The main question when buying an air fryer is, “Does it really produce healthier food?”.
I’ll try to answer that by giving you some numbers and examples and let you decide.
Before I go further we need to understand how an air fryer works. In simple terms, the appliance heats up air and with the help of fans circulate it around the food cooking it by locking in the moisture and crisping the outside. Because the food is cooked by hot air not much cooking oil is needed. Any excess oil (if any) is collected in a drip tray at the bottom of the machine away from the food.
With that out of the way we also need to understand that all foods have natural oils and moisture inside them and most air fryer recipes do not recommend using any additional oil when cooking. There are a few instances where the recipe does recommend adding some oil (usually ½ teaspoon) to avoid drying the food. Keep this in mind as I’ll use that as an example later on.
Let’s now take 500 grams (or 1.1 lbs) of French fries cooked in vegetable oil as our example.
When we deep fry or conventional fry French fries the water or moisture inside the fries will evaporate and some space will be left behind. These spaces will be taken up by the cooking oil you are using. A study by Robert Kerr from the Oklahoma State University says that when frying, the food will absorb anywhere from 8-25% by weight depending on the product being fried.
Taking our example of 500 grams and using the lowest number of absorption rate (8%), this would mean our fries would absorb around 40 grams of oil. Since these are different units of measures I then converted the grams into tablespoon and came up with 2.9 tablespoons of oil. (Check here for the conversion I used). According to this table, one tablespoon of vegetable oil has 124 calories.
So when we deep fry our 500 grams of French fries it will absorb roughly 2.9 tablespoons of oil which is equal to 360 calories.
Now let’s look at 500 grams of fries cooked in an air fryer.
I mentioned earlier that some recipes for air fryers do not recommend adding any oil but for French fries most recipes suggest adding ½ tablespoons to get the fries crispier.
Assuming then that all the oil (1/2 tbsp) is absorbed by the fries while air frying that would mean only 62 additional calories is added to the food.
Let’s recap what we now have.
Deep Frying = 360 calories
Air Frying = 62 calories
Difference = 298 calories more when deep fried
Based on the example above, the result shows that air frying added lesser calories than deep frying. You can even add one tablespoon and still the difference would be significant.
Let me be clear that this is not a scientific experiment and only an attempt to finally put some numbers and answer the question ‘Is air frying healthier?’
Added calories for different foods will also differ depending on the volume, oil used, etc.
PS. In my research I also found out that a large order of McDonald’s French fries has 510 calories which they shared in their website’s nutrition calculator.