PODCAST: Are Air Fryers a Healthier Way to Cook?Jan. 10, 2023
Whether you're on the fence about getting an air fryer or have one but aren't quite sure how best to use it, you might have some questions about this trendy cooking appliance. Is food cooked in air fryers always healthier, even fries and wings? What else can you make in it? In today's episode, we talk all things air fryer — including how they work and tips for cooking with one.
Hosts: Zach Moore (interviewer), Katie McCallum
Expert: Amanda Beaver, MS, RDN, LD, Wellness Dietitian
Notable topics covered:
- How an air fryer works, and how this differs from a deep fryer or oven
- Which cooking oils Amanda recommends while using your air fryer
- The times when air frying may not actually be healthier than deep frying
- How worried you need to be about acrylamides and other chemicals formed during cooking
- Amanda's favorite foods to cook in her air fryer
- How an air fryer can help take your veggie game up a notch
- Tips for making crispy, nutritious and delicious food in your air fryer
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ZACH: Welcome to On Health with Houston Methodist. I'm Zach Moore. I'm a photographer and editor here, and I've worked in multimedia and television for over 15 years — and I'm also a longtime podcaster.
KATIE: I'm Katie McCallum. I'm a former researcher turned health writer, mostly writing for our blog.
ZACH: And Katie, do you have an air fryer?
KATIE: Oh man, do I have an air fryer? Yes, I do. We have some pretty strict rules in our household about very clean countertops. The only two things that are allowed on the countertops are one, the coffee maker, and two, the air fryer, because we use it literally every night.
ZACH: Truly, the essentials of your kitchen.
KATIE: Yeah. Yeah. Essentially, it is our oven at this point. We rarely use our oven now, we just use our air fryer.
ZACH: Well, air fryers, they’ve become such a popular gift for one. We got one as a wedding present. By far, my favorite wedding present.
KATIE: Yeah, great gift.
ZACH: Yeah. I mean, ‘cause I am not, you know, I’m not Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen here, okay? So, I’m always endeavoring to, I’m trying to become, it’s important to my wife that I become a better --
KATIE: Okay, I see what’s happening here.
ZACH: Cook in the kitchen.
KATIE: You need to be contributing more in the kitchen it sounds like.
ZACH: Yes. Yes. You know, I wash the dishes. I’m great with cleaning. The cooking. It’s like, “Oh man. It’s a lot of work.” But I gotta say, the more I get into it, the more fulfilling it is. ‘Cause you have a sense of accomplishment when you cook a meal, and the air fryer makes your life a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?
KATIE: Yeah. I was about to say, the air fryer takes a lot of the complication out. Essentially, you chop stuff and toss it in seasonings and throw it in there. I bet a lot of people have been getting them after the holiday season.
ZACH: Yeah, and if you’re looking at this new item in a box and wondering what to do with it, because that’s the intimidating factor for somebody like me, who’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t really cook and where do I start? Oh my gosh, what do I do?” We’re gonna answer those questions for you.
KATIE: Yeah, and I think too a question people might have, people who don’t love air fryers as much as I myself do -- I know when I was trying to convince my parents to get one, my mom, I think there was some conversations of like, “Well, is it really healthier? Is the food in it any healthier?” And it’s like, Okay. You know, I don’t have perhaps the right answer to that, but I can tell you that it’s much more convenient. We use ours for everything. I mean, it's either being used for our protein or veggies every night, so -- If we’re doing like, chicken thighs on the stove, that means broccoli’s in the air fryer. Or if we’re air frying fish, that means Brussel sprouts are on the stove. So, when I say we use it every night, I literally am saying we use our air fryer every single night. I love it. And you talked to one of our dieticians about air fryers, right Zach?
ZACH: I did. Amanda Beaver is a wellness dietician here at Houston Methodist, and we had a great discussion about sort of the science behind an air fryer. Is it really healthier than cooking in more, quote unquote traditional ways?
KATIE: Better be.
ZACH: [Laughter] Well, as all things in life, it’s a nuanced answer. You have to follow some recipes, obviously. There is some structure to it. It’s not all just set it and forget it. Yeah.
ZACH: [Laughter] It’s not a magic box you just put ingredients in.
KATIE: I don’t know, maybe it is. I would almost say it’s a magic box. I’m being, I’m exaggerating but that’s how much I love it. It feels like a magic box to me sometimes.
ZACH: Well, we get into the science behind the magic in our conversation here so --
KATIE: I love that.
