Fried foods possess a two-dimensional composition that's irresistible: crisp on the outside and soft, warm and, depending on the ingredient, gooey on the inside. A generous dusting of salt or sugar that clings to the crunchy exterior as soon as it's removed from the deep fryer usually enhances this juxtaposition of textures. While tasty and comforting, studies show that frequent consumption of fried foods can contribute to:
- Arterial hypertension
- Lower HDL cholesterol levels (the "good" kind of cholesterol)
- Larger waist circumference
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Interestingly, one study concluded that consumption of fried foods cooked in olive or sunflower oils was not associated with coronary heart disease.
Another study published in The Prostate found that men who consume fried foods at least once a week were at an increased risk of prostate cancer (30 to 37 percent) compared to men who ate fried foods once a month or less. Furthermore, the study purports that weekly consumption of fried foods was associated with a slightly greater risk of more aggressive prostate cancer. Why is this? When oil is heated to temperatures suitable for deep-frying, potentially carcinogenic compounds can form in the fried food. Reusing oil, which most restaurants do for economical reasons, to fry more food only enhances the presence of these toxins.
The healthier solution to these risks remains obvious: Cut down on consumption of fried foods, and if you want to shallow or deep-fry, use olive or sunflower oils, and don't repurpose the oil. This can be expensive, though, so a cheaper, healthier, lower-calorie alternative is to skip frying, and bake foods to get a crispy crunch.
Baked Onion Rings Recipe
2 large sweet onions, sliced thinly into rings
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
Optional flavor-boosting additions: cayenne pepper, hot sauce, Old Bay seasoning, dried herbs, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, smoked paprika, curry powder
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Season buttermilk with a small amount of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Dip the onion rings into buttermilk, then dredge in panko so each ring is coated thoroughly. Place onion rings on baking sheets (don't overcrowd; work in batches) and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce or ranch dressing.
Variations: Use the above method for nearly any vegetable—squash, tomatoes and asparagus work really well. You can also use this recipe to make healthier homemade chicken nuggets or fish sticks.
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