Peer Reviewed


Nutritional Pearls: More Evidence That Fried Foods Are Bad for Your Heart

  • More evidence that fried foods are bad for your heart

    In today's article, the authors note that "the nutritional impact of frying depends on the type of fat or oil used as the frying medium," as well as what is being fried and for how long. Either way, the food usually ends up higher in calorie density than it would have been if it had not been deep fried. Yet, the specific concern regarding fried foods has been its effect on atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease (CAD), and eventual heart attack or stroke.

    The Research

    The Million Veteran Program (MVP) is an ongoing cohort study among veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration healthcare system. Started in 2011, participants provide a blood sample and complete health and dietary questionnaires, and their participation is connected to their use of the VA healthcare system (with informed consent). The authors of this study reported that as of 2018, about 650,000 veterans had completed the MVP lifestyle survey, including nutrition data.

    For the purposes of this study, the authors excluded those veterans whose dietary, lifestyle, and demographic information were incomplete and further excluded those who had already been diagnosed with CAD.

    How often the veterans consumed fried food was determined by their responses to just 2 questions in the dietary questionnaire: first, "How often do you eat food that is fried at home (exclude "Pam"-type spray)?" and second, "How often do you eat fried food away from home (eg, French fries, fried chicken, fried fish)?" These responses were grouped into levels of intake per week.

    Over 150,000 veterans, 90% of whom were men, were included in the final analysis, with the authors comparing the fried food intake of those who were diagnosed with CAD after the start of the study with those who continued to be without coronary artery disease.

    After taking into account age, sex, race, exercise, and other variables, the authors found that compared to those who consumed fried food of any kind less than once per week, those who consumed fried food daily were 14% more likely to be diagnosed with CAD, while those who ate fried food at least 1 time per week were 7% more likely to be diagnosed with CAD.

    Similarly, the risk of death from heart attack or stroke were statistically the same: 14% greater risk of death for those eating fried food daily or 7% greater risk of death for those eating fried food just once per week.

    What’s the Take Home?

    While this study has a comparatively brief follow-up period of 3 years, its large number of participants and its link to medical records lends it weight. That said, people's recall of their diets can be prone to error, and the dietary questions about fried foods don't allow us to differentiate between foods fried in one oil or another, not to mention which foods might have been fried or for how long.

    What this does say is that it's still a good idea to save fried foods for a special treat—they should not be something you eat regularly.


    Honerlaw JP, Ho Y, Nguyen X, et al Fried food consumption and risk of coronary artery disease: The Million Veteran Program. Clin Nutr. 2020;39(4):1203-1208.


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    Timothy S. Harlan, MD, is a board-certified internist and professional chef who translates the Mediterranean diet for the American kitchen with familiar, healthy recipes. He is an assistant dean for clinical services, executive director of The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, associate professor of medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, and faculty chair of the Certified Culinary Medicine Specialist program.