ZACH: Looking forward to sharing the facts about air fryers with you. Let’s get into it.
[Sound effect signaling beginning of interview]
ZACH: We’re here with Amanda Beaver, a registered dietician here at Houston Methodist. Hi, Amanda.
ZACH: Thanks for being with us today.
AMANDA: Of course. Thank you.
ZACH: So, air fryers. They seem to be a very trendy item these days. Everybody’s talking about how they got one as a present or you know, it’s a real prominent piece of people’s kitchen these days. I’ve found it. Have you found the same thing about air fryers?
AMANDA: Definitely. So, I feel like they became really popular after like, 2015. I first heard of them in 2017 when I was reading like, a food and nutrition magazine. And actually, got one as a graduation present after I finished my Master’s degree and have been loving it ever since. So, I hear a lot from people that they might get it for their birthday, or for another holiday, and then maybe they open it up and put it on their counter, but they don’t actually use it. And I feel like those of us who kind of have it but aren’t using it are really missing out on some really easy and tasty food that they could be making with it.
ZACH: Okay, great. You know, I have one as well. Me and my wife received one as a wedding present, and we immediately started using it. And I gotta say, it’s probably my favorite wedding present. It is the most practical usage and -- No, I really enjoy it. And you know, I'm not like, Mr. Chef over here, cooking all the time in the kitchen. I’m trying to get better. I don’t know, I just think it’s a very convenient tool that can make a lot of great food for you. And I guess the main thing we’ll be talking about today is health wise there’s a perception that, “Oh, it’s healthy. I cooked it in the air fryer.”
ZACH: And that may or may not be the case, but let’s take a step back before we really dive into the air fryer. Let’s talk about what separates the way an air fryer cooks something than the way a grease fryer from like, the other end of the spectrum. Kinda what are the differences that -- What does an air fryer do to your food?
AMANDA: So, the air fryer is very different in that it has a heating element and a fan that kind of blows the hot air around the food so it can really circulate around the food and brown it, and cook it efficiently, and quickly. Whereas an oven, the heating element is at the bottom and the heat kinda rises up and cooks the food that way. And the oven, as you know, has to preheat and it’s a pretty big space. So that takes a decent amount of time for it to heat up, and it’s not gonna brown the food as quickly and cook it as quickly, so it’s gonna take longer. And then, a deep fat fryer cooks the food in very hot oil. So, oil is an excellent heat conductor and that allows the food to brown really quickly and cook really quickly, however it does soak up some of that oil as it is deep frying.
ZACH: You know, you mention the not preheating things. That kinda threw me in for a loop when I first got our air fryer ‘cause I plugged it in and I'm like, “Alright, I‘m gonna set it to this temperature, and then I just press go.” And it starts and there’s no preheating sequence to it which is great. Which saves time --
ZACH: And you know, you mentioned oil. And speaking of oil, I think oil is one of those things that, I mean, people use it a lot in food --
ZACH: And probably the most common oil is probably the olive oil, but there’s also, you know, coconut oil, other kinds of oil. When you’re -- Even beyond just the air fryer, I guess but like, when you’re cooking in general, what is the healthiest oil you should be using?
AMANDA: This is a question that I get asked a lot as a registered dietician. So, I think it really depends on what you’re cooking. Kind of the two top ones that I recommend that people cook with are extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. And the reason for that is that they’re very rich in monounsaturated fats. Which are a type of fat that have been shown to help improve LDL cholesterol and be really good for our heart health. Not to mention that, but extra virgin olive oil also has polyphenols in it which can provide extra health benefits. There is some concern with, “Okay, maybe, olive oil might not be good for high heat cooking.” But studies have shown that the polyphenols and antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil might help protect it and help keep it safer at higher temperatures. So, I would recommend if it’s like, if you’re cooking in the air fryer at 400 or less, olive oil is perfectly fine to use, and same with avocado oil. If you’re gonna be cooking something hotter than that, like 450, 500, I would do a avocado oil that is safe to higher temperatures. And a lot of times, the label will say. And then another option too, if you’re cooking a dish that’s maybe South Asian or Southeast Asian, peanut oil’s a really good one because it also has a decent amount of monounsaturated fats which are those really good heart healthy ones. And it has a very neutral taste, and it’s pretty stable at higher temperatures. So, that’s kind of another good one to have. And my favorite kind of application of these oils for the air fryer is to use a oil sprayer. I have one that’s refillable and I kinda just spray it on the food to give it a nice, even coating. And that way, you know, all the food gets coated evenly instead of just kind of pouring it on and hoping that it all --
ZACH: Yeah. That’s usually what I do, so I’m -- When we’re done here, I'm gonna go look up an oil sprayer.
