Frying food in olive or sunflower oil does not increase the risk of heart disease or early death, researchers say.
The study goes against the idea that fried food is always bad for the heart but experts said this “does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences.”
A team drawn from research centres, universities and hospitals in Spain analysed data from almost 41,000 adults aged 29 to 69 who did not have heart disease at the start of the study.
They were divided into four groups according to how much they ate foods fried in olive oil or sunflower oil, from the lowest to highest amounts.
People were asked about food consumed in a typical week during the previous 12 months, with foods consumed at least twice a month recorded.
Fried foods included those that were deep fried or pan fried and could be battered, crumbed or sauteed.
During an 11-year follow-up, there were just over 600 “coronary heart disease events” such as heart attacks and just over 1,100 people died from any cause.
Analysis showed no differences between the four groups of people in the risk of heart disease or dying.
The results also did not vary between those who used olive oil for frying and those who used sunflower oil.
Writing online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the experts said: “In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death.”
Frying is one of the most commonly used methods for cooking in Western countries, they added.When food is fried its nutritional content changes – food loses water and takes up fat, increasing its calorie count.
They said that while eating lots of fried food can increase some heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, a link between fried food and heart disease had not previously been fully investigated.
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Michael Leitzmann, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, said: “Taken together, the myth that frying food is generally bad for the heart is not supported by available evidence.
“However, this does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences. The study suggests that specific aspects of frying food are relevant, such as the oil used, together with other aspects of the diet.”
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “Before we all reach for the frying pan, it’s important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet rather than British fish and chips.
“Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too.”