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Deep Fried Food Facts

"You want fries with that?" is not a simple Yes or No question for folks keeping track of their fat and calorie intake when they're eating out.  Instead, the right response is further inquiry, "Well, first tell me how they're made."
Even though fried foods are on the go-easy list for dieters, there is a big difference in how greasy (and therefore, how calorie-filled) fried foods are. It all depends on how they are prepared. And while you can't take over the fry cook's job every time you dine out; it's important to know what's going on back there so you can demand restaurants "straighten up and fry right!" Basically, the hotter and fresher the frying oil used, the lower the amount of total fat that will end up in the food.  Exhibit A: Deep fried egg rolls arrive soaked in so much oil you could ring them out and fry another batch. This is a sign that the oil wasn't hot enough, often because the frying basket was so overcrowded it lowers the frying temperature. Or it could be that the oil was used over and over so many times it breaks down and loses it ability to reach its maximum heat. Exhibit B: Delicately battered fried shrimp so crisp and light that the succulent shrimp gets top billing when you bite in, not the batter. Someone in the kitchen clearly cared about the art and science of frying. And since shrimp are well –"shrimpy"- their small size helps keep total frying time to a minimum- another way to limit fat absorption.
Peanut oil, soybean oil, canola oil and safflower oil have the highest smoke points (the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and break down); followed by corn oil, sunflower oil and olive oil - so these are great choices for deep fat frying. That's why a thermometer is crucial in frying right—to see when the oil gets to the optimal temp. For big pieces of food, like chicken, the oil should be 350 degrees Fahrenheit, so the chicken gets cooked thoroughly. For smaller pieces, like French fries, the oil should be hotter at about 375 to 390 degrees Fahrenheit. If they've fried it right, the oils stays on the outside of the foods, where the surface is browned and crispy. The inside is cooked to perfection from the heat, not from penetration of the oil.
What about trans fats, the heart disease causing Darth Vader of the nutrition world today? Unfortunately while we're seeing trans fats flee from packaged foods because of labeling regulations; no such labeling laws exist for restaurant foods so many still use hydrogenated solid shortenings which create a crispy product but contain trans fats. McDonalds and other big burger chains say they're trying to find a trans fat free oil that tastes good enough. Meanwhile, Ruby Tuesday switched to trans fat free canola oil last year and Chick Fil-A has been frying chicken in trans fat free peanut oil since the1960's. Chick Fil-A nutritionist Jody Worrell says that's not all they do to watch the fat, "Fresh chicken is hand breaded at stores (as opposed to coming pre-breaded and partially pre-fried like most other operations) and then fried once at high temperatures in pressure fryers to reduce time in the fryer." To avoid overcrowding the fryers, the chicken filets are arranged in layered baskets so a set amount goes in each time. To keep the oil clean, it's filtered every five "drops" and changed each night.  So, while we've long heard that freshness was the hallmark of healthy foods; now we know that fresh and clean frying oils are important to prevent greasiness and therefore help reduce the total fat and calorie content of fried foods.


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