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Fried Food Increases Risk of Stroke and Heart Disease, Analysis Finds

person dipping a french fry in ketchup

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Key Takeaways

  • It's no secret that fried food isn't the healthiest option, but new research has linked fried food intake to a higher risk of major heart disease and stroke.
  • The analysis of previous studies found that the risk of major cardiovascular events rises with every serving of fried food.
  • If you have any cardiovascular risk factors, doctors recommend cutting fried foods from your diet.

The average Western diet isn’t known for being the healthiest in the world, but scientists are still trying to determine exactly what effects certain foods have on health. Take fast food, for instance. According to a 2018 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 36.6% of Americans eat some kind of fast food on any given day.?

Fast food is typically fried—think chicken strips, french fries, cheese sticks, hot dogs, and burgers. And it’s fried food intake (not just from takeout places. but in meals prepared at home, too) that was the focus of a recent research analysis, published online in the journal Heart

Until now, it’s not been clear how the consumption of fried food might affect the risk of serious heart disease and stroke. But after analyzing all existing data, the researchers—from various institutions in China—linked fried food intake to a higher risk of major heart disease and stroke.?

The team pooled data from 17 studies, involving 562,445 participants and 36,727 major cardiovascular "events," such as heart attack or stroke, to determine the risk of cardiovascular disease. They also pooled data from six of the studies, involving 754,873 participants and 85,906 deaths over an average monitoring period of 9.5 years, to assess a possible link between fried food consumption and deaths from cardiovascular disease and from any other cause. 

What the Analysis Found


The researchers found that the risk of major cardiovascular events rises with each additional 114g serving of fried food. Compared with the lowest category, the highest category of weekly fried food consumption was associated with a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% higher risk of coronary heart disease, and a 37% higher risk of heart failure. 

Many studies concentrated on only one type of fried food, such as fried fish or snacks, and not total fried food intake. According to the researchers, this may have underestimated the association between fried food consumption and major cardiovascular events. 

Leonard Pianko, MD

If you have cardiovascular risks, eliminating fried foods from your diet should be one of the first lines of defense. We cannot control our genetic makeup, but we can control what we put in our bodies.

— Leonard Pianko, MD

And while no associations were made between fried food consumption and deaths from cardiovascular disease or any other cause, the researchers suggest that this may be due to the relatively small participant numbers. 

The results of the analysis come as no surprise to Aventura, Florida cardiologist Leonard Pianko, MD. He points to the 2008 INTERHEART study, which showed that the risk of heart attack correlated strongly to the so-called Western diet, that favors salty snacks and fried foods.?? The INTERHEART researchers found that the risk of heart attack was 30% higher for those who ate a Western diet than for those who adhered to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables .

"This new study confirms that eating fried foods frequently may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease," Dr. Pianko says. 

Why Is Eating Fried Food So Bad?


While the researchers couldn’t say how exactly fried foods might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, there are many possible answers. 

Eating fried foods is problematic for two reasons. First of all, fried food absorbs fat from the oil it’s cooked in, which makes it higher in calories. “The higher your caloric intake, the greater the risk for obesity, which is one of the risk factors associated with heart disease,” Dr. Pianko explains. Also, the saturated fats used for frying, such as butter, lard, and oils, are known to increase cholesterol levels, which also puts you at risk for heart disease.

The researchers of the new study also highlight that frying boosts the production of chemical byproducts involved in the body's inflammatory response. 

“If you have cardiovascular risks or have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, eliminating fried foods from your diet should be one of the first lines of defense,” Dr. Pianko says. “We cannot control our genetic makeup, but we can control what we put in our bodies.” 

Megan Meyer, PhD

Studies have shown that frying has little to no impact on certain macronutrient content (like protein) in foods, but it may decrease the micronutrient (like vitamin C) availability.

— Megan Meyer, PhD

Cardiovascular health aside, frying definitely isn’t the healthiest choice. 

“Studies have shown that frying has little to no impact on certain macronutrient content (like protein) in foods, but it may decrease the micronutrient (like vitamin C) availability,” says Megan Meyer, PhD, director or science communications at the International Food Information Council

Good Foods for Heart Health

If you want to fry your food, there are a couple of ways that you can make it "healthier," Meyer says. One is to use extra virgin olive oil for frying, as it contains a large amount of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which have been linked to better heart health. 

"Another option is to use an air fryer which uses hot air to brown, crisp, and cook food," Meyer says. But however, you do it, she recommends making frying the exception, not the rule, when you cook your food. 

For optimal heart health, leading health organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association and the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating patterns such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet. 

“Both of these diets prioritize fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish and poultry, and unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, and beans,” Meyer says. 

The current 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making small shifts towards more nutrient-dense foods, such as those that are lean or low-fat and prepared with minimal added sugars, refined starches, saturated fat, or sodium.  

What This Means For You

If you want to eat a heart-healthy diet, start with making small shifts toward more nutrient-dense foods, like lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Try to avoid refined starches, saturated fats, sodium, and foods prepared with added sugars.

It's not easy to change the eating habits of a lifetime. If you need help, speak to your primary care doctor or consult a registered dietitian.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016. October 2018.

  2. Qin P et al. Fried-food consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Heart. 2020 Jan. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2020-317883

  3. Anand S et al. Risk factors for myocardial infarction in women and men: insights from the INTERHEART study. European Heart Journal. 2008 Apr. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehn018