You’ve likely seen the pictures of perfectly fried chicken wings or mozzarella sticks made “healthy” with an air fryer. But this trending kitchen gadget can do more than give traditionally fried foods a makeover. It’s the perfect contraption for quickly roasting veggies without turning on the oven, making quick and crispy granola, or even roasting potato wedges to fuel for your runs.
If an air fryer has been on your listen of kitchen gadget considerations, then it’s time to learn a bit more about the machine that is making cooking easier than ever. To find out how healthy air fryers are and to get the ins and outs of this appliance, we spoke with two nutrition and air fryer experts: Elizabeth Shaw M.S., R.D.N., coauthor of Air Fryer Cookbook for Dummies and Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., author of The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook and The Healthy Vegan Air Fryer Cookbook.
How Do Air Fryers Work?
Quite simply, air fryers rapidly circulate hot air around the food to create a crispy texture in a short period of time.
“The air fryer has a heating element and powerful fan set at the top of the unit, which moves hot air around the food in a basket,” says Angelo White. “The way the hot air circulates around the food begins to cook it, imparting that same crispy, crunchy flavor of a deep-fried food—but with minimal oil,” adds Shaw.
Think of the air fryer as a mini countertop convection oven, which cooks much quicker than a traditional oven. Air fryers do more than just “fry,” too.
“While you can absolutely adjust the temperature and time of your air fry cooking to roast vegetables or bake brownies, there are also models on the market that allow you to dehydrate foods, as well as higher-end models that even have a rotisserie function to roast a whole bird,” says Shaw.
Is Air Frying Healthier Than Regular Frying?
It’s no surprise that fried foods aren’t great for you. Fried foods absorb the cooking oil they are submerged in, making them very high in calories and saturated fat. A large study of more than 100,000 women found an association between frequent consumption of fried foods and higher risk of early death from all causes and from heart disease. So, how healthy are air fryers? The experts say that air frying doesn’t come with those same risks.
“Thanks to the cooking technology mentioned above, you can cook foods with little or no oil, which can significantly reduce the fat and calories,” says Angelo White. You only need a minimal amount of oil to prevent the food from sticking to the basket, adds Shaw.
“Research has shown air frying can reduce the amount of potentially carcinogenic compounds [which can cause cancer]—like acrylamide [a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temp cooking processes]—anywhere from 75 to 90 percent by cooking with air versus deep-fat frying on specific starchy rich foods like potatoes and chips,” says Shaw.
Why You May (or May Not) Want an Air Fryer
Besides the health benefits of an air fryer, you may want to splurge on one for convenience reasons. Not only do they cook much faster than a traditional oven, but they also save you the hassle of waiting to preheat the oven. You can just stick food in the air fryer, and it gets to work immediately. Air fryers also cool down right after the timer goes off, unlike traditional ovens. For runners who don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen, the time-saving element of an air fryer helps prepare healthy meals quickly.
Air frying is also an easy way to make veggies taste great—many find the crispy texture of air-fried veggies more appealing than other cooking methods that leave food soft or soggy.
Additionally, many air fryers are compact and perfect when cooking for only one or two people, according to Angelo White. However, they do take up counter space, so they might not be ideal for small spaces. That said, air fryers don’t heat up your entire apartment like ovens tend to do.
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Air Fryer Recipes to Fuel Your Runs
There’s not much you can’t make in the air fryer with the right recipe.
For breakfast, you can use the air fryer to whip up a simple frittata. Place a mixture of eggs, veggies, and cheese in a silicone muffin liner, and cook in the air fryer for 5 to 6 minutes on 325 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also air fry potato wedges (Shaw’s recipe can be found here) to serve alongside the frittata for a post-run recovery meal that has protein and carbs.
Rather than buy bags of processed chips to snack on in between meals, you can turn basically any veggie into a healthy air-fried chip in minutes. Thinly sliced apples, carrots, kale, or potatoes can turn into chips in just a few minutes in the air fryer. Use a mandolin or sharp knife to thinly slice your favorite fruit or veggie, spray with oil, and fry for 4 to 5 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll also get the added bonus of antioxidants, which can soothe post-run inflammation.
Shaw says that the air fryer isn’t just for crunchy sides—it can cook up a main meal as well. Whether you want to meal prep some plant-based falafel or make a healthier orange chicken, it can all be done in the air fryer. And since the air fryer is essentially a “one-pot” meal, it cooks up in no time after a long run, and makes meal prep easier so you can spend more time outdoors. And, believe it or not, you can even bake cookies or zeppoles in the air fryer for a post-run carb-replensighing treat.
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