ZACH: So, this is -- You buy the oil in the normal package it would come in, and then you buy a sprayer and pour that oil into the sprayer? Okay.
AMANDA: So, they sell sprayers and misters that are specially designed for this, but they also do sell sprayers at the grocery store that are filled with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil that you don’t necessarily need that for. So, they sell those as well. But it’s nice having one that you can refill, ‘cause you can pick which oil you put in there and which one you add to the food.
ZACH: That’s great. I had no idea that those existed so thank you for that. Are those new?
AMANDA: I think they’ve become a lot more popular as people are looking into reusable options. But I also feel like it’s a little more cost effective too.
[Music plays to signal a brief interjection in the interview]
KATIE: The history of the air fryer goes back further than you might think. The seed of the idea was devised by William L. Maxson of the W.L. Maxson Corporation, who when serving meals to servicemen doing World War II invented the precursor to the modern frozen TV dinner. This was to replace the cold meals and sandwiches that were typically served. To cook them, Maxson built an oven of aluminum and steel with a 120 Volt DC motor powered by gas, kerosene, or electricity. He called it the Whirlwind Oven. It's secret, a fan installed in the back of the oven which forced hot air directly around the food. This evolved into the forced convection technology that is still used in air fryers today. By the late 1940s, the Whirlwind Oven gave way to the microwave. But many companies continued to build on the idea and in the late 1960s, the first full-size convection oven was made available to the public for household use. This continued throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s but it was not until the late 1990s and early 2000s until they truly began to catch on with the public at large. In 2010, Philips coined the now generic term ‘Air Fryer’ and released the Philips Air Fryer, the first iteration of what we know today. Launching at an electronics fair in Berlin, it quickly caught on in western Europe and by 2015, the Air Fryer became the number one brand for low fat fryers across the world.
[Music ends signals return to the interview]
ZACH: So, in my research about this, I saw the word “acrylamide” a lot. Why don’t you explain to us what that is.
AMANDA: Yes. So, acrylamide is a chemical compound that is formed when certain foods are cooked. So, it is basically a chemical reaction that takes place in food that has carbohydrates and some protein in it, and it tends to be found in higher amounts in foods that have been cooked for long periods of time, or at higher temperatures. And it’s especially higher in foods like potato chips, french fries, tater tots, cookies, toast, even coffee. Anything that’s kind of getting toasted and browned will have some of these acrylamide compounds. But the next question is kind of like, “Okay, so some of these foods have acrylamides in them, is that actually bad for me?” So, when we look at the research, animal studies have shown that high amounts of acrylamides do increase cancer in the animal models and animal studies. But when we look at human studies, the evidence is very mixed. So, there has been some studies that show the people who are eating the most acrylamides compared to those who are eating the least might have some increased risk of certain types of cancers, but then other studies don’t show this, so we’re still kind of figuring out what the impact is. And the FDA has issued some statements on acrylamide, and they’ve said, “Don’t worry about it too much because the studies are so mixed and just try to eat a varied diet that has fruits and vegetables and proteins.” Basically, not to worry about it too much. But for those of you who are worried or maybe you have a history of cancer, just maybe don’t eat a bunch of potato chips and french fries. [Laughter]
ZACH: Some probably good advice across the board.
AMANDA: Yeah. Yeah.
ZACH: So, does air frying help with that at all versus traditionally cooking?
AMANDA: Yeah. So, it’s gonna happen if things are fried, baked, put in the toaster oven, put in the deep fat fryer. So, any kind of roasting, baking, is gonna produce these compounds to some extent, but it’s going to be lower in the air fryer than in deep fat frying. So, there was a study that showed that chicken nuggets that had a breaded coating had less acrylamide when they were prepared in the air fryer versus when they’re prepared in the deep fat fryer, so that’s one benefit of cooking in the air fryer.
ZACH: Okay. So, following up that point, I think there’s probably a perception that, “Hey, I cooked it in the air fryer, it’s healthier.” And that isn’t necessarily the case, is it?
