"Deep-fried" and "healthy" are rarely uttered in the same sentence (deep-fried Oreos anyone?), but it turns out the cooking method might actually be better for you, at least according to a recent study published in Food Chemistry. The highlights: Frying vegetables in extra-virgin olive oil makes them more nutritious than boiling or other cooking methods, reports Popular Science. Well, kinda sorta.
Um, so how is that even possible? Well, it turns out the high level of antioxidants from the extra-virgin olive oil transfer to the vegetables during the cooking process (more on the health perks of olive oil).
For the study, researchers deep fried and sautéed potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkin in extra-virgin olive oil. They also boiled them in plain old water and in an oil and water mixture. They found that compared to the raw veggies, deep frying and sautéing led to increased fat contents and calories (duh) but also higher levels of natural phenols, substances that have been linked to the prevention of certain diseases. Boiling on the other hand (either with or without oil) led to lower or consistent phenol levels compared to the raw version.
Frying in EVOO was the technique with the highest increases of phenols, making it "an improvement in the cooking process," Cristina Samaniego Sánchez, Ph.D., author of the study said in the press release.
Sure, antioxidants combat free radicals, helping prevent certain cancers, strengthen your immune system, and more. But in this case, they probably aren't worth the extra fat, says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. "Most people can get a high amount of phenols from simply eating a wide variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and even some beverages, such as wine, coffee, and tea," she says.
So, what's the best cooking route? "Sautéing in only a few teaspoons of oil will minimize the added fat calories and increase the phenols, so it's a win-win situation," says Toby Amidor, R.D., author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen. (Want to switch it up? Here are 8 new healthy olive oils to cook with.)
Gans also suggests roasting them with just a drizzle of olive oil or simply steaming them. But at the end of the day, the best way to cook your veggies is whichever way you enjoy them most, she says. "As long as they aren't deep fried or smothered in added fats, like butter or cheese," that is. We had a feeling this one was too good to be true.