Study: Eating Too Much Fried Food May Shorten Your Lifespan

Study: Eating Too Much Fried Food May Shorten Your Lifespan
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You, dear readers, are intelligent people. It’s unlikely anyone has to tell you that fried food is unhealthy. Nobody bites into a deep-fried Oreo thinking it’s going to nourish their body. But if you’re like me, and deep-fried anything is hard to resist, there is something you should know. Eating too many of these fried foods … well, it may shorten your life.

That’s according to a recent study published in the BMJ. It lays out the worst of the worst when it comes to fried foods and goes into detail about how fried foods affect your health.

Dr. Wei Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and a co-author of the study, said:

“People know fried food may have adverse health outcomes, but there is very little scientific evidence to demonstrate what the long-term adverse outcomes are for eating fried foods. In general, we found that fried food consumption is associated with overall mortality.”

A bucket of fried chicken today, a casket tomorrow. Just kidding. It’s not that dire. But, still, you should keep reading.

For the study, Bao and colleagues looked at about 2 decades worth of data on nearly 107,000 older women in the United States, ages 50-79. All of the women were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study. As part of that research, the women completed detailed questionnaires about their health and dietary habits in the 1990’s. The researchers tracked the women’s health until 2017, during which time more than 31,500 participants died.

Some of the Findings

  • Women who reported eating at least 1 serving of fried food per day were about 8% more likely to die early, compared to women who didn’t eat any.
  • Those who ate fried food at least once a day also had an 8% higher chance of dying specifically from cardiovascular disease.
  • Participants who ate 1 or more servings of fried chicken per day had a 13% greater risk of death from any cause and a 12% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease. [2]
  • Women who consumed 1 or more servings of fried fish or shellfish per day had a 7% increased risk of death from any cause and a 13% higher risk of heart-related death.

Although previous studies have linked fried food consumption to cancer, Bao’s research found that fried food consumption did not appear to increase the risk of the disease. [1]

He said:

“We know diet is important for cancer prevention or cancer survival, but not all of the dietary components [seem to be equally important].”

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The Worst Fried Offenders and Why (Maybe) They’re so Bad

So, which fried foods might kill you the fastest? Fried chicken and fried fish were found to increase your risk of going to an early grave or dying specifically from heart disease, according to the study. That could be because people simply tend to eat more fried chicken and fish than other types of fried foods, or because of the differences in how the 2 are prepared.

Bao gave an example of how restaurants tend to reuse oil when they cook fried foods like chicken, which may increase the number of harmful byproducts transferred to the food. Moreover, meats tend to be fried more deeply than, say, tortilla chips or cheese sticks.

Bao said: [2]

“Overall, we found that total fried food consumption is related to higher risk of all-cause death, and also death from cardiovascular disease.”

The team wasn’t able to examine the health effects of French fries, though the crispy spuds have been linked to cancer and higher mortality risk in previous studies. [1]

The study accounted for factors like medical history, demographics, smoking, drinking habits, and overall diet quality, which adds weight to the findings. However, because the study was observational in nature, it can’t prove cause-and-effect. There may be other factors at play.

Say, for example, you order country fried steak. Yummy, right? Yes, but red meat is a known carcinogen, so that could be one of the “other factors” involved in the increased health risks the study found.

As well, the fact that meat tends to be fried more deeply than other fried foods may explain a lot. Many people like their fried meat cooked to a crispy brown color, but overcooking food releases a substance called acrylamide, which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers a “probable human carcinogen.” For this reason, experts recommend cooking foods to a golden color, rather than a brown one.

Additionally, the researchers found that women who ate a lot of fried foods had other health problems that could have a negative effect on the heart. It’s not clear if the women’s fried food consumption played a role in those problems, or if those problems already existed and increased their risk even further. [2]

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Other Key Findings

  • 1/3 of participants who ate 1 or more fried meals per week were obese
  • 44% of the participants consumed more than 1 fried food per day
  • More than 1/2 of the participants achieved less than the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week
  • About 40% of the women were former smokers

And though the study looked specifically at women, men, too, should take the findings seriously.

Bao said: [1]

“We didn’t have any reason why the effects may differ by age, or even by gender. I would suspect the association may be similar among younger women or even young men.”

Don’t worry too much if you indulge in fried foods on occasion. Just don’t make a habit of eating them, and make the effort to lead a healthy lifestyle when you’re not licking grease off your fingers.


[1] Time

[2] HealthDay