AMANDA: Yeah. So, I think that it really comes down to what you’re putting in the air fryer. So, one thing that I commonly see with people is buying the frozen french fries, frozen chicken nuggets that have that breading on it and then cooking it in the air fryer. And if you’ve ever done this before, it tastes pretty dang good. [Laughter] But those frozen french fries, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen popcorn shrimp, those have been par-fried, or pre-fried, before they’re packaged and go on the shelves at the grocery store. So, even though we’re cooking them in the air fryer and we’re not cooking them in a deep fat fryer, they are still pre-fried in a deep fat fryer. So, while they might be a little healthier than getting french fries or chicken nuggets from a fast-food restaurant, it’s still french fries and chicken nuggets that have been fried. So, I would save those kinds of foods for special occasions. You know, maybe, have that be your Friday tradition. If you wanna do some french fries in your air fryer, that’s totally fine but not an everyday thing.
ZACH: No, that that's just a general rule of thumb that makes sense. We made okra not long ago in the air fryer. That’s pretty good. [Laughter]
AMANDA: Yes, yes. That’s a great method for cooking okra ‘cause it’s a dry heat method and it helps keep it from getting kind of as slimy and stuff like that so.
ZACH: Yeah. Because like, I’ve always like, making like, you know, potatoes, like, roasted potatoes but it’s so hard to get them crispy, right? In traditional ovens. And I found in the air fryer, I’m like, “Huh, I can really get this, like the way it tastes in a restaurant.” You know?
AMANDA: Right, right. And I think that’s one of the best applications of the air fryer, and a way to create food that is pretty nutritious. So, the air fryer can act just like an oven, but in my opinion it kind of takes things like roasted potatoes, or broccoli, or Brussel sprouts and those are very healthy foods, and it does brown them nicely and cook them really well. So, in my opinion, the air fryer can be a great tool to get more of those nutritious foods into your diet in a way that’s gonna taste really good.
ZACH: That’s great. That's great. And you know, I have learned a lot of vocabulary in my research for this like, I mentioned the term earlier. Now, I also came across a couple terms: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines.
ZACH: What are they and what are their health risks?
AMANDA: Yes. So, these are quite a mouthful [Laughter]. Yeah, and they sound really scientific too, so you’re probably hearing this term and you’re like, “Uh, this is way too sciency. I’ve never heard of that before.” And this is a compound that is different than the acrylamides that we were talking about earlier. So, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are two different types of compounds that are formed when meat is cooked. So, any kind of muscular tissue like beef, pork, chicken, fish will produce these compounds to some extent when they’re cooked at high heat or cooked for long time periods. So, those are kind of the two key factors: high heat and cooking for long time periods. And just like with the acrylamides, when we look at these two compounds in animal studies, high intakes of these compounds do cause cancer in animals. However, when we look at the studies with humans, it’s a little bit more ambiguous and we’re still trying to figure out if these increase human cancer risk. However, when we looked to the major cancer organizations that give us guidelines on what we should be eating for preventing cancer, they do have a little bit more of caution to take with these compounds. So, we see higher amounts of these compounds develop when meats are seared or cooked for long periods of time or at higher temperatures. And we’ll see higher amounts of these compounds when we have a crust on the meats, or they’re getting those grill marks, or they’re blackened. So, what you can do about this is just not overcook your meat, and try to avoid situations where you’re getting that crust and that blackened meat ‘cause you could see higher amounts of these potentially carcinogenic compounds. So, when we look at studies with air fryers though, when we compare the air fried chicken tenders versus the deep fat fried chicken tenders, the air fried ones have less of these detrimental compounds. So that’s yet another potential benefit of the air fryer versus grilling or cooking in the deep fat fryer.
ZACH: Wow. So, I, my whole life, have thought, “Oh. Well done is quote unquote better for you because there’s less of a risk of, you know, salmonella, or fill in the blank of a disease you can get from undercooked meat.” That’s true on some categories, but not necessarily in others is what you’re saying.
AMANDA: Right. So, there’s definitely -- when we undercook meat, there is a higher risk of food poisoning. So, what I recommend people do for that is cook the food to the proper temperature. And this is not just for like, health reasons, this is also for taste reasons too because when we overcook meat, it really dries out. But if we cook it to the proper temperature, it’s gonna stay a lot more tender, and we might also get less of these potentially detrimental compounds too. So, the temperature to cook to depends on what you’re cooking. So, if it’s fish, the recommendation is to cook it to 145. If it’s chicken, the recommendation is to cook it to 165. If it’s pork, the recommendation is to cook it to 145 and have a three-minute rest time. So, it depends on what you’re cooking, and that is gonna help you make sure that you have really tender, moist meat or chicken or fish but you’re also avoiding some of these potential, detrimental compounds too. And you can feel really good knowing, “Hey, I cooked this chicken to 165 so I know I killed the bacteria and I know it’s safe to eat, but it’s also gonna taste good too.” So, get an instant read thermometer that you can use to cook your chicken, and your fish, and your meat, and it’s gonna taste better and you’re just gonna feel better about it.
