This kitchen gadget simplifies and expedites meal preparation. However, is there a catch?
You've almost certainly seen photos of perfectly fried chicken wings or mozzarella sticks made "healthy" in an air fryer. However, this trendy kitchen gadget is capable of much more than reinventing traditional fried foods. It's the ideal contraption for roasting vegetables without turning on the oven, making quick and crispy granola, or even roasting potato wedges for running fuel.
If an air fryer has been on your list of kitchen gadgets to consider, it's time to learn more about the machine that's revolutionizing cooking. To learn more about the health benefits of air fryers and 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 Fryer Machines Operate?
Simply put, air fryers circulate hot air rapidly around food, resulting in a crispy texture in a short period of time.
“The air fryer features a heating element and a powerful fan mounted on top, which circulates hot air around the food in a basket,” explains Angelo White. “The way the hot air circulates around the food begins to cook it, imparting the same crispy, crunchy flavor as deep-fried food—but with significantly less oil,” Shaw continues.
Consider the air fryer to be a miniature countertop convection oven that cooks significantly faster than a conventional oven. Additionally, air fryers do more than "fry."
“While you can certainly adjust the temperature and time of your air fryer to roast vegetables or bake brownies, there are also models available that allow you to dehydrate foods, as well as higher-end models that include a rotisserie function for roasting a whole bird,” Shaw explains.
Is Air Frying More Healthful Than Conventional Frying?
It's unsurprising that fried foods are unhealthy. Fried foods absorb the cooking oil in which they are cooked, resulting in a high calorie and saturated fat content. A large study involving over 100,000 women discovered a link between frequent consumption of fried foods and an increased risk of premature death from any cause or heart disease. How healthy are air fryers, then? According to experts, air frying does not carry the same risks.
“With the aforementioned cooking technology, you can cook foods with little or no oil, significantly reducing fat and calories,” Angelo White explains. Shaw adds that only a small amount of oil is required to keep the food from sticking to the basket.
“Research has shown that cooking with air rather than deep fat reduces the amount of potentially carcinogenic compounds [which can cause cancer]—like acrylamide [a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking processes]—by up to 90% when cooking specific starchy rich foods like potatoes and chips,” Shaw explains.
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Why You Might Want an Air Fryer (or Might Not)
Apart from the health benefits, you may want to invest in an air fryer for convenience. Not only do they cook much faster than a conventional oven, but they also eliminate the need to wait for the oven to preheat. Simply place food in the air fryer and it immediately begins to cook. Additionally, unlike conventional ovens, air fryers cool immediately after the timer sounds. For runners who don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, an air fryer's time-saving feature enables them to quickly prepare healthy meals.
Air frying is also a simple way to enhance the flavor of vegetables—many people prefer the crispy texture of air-fried vegetables to other cooking methods that leave food soft or soggy.
Additionally, according to Angelo White, many air fryers are compact and ideal for cooking for one or two people. They do, however, take up counter space, making them unsuitable for small spaces. Having said that, air fryers do not heat up your entire apartment the way ovens do.
Recipes for the Air Fryer to Fuel Your Runs
With the right recipe, there is very little that you cannot make in the air fryer.
For breakfast, you can prepare a simple frittata in the air fryer. In a silicone muffin liner, place a mixture of eggs, veggies, and cheese and cook for 5 to 6 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in an air fryer. Additionally, you can air fry potato wedges (Shaw's recipe is available here) to serve alongside the frittata for a protein- and carb-rich post-run recovery meal.
Rather than purchasing bags of processed chips to snack on between meals, you can quickly transform almost any vegetable into a healthy air-fried chip. In just a few minutes, thinly sliced apples, carrots, kale, or potatoes can be transformed into chips in the air fryer. Thinly slice your favorite fruit or vegetable with a mandolin or sharp knife, spray with oil, and fry for 4 to 5 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, you'll benefit from antioxidants, which can help soothe post-run inflammation.
Shaw explains that the air fryer isn't just for crunchy sides; it can also be used to cook a main course. Whether you want to meal prep some vegan falafel or create a healthier orange chicken, the air fryer can handle it all.
Additionally, because the air fryer is essentially a "one-pot" meal, it cooks quickly following a long run and simplifies meal prep, allowing you to spend more time outdoors. Additionally, believe it or not, you can bake cookies or zeppoles in the air fryer for a carb-replenishing post-run treat.
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