutrient we really need to worry about, it’s the carbs.
Improved taste and texture: Unlike boiling and baking, air-frying can improve the texture and taste of your foods by making them crispier and more flavorful. And they won’t leave the strong scent that frying leaves behind. Advocates of air frying—notably chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Emeril Lagasse claim when you cook with an air fryer, your food will develop a crispy outer texture while keeping the inside moist—think tender, moist and juicy chicken with the crispiest, lightest crust. You can cook a wide range of foods in an air fryer, from French fries, onion rings all sorts of vegetables to meats and baked goods.
Save time: You’ll also enjoy the added benefit of saving time in the kitchen. You can prep and cook foods much faster with an air fryer compared to cooking with your oven and you’re left with very little clean up.
What Are the Downfalls of Air-Frying?
Your food is still fried: The foods you cook in an air fryer won’t be deep-fried and will contain very little oil, but they’re still considered fried foods (hot temperatures combined with oil). Fried foods, particularly those fried in oils made up of trans-fats, have been associated with a number of health issues, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Overuse: The idea that you’re consuming fewer calories due to air frying can cause you to overindulge and put even more calories into your diet than you would have otherwise.
Less fat: Depending on your position on the “fat argument” getting less of this macronutrient in your diet is not necessarily a good thing. We need healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado oil for immune, brain, heart and hormonal health. These fats also provide key nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. We can’t manufacture fat and we need it for a plethora of functions, such as energy, growth development, cell functioning, proper functioning of our nerves and brain, transporting vitamins and the list goes on and on.
So what’s the bottom line—are air fryers worth the money or are they just for air heads? While this device has a few good things going for it, the research on air-fried food is extremely limited. And what is available does not by any means suggest this cooking method is superior to any other. One obvious issue is that interpreting this cooking method as “healthy” can lead to overusing it, which would defeat the purpose of it and thus eliminate the benefits. Your verdict will ultimately depend on your perspective on fat and oil as that is what really sets the air fryer apart (taking into account that trans-fats are a problem, which we can all agree on). If you don’t believe fat in general and in moderation is harmful, then chances are air fryers are probably not for you.