ZACH: Yeah. We have one where you can cycle through like, what the kind of meat is. And to me, who is again, kind of a novice in the kitchen things, very helpful. I’m like, “Okay, fish this temperature, pork etcetera, etcetera.” So, you know that ‘cause they’re all, as you said, they’re all different temperatures, so you can’t necessarily use the same one for all the meats. So, yeah absolutely, that’s definitely the way to go.
AMANDA: Yeah, yeah. Or you could even just print a little page out from the FDA’s website --
ZACH: Frame that, hang it in the kitchen.
AMANDA: Yeah. Put it on your refrigerator. I actually have that because I forget these numbers sometimes too. And I noticed this yesterday, I actually cooked some fish in my air fryer yesterday and I took it out and checked the temperature, and it was actually at 200, so I really overcooked that fish. [Laughter]
ZACH: Kinda dry.
AMANDA: Right? And I noticed it when I was eating it but if I had cooked it to the proper temperature, it would have tasted so much better, and it would potentially have less of these potentially negative compounds into too.
ZACH: You know, side note. Fish. Right? It’s got this reputation, leaves a smell, right? Does the air fryer help that at all?
AMANDA: You know, I’ve noticed that it does. So, I’ve noticed that the air fryer --
ZACH: Another point for the air fryer, everyone.
AMANDA: Yeah. Definitely, definitely. I’ve noticed that there’s less smells for things like fish, or bacon compared to cooking it in the microwave or compared to cooking bacon, for example, on a stovetop.
ZACH: Now, convection ovens are like air fryers. I’ve read that they preserve nutrients better than other more traditional cooking methods, is that correct?
AMANDA: So, the preservation of nutrients will definitely really depend on the cooking method, and I like to tell my patients not to get too caught up in worrying about if the cooking method is destroying the nutrients or not. So, to kind of give you a little bit a background, vitamin C will be destroyed upon heating and cooking of any method. Whether it’s microwaving, boiling, air frying, roasting. And so, that’s one vitamin that’s really not gonna be preserved when you cook it, no matter what. Whereas some of the other cooking modalities, for example, when you boil food, some of the nutrients do get kind of leeched into the cooking water. Whereas with air frying, you don’t have a cooking liquid where the nutrients are kind of leeching into it. So, that is one benefit. Some of the mineral content and other vitamins will be preserved if you’re not cooking it in a liquid. However though, because some of the vitamins are gonna get destroyed no matter what when we cook, some of the vitamins are actually absorbed better upon cooking. So, for this reason, I tell people to do a mix in their diet of both cooked veggies as well as uncooked veggies to get the full compliment of nutrients. Because when we eat raw veggies, we’re probably gonna get, be able to absorb and get a lot more vitamin C, whereas when we cook the veggies, for example, we won’t be getting quite as much. So, I would just include a mix in your diet, and just not worry too much about killing nutrients are anything like that.
[Music plays to signal a brief interjection in the interview]
ZACH: Up after the break, Amanda shares some more tips and recipes you can use with your air fryer.
[Music ends, sound effect signals commercial break]
ZACH: And we’re back with Amanda Beaver.
[Sound effect signaling return of interview]
ZACH: What are some good, healthy, tasty meals that you can make in this air fryer?
