Is Air Frying Healthy?

The biggest myth about air fryer chicken nuggets, busted.

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November 05, 2021

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Food Network Kitchen’s Air Fryer Zucchini Chips, as seen on Food Network.


Food Network Kitchen’s Air Fryer Zucchini Chips, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

It may seem as though everyone you know has jumped on the air fryer bandwagon — and for good reason. This trend has been around since 2010 with the major appeal of faster, easier recipes that taste “just as good” as their deep-fried counterparts. While many have come a long way from air frying French fries, the basic idea that anything made in the air fryer must be healthy persists. We hate to be the ones to say it, but just because you air fry French fries, doesn’t make them as healthy as baked potato. Don’t worry, though. It’s true air frying uses far less oil than deep frying and, therefore, can be a healthier option. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re using your air fryer to the best of it’s healthy cooking ability while still having some fun in the kitchen.

First, What Is an Air Fryer?

The air fryer is basically a countertop convection oven. This compact version of a conventional oven allows you to cook food quickly and evenly in less time than a traditional oven or toaster oven. A heating element and powerful fan is set at the top of the unit. It generates and circulates hot air around the food that is set below in a basket. The basket allows air to flow all over the food, making it extra crispy.

9 Best Air Fryers, Tested by Food Network Kitchen

We air fried chicken, cake and fries to find our favorites.

The best units have ample space between the basket and the heating element, which prevents the food from burning. The basket configuration also allows excess fat from foods to drip off the food into a pan at the bottom of the unit. A word of caution: Excessive drippings can get smoky and smell up your kitchen — not to mention set off your fire alarm!

In general, small units are ideal when cooking for 1 to 2 people, while XL and XXL models can accommodate recipes for up to 6 servings. There are also several “combo” units that combine air fryer functionality along with toaster ovens or electric pressure cookers to save space in your kitchen. The price range for most air fryers is anywhere from $40 to $300, depending on the brand and model. Our test kitchen has run many models through rigorous testing and these are our favorites.

Finally, most air fryers are fairly easy to clean and several have attachments that are dishwasher safe. For more details on how to clean your air fryer – check out these tips.

So, Is Air Frying Healthy?

Air frying gained popularity for creating healthier alternatives to oily and deep-fried favorites like fried chicken and doughnuts. And while you can, in fact, make lightened-up versions of these foods from scratch, some rumors have also swirled that need some clearing up. A major misconception is that pre-fried items (such as bagged frozen chicken nuggets or fish sticks) are somehow made healthier when prepared in an air fryer. Air frying is certainly a great way to prepare these frozen foods to crispy perfection, but these types of foods are no healthier than when prepared in a conventional oven. (Bottom line: The nutrition facts don’t change.)

And while air frying does call for less oil, it does not need to be oil-free. A light brush or spray of oil does help with flavor and to develop color, but because of the high-powered, circulating heat, you can achieve crispy textures with less oil. Using oils packed with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado oil can also make your air fried foods a bit more nutritious.

Healthy Recipes You Can Make in the Air Fryer

While most folks buy air fryers to make chicken wings and fries, it’s a very versatile appliance that can also be used to roast veggies, fry rice and even bake. Check out some of our favorite healthy air fryer recipes below.

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