(Reuters Health) – Women who eat fried chicken every day may be 13 percent more likely to die prematurely than people who avoid it, a US study suggests.
Fried fish is only slightly better, with a seven percent greater risk of premature death from all causes associated with a daily portion, according to the study.
"Eating fried foods increases total calorie consumption and the risk of obesity, which is related to an increased risk of death," said senior author of the study, Wei Bao, from the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
"However, in our analysis, we counted the total calorie intake, lifestyle habits and obesity status," Bao said by e-mail. "After controlling for these factors, the association of fried foods with all-cause death and cardiovascular death remained."
About one in three adults in North America eats fast food, usually fried, every day, Bao and colleagues note in the BMJ.
During frying, foods can lose water and absorb fat, which can make meals more crispy and more appetizing, but also encourage people to eat more than they should. Previous research has linked fried foods to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, but the possible connection to premature death is unclear.
For the current study, the researchers examined diet questionnaire data from 106,966 women ages 50 to 79 who participated in the Women's Health Initiative study between 1993 and 2017.
On average, the researchers tracked every woman for about 18 years. During follow-up, 31,588 women died, including 9,320 who died of heart problems and 8,358 who died of cancer.
To evaluate the consumption of fried foods, the researchers looked at how often women reported eating certain items when they enrolled in the study, including: "fried chicken"; "Fried fish, fish sandwich and fried seafood (shrimp and oysters)"; and other fried foods such as chips, tortilla chips and tacos.
After accounting for other factors that may accelerate death, such as limited education, inactivity and an unhealthy diet in general, researchers found that eating fried foods regularly was associated with an increased risk of death from any cause, and specifically heart problems .
Women who ate at least a daily portion of fried chicken were 12 percent more likely to die of heart problems than women who did not eat fried foods, according to the study. The fried fish, in turn, was associated with a 13% higher risk of death from heart problems.
But eating fried foods does not seem to affect the risk of dying from cancer.
Participants who ate fried foods more regularly tended to be younger, not white, with less schooling and lower income. They were also more likely to be smokers, to exercise less and to have a low-quality diet.
The study was not a controlled experiment designed to prove that fried foods directly affect longevity. Another disadvantage is that she relied on women to accurately recall everything they ate.
Even so, the findings provide new evidence that the way foods are prepared can have a major impact on health, said Dr. Clyde Yancy of Feinberg Medical School at Northwestern University in Chicago.
"Birds and fish are generally considered to be heart-healthy food choices, but the frying process changes the health consequences," said Yancy, who was not involved in the study by e-mail.
"When fried foods are consumed, the altered structure of these fats used for frying generates signs for more inflammation, more (hardening of the arteries) and higher blood sugar levels," added Yancy. "This only worsens when fried food intake is associated with sugary drinks, high sodium content and less consumption of fruits and vegetables."
Avoiding fried foods may be ideal, but some frying methods may be better than others, said Daniel Lackland, a researcher at the University of Medicine, South Carolina in Charleston, who was not involved in the study.
"The elimination of trans fats is important," Lackland said by e-mail. "Consuming foods prepared by grilling or roasting would be the preferred choice – but if occasional frying is consumed, frying with safer oils such as olive oil would be a good way to go."
SOURCE: bit.ly/2RVUd2s BMJ, online January 23, 2019.