AMANDA: Oh my gosh, so many things. So, I love this question because last year, my oven actually broke and I had to rely completely on my air fryer to cook my food. And I actually had a lot of fun with this ‘cause I really learned to cook almost everything in the air fryer. And you can really cook all the different proteins, all the different veggies in it. Some of my kinda favorite ones to recommend to patients are fish, because fish is we know so nutritious for us. So, you can buy fillets of fish either frozen or fresh. I actually did it with frozen fish last night because it’s so convenient, and you don’t have to worry about the fish going bad in your refrigerator if you’re buying it frozen anyways. So, you’re gonna add the fish to your air fryer. If it’s frozen, you’re gonna let it thaw for maybe two, three minutes and then you’re gonna spray with a little bit of olive oil or avocado oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and maybe your favorite seasoning blend. So, this is a time to really utilize the spices and seasoning mixes that you have in the back of your spice cabinet that you’re probably not using. So, open that up for me, and dig out some ones that maybe you know you really like but you haven’t used in a while. So, what that could like is maybe a Greek chicken, or maybe a Cajun tilapia, or maybe even a everything-but-the-bagel roasted broccoli. So, you can really get creative with whatever blends you have at home. I would say that fish is probably one of my favorite things to cook with it. You can also do shrimp, either from fresh or frozen and then use that for shrimp tacos or fajitas. Another great one to do is chicken. I feel like chicken thighs come out a lot better than chicken breasts, just ‘cause thighs tend to be a little more tender than chicken breast does. And it takes about 30 minutes to cook, and again, you can season it with whatever favorite seasonings you have. And lastly, we’ve got the whole category of veggies, so this is where I feel like the air fryer really shines because veggies are an area where a lot of people struggle with their nutrition. So, my top recommendation for my busy patients is to buy the veggies prechopped at the grocery store. So, think prechopped broccoli, prechopped cauliflower, the Brussel sprouts, the prechopped sweet potato, or prechopped butternut squash.
ZACH: I like that because that saves a lot of time. Because that’s like, half the battle of cooking is like, you take you out, you gotta chop it up. And I think it’s worth a little extra cost to save the convenience on that, in my opinion anyway.
AMANDA: Definitely, definitely. And if that’s gonna make the difference between having to go out to eat to get something that’s more expensive and probably less nutritious, you know, I think it’s a win/win. So, you can literally just take that bag of prechopped veggies, dump it straight in the air fryer, season it with some olive oil or avocado oil, salt and pepper, and whatever other seasoning you like, and then cook for about eight minutes if it’s like, for example, maybe very thin pieces of asparagus or tinier broccoli florets. Or for up to 20 minutes if it’s like, whole Brussel sprouts or maybe like, a potato will take a little longer too. So, I love this because I feel like it’s great to have the air fryer going and cooking your food while your hands are free.
ZACH: I love that as well. [Laughter]
AMANDA: Yeah. You can be prepping for work the next day. You could be just decompressing while the air fryer is doing the work for you.
ZACH: Yeah. And just practically speaking, that’s what I found. It’s a less hands-on style of cooking, but it’s not like a cheat code or anything. You put a little effort in at the beginning but once you get it all set up, you can kind of set it and forget it, so to speak and then come back to it when the alarm goes off and you’re good. As opposed to a regular oven, you got, you can’t leave that flame unattended, you’re there mixing things up and stuff, so just on a practical level like, I connect with that as well.
AMANDA: Definitely, definitely. One thing that can kind of help with the cooking process, and just make the veggies taste better is to avoid overcrowding the air fryer. Because if everything’s kind of sitting on top of each other, then it doesn’t get that good air circulation around the food that helps cook it and brown and make it taste good. So, just avoid overfilling it, and that’s gonna make it taste better. And then, another tip, too is halfway through the cooking process, just give the basket a little shake if it’s something like veggies or shrimp. That’s not necessary if it’s like a piece of fish, you can just leave it, you know, that side down the entire time.
ZACH: I’ve noticed that as well and I know a lot of the recipes I’ve been looking up, it’s like, “Okay, cook it for ten minutes, take it out, shake it up, put her back in.” I’ve experienced the difference, right? Like, I mentioned earlier like, that quest for the crispy potatoes that the less they’re in there like, don’t over stuff it and then if you mix it up a little bit, you’re gonna be able to find that ideal crispiness.
AMANDA: Right, right, right. And one thing that you can even do too is on one half of the air fryer, have the protein, so for example, a piece of fish. And on the other half, you can put some prechopped broccoli or prechopped butternut squash or whatever it is that you like and that way, you’ve got your protein and your veg going literally at the same time. So, to me that’s like a meal in one pot almost and it’s super simple so --
ZACH: Now, I did hear you mention cauliflower. Cauliflower seems to be, you know, much like the air fryer, a very, you know, a trendy vegetable right now. Whenever I try to be healthy like, “Oh, I'll have the cauliflower bread for the pizza. Oh, I’ll have the cauliflower on the side.” Is that true? Like, is cauliflower right up -- Is cauliflower the air fryer of the vegetable world? I guess is my question.
