Fried breakfasts aren't bad for the heart – as long as you use sunflower or olive oil

The Great British Breakfast may be healthier than you think – providing it’s fried in olive or sunflower oil.

Scientists claim a fry-up doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease or early death, depending on the type of oil used.

They found olive oil and sunflower oil are healthy options whether the food is fried at home or eaten out.

While eating lots of fried food can increase some heart disease risk factors, the process of frying in olive or sunflower oil 'is not harmful'

While eating lots of fried food can increase some heart disease risk factors, the process of frying in olive or sunflower oil 'is not harmful'

A new study appears to expose as a myth the long-held notion that frying food is bad for the heart, with cooking methods such as grilling being a much healthier option.

Researchers from the Autonomous University of Madrid investigated whether there was a link between heart disease and the oils mainly used for frying in the Mediterranean.

A team drawn from research centres, universities and hospitals in Spain analysed data from almost 41,000 adults aged 29 to 69 who did not have heart disease at the start of the study in the 1990s.

They were divided into four groups according to how much they ate foods fried in olive oil or sunflower oil, from the lowest to highest amounts.

People were asked about food consumed in a typical week during the previous 12 months, with foods consumed at least twice a month recorded.

Fried foods included those that were deep fried or pan fried and could be battered, crumbed or sauteed.

During an 11-year follow-up, there were just over 600 ‘coronary heart disease events’ such as heart attacks and just over 1,100 people died from any cause.

Analysis showed no differences between the four groups of people in the risk of heart disease or dying.

The results did not vary between those who used olive oil for frying and those who used sunflower oil.

The experts, writing online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said frying is one of the most commonly used methods of cooking in Western countries.

They said ‘In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death.’

When food is fried its nutritional content changes – food loses water and takes up fat, increasing its calorie count.

They said that while eating lots of fried food can increase some heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, a link between fried food and heart disease had not previously been fully investigated.

But they warned that ‘frying with other types of fat may still be harmful’.

They also said that olive oil is less prone to oxidation – producing damaging chemicals when heated or exposed to air – than other oils, and that ‘overly reused fats’ may be harmful.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Michael Leitzmann, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, said ‘Taken together, the myth that frying food is generally bad for the heart is not supported by available evidence.

‘However, this does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences.

‘The study suggests that specific aspects of frying food are relevant, such as the oil used, together with other aspects of the diet.’

Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said ‘Before we all reach for the frying pan it’s important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet, rather than British fish and chips.

'Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too.

‘Participants in this study used unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil to fry their food. We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down and this study gives further cause to make that switch.

‘Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease. A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg and only a small amount of high fat foods, is best for a healthy heart.’