Are Air Fryers the Answer to “Healthy” Fried Food?

They promise crispy eats with little to no oil.

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Chances are, you’ve heard of air fryers by now. It’s one of the trendiest new kitchen appliances right now (along with the beloved instant pot). Its claim to fame is the ability to make “healthy” fried foods—without actually using oil.

Healthy, crispy french fries, onion rings, nuggets, and empanadas? It seems too good to be true, and in a way, it is.

First things first: Air fryers aren’t actually fryers at all. They’re more like a mini oven, but they circulate hot air all around your little basket of fries or tater tots. This is able to get foods a little crispier than what your oven could do—although not nearly as crispy (or satisfyingly greasy) as what would come out of a deep fryer.  

Cooking with hot air sure sounds healthier than dunking your food in a vat of bubbling oil, but here’s the catch: It all depends on what you put in that air fryer basket.

Frozen, packaged products—tots, fries, onion rings, nuggets, wings, and so on—already contain oil in the breading (not to mention a heap of sodium). In fact, one brand of frozen chicken nuggets contained 13 grams of fat per serving—and even trace amounts of trans fats. In other words, putting these products in your air fryer won’t necessarily make a low-fat or fat-free treat.

Plus, some of those products, like french fries, get pre-fried before they are frozen and sent to the grocery store. Unfortunately, many are fried in hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. trans fats). So even if you put these in your air fryer, they’ve already been fried in oil.

The takeaway is this: Crisping up your foods in the air fryer is healthiER, but not necessarily healthy.

You *can* make healthy nosh in the air fryer, however; the trick is to skip the frozen, packaged foods. Here are just a few healthy ideas for how to use your air fryer:

  • Cut tortillas into triangles and make DIY tortilla chips.

  • Slice and season sweet potatoes for tasty fries.

  • Bread your own onion rings with panko bread crumbs and seasoning.

  • Slice carrots into thin coins for carrot “chips.”

  • Make homemade calzones using whole-wheat dough.

  • Core and stuff an apple for a fast baked apple.

  • Rip kale into bite-sized pieces, season, and make crispy kale chips.

But if you don’t have an air fryer, don’t worry: Most of these can be accomplished in the oven or toaster oven (although it make take a few more minutes). For more kitchen appliance tips, here are other ways to use your slow cooker (besides stew).