AMANDA: Yes. I would definitely say that we kinda go through these trends with food, right? I feel like kale had a moment and then it was Brussel sprouts, and then cauliflower, so we have these kind of -- just we get kind of obsessed with these foods, and there’s good reason. So, all three of those foods are actually in the brassica family, which do have a particular benefit and might be particularly beneficial -- Some studies have shown that they might lower inflammatory markers, and other health metrics. So, there’s definitely good reason that these are taking the spotlight. One really popular method for cooking cauliflower, is to do cauliflower style wings. Which is basically where you cook the cauliflower in the air fryer and then you can toss with wings sauce and that is one way to kinda make it taste good, and maybe, you know, make something a little special for yourself. One thing, if that doesn’t sound very good to you, is you actually can cook wings in the air fryer and make them pretty decently healthy too. So, this is something that my husband actually started doing. He was going to get wings weekly at, you know, your typical wing place and was having some high blood pressure. And so, we had to kind of take it back a little bit and we started doing the wings in the air fryer. All you need to do is buy the wings at the grocery store, separate the flat from the wing, you can use some kitchen shears, and then put it in the air fryer. You can add a little bit of, spray it with a little bit of oil, sprinkle on a little bit of garlic powder, cook it for about 27 minutes or so, and then pull it out and there you’ve got your wings that are really well cooked. And then just toss it with a little bit of sauce, and there you have a wing that’s gonna be way lower in sodium, and way lower in, you know, those fats from the deep fat fryer.
ZACH: Yeah. No and I think this really great takeaway is that, you know, when you go out to eat, you don’t really know what exactly is going on back in the kitchen. So if you’re looking to really tighten the screws on your health and your intake, you know, cooking it home is the smarter move. It’s probably gonna be cheaper. Definitely gonna be healthier if, you know, you’re making the right choices. And, you know, and with something in the air fryer, a lot more convenient.
AMANDA: Right, right.
ZACH: For someone like me, that’s the number one. Again, that’s the trap of you going out to eat like, “Oh, I’m so busy like, I don’t have time like, it would be nice to have a home cooked meal, but I'll just go here.” And you’re gonna spend a lot of money and it’s probably not gonna be that healthy.
AMANDA: Right, right, exactly. And I think that also really speaks to the air fryer being time effective too. So because hot air is circulating around the food, it takes less time to cook. So, to kinda give you an example, if I’m roasting broccoli florets, it’ll probably take about 30 minutes in a traditional oven. But if I’m cooking in the air fryer, I typically cook it for about ten minutes, so that’s a big-time savings. So, it’s really good for people who are short on time, who are trying to get these nutritious foods into their diet. So, it’s a time saver and it also is going to be more nutritious than going out to eat. And the third benefit that I didn’t mention yet either is it uses less electricity than the oven does, so yet another benefit.
ZACH: There you go. Across the board. So, it sounds like the air fryer’s a win.
ZACH: So, just a few takeaways as we wrap up here. Don’t overcook in the air fryer. Either olive oil or avocado oil and spray, don’t pour. Spray on there. It’s gonna distribute better and also be healthier. Open up that spice rack or the back of the pantry, pull out those spices that you have and you’re like, “Why do I still have this?” Now’s the time. And don’t fry already pre-fried things such as the vegetables and stuff you mentioned before.
AMANDA: Yeah. So, I think that those are three kind of really good take home messages. The spray oils will be really good for giving the food a nice, even coat that won’t overdo it. The spices are what are gonna make your food taste really good, so you actually enjoy eating it. And then, not doing too many of the pre-fried frozen french fries or nuggets is another tip too. And it’s not that you have to completely avoid them, just maybe keep them for a special occasion.
ZACH: Well, I'm gonna go home and fire up the air fryer later [Laughter] so thank you for all these great tips.
AMANDA: My pleasure.
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KATIE: Zach, now that you’ve had an air fryer for a little while and after talking to Amanda, two questions: what’s your favorite thing you’ve cooked already, and what’s something you wanna cook next?
ZACH: You know, I mentioned in my conversation with Amanda about okra, making okra fries.
KATIE: I was gonna say -- So this is fried okra you guys were talking about.
ZACH: Well, not fried okra but okra fries. You see, it’s something that I encountered over in Europe when I was there recently at Indian restaurants. They have okra fries, and they’re like french fries but made out of okra. I mean, they’re not the, you know, not the healthiest thing in the world I guess ‘cause [Laughter]
KATIE: Healthier in the air fryer maybe--
ZACH: Healthier in the air fryer, right? That’s the whole point. But it’s a very unique taste, very crunchy, that kind of thing. And that’s what I love doing like, ‘cause I’m always, wanna like replicate kind of like a certain crunchiness of certain things like Brussel sprouts, things like that that you get in restaurants, that is just so hard to get at home.
ZACH: Because your ovens aren’t like their ovens. And you wash vegetables, so they got a moisture to them, and that soaks in and all this stuff. But in the air fryer, you can really get that crispiness that you really have to cook at a low temperature for a long time in a conventional oven, and you probably aren’t gonna have time to do that on a pretty regular basis, so you gotta compromise. So, to me, that’s been the best thing so far.
KATIE: My favorite thing to do with the air fryer is -- I love fish. I feel like I’ve never really been successful at making fish in the oven. It always dries out and it’s not as good. Like, salmon dries out I feel like. Fish is delicious in the air fryer. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you try it. I like -- I love catfish, so I’ll just buy catfish fillets and put some blackening seasoning. You put it in the air fryer for like 17 minutes and you don’t even really have to flip it. I flip it just because. It cooks it perfectly like, restaurant perfectly.
KATIE: And so, I’ve gone from, you know, I would only cook fish periodically ‘cause I would always mess it up and it’s kind of expensive, and so then you like overcook it and it’s gross. You're like, “Okay.” Air fryer is foolproof for fish. That’s probably my absolute favorite thing to do just based off of what I have trouble with otherwise, but also essentially, any vegetable ever. I’ll just toss in in olive oil and like garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and salt, and throw it in the air fryer, and it’s delicious.
ZACH: Olive oil. Very good. That or avocado oil. Those are your two to use.
KATIE: I’m glad you asked her about that. It’s funny, I had talked to her about that in a blog post previously and I was kind of blown away by breaking down the oils, and then hearing that olive oil really is usually the one she recommends most. But I loved the tip of, “If over 400 degrees, use avocado oil.” I didn’t know about that, so I’ll definitely be doing that.
ZACH: Yeah. And I still need to get that spray bottle for oil that she mentioned. It such a, like a genius tool that I’m shocked that it’s not just standard kitchen issued. Right?
KATIE: Yeah, I've seen ‘em. I always thought it might be hard to clean but then I’m probably just overthinking that.
ZACH: Well, yeah. I mean, you’re always gonna have oil in it like, you’re not gonna mix it in with, “Oh, put some water in here.”
KATIE: It's the microbiologist in me, Zach. It’s just hard for me to like, not have things cleaned but I mean, like you said, it’s oil, so it’s probably fine. And they probably do clean really well. It’s just in my mind, I’m always like, “That sounds like a mess.” But the way she explained it and described it, it does sound like a really helpful tool, for the air fryer specifically, because the whole point is you don’t want to be, you don’t need things loaded down with oil to get crispy. I think that’s, what the air fryer does so perfectly, and spraying on oil is enough. It still gets crispy, and I think that’s great.
ZACH: And another thing about the air fryer is reheating leftovers. When you heat stuff up in the microwave, it’s soggy like, especially egg rolls. Like, I find that you can reheat egg rolls in the air fryer.
KATIE: Was this after our potluck last week?
ZACH: This was done after that. [Laughter] I ate those as soon as I got home.
KATIE: Okay, okay. I did reheat some of my egg rolls in the microwave and yeah, it’s not as delicious. In the air fryer, reheating those egg rolls would have been delicious.
ZACH: Yeah, and again, it can keep the -- help get crispy again ‘cause it’s all about how the heat directs on the food and all that sort of thing, so those are the things that have stuck out to me using the air fryer so far. And I'm looking forward to continuing my repertoire in the kitchen with this air fryer.
KATIE: Yeah. I'm excited for you and Sarah. I think this is great.
ZACH: Good. We’ll have to have you all over and you can [Laughter] eat some air fryer dinner with us. [Laughter]
KATIE: Get some practice under your belt, and sure.
ZACH: Okay. I’ll let you know. [Laughter] Alright, well, that's going to do it for us this week. And be sure to share, like, and subscribe On Health with Houston Methodist wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed this conversation, for more topics like this, visit our blog at houstonmethodist.org/blog. Stay tuned and stay healthy.
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