As part of my ongoing series of articles that review interesting new studies, this week, I’m going to look at a new study that shows that fried food may be linked to increased risks of death from cardiovascular disease.
Now, some of you may be scratching your head and saying, “I’m sorry ye old feathered dinosaur, but tell me something I don’t know.” That’s the thing about science, we may think we know that eating a bucket of fried chicken or fish and chips is “bad” for you, but we can’t be sure until we have published studies that give us statistically powerful results.
Despite the beliefs by nearly everyone, including physicians, that fried food is directly linked to cardiovascular disease, studies have been inconclusive in establishing that link. A recent large prospective cohort study in Europe showed no link between fried food and coronary heart disease. The link between fried food and anything is hardly settled science, despite the conventional wisdom.
And since nearly 25-36% of Americans consume fast food, which presumably includes a lot of fried food, researchers wanted to reduce as many confounders as possible by narrowing the study group to women of a certain age.
And that’s what we have from a new study published in January 2019. Let’s take a look at the study and discuss what it may mean.
The fried food study
The prospective cohort study (which is fairly high on the hierarchy of biomedical research) by Yangbo Sun et al., from the University of Iowa College of Public health, was published in The BMJ. The study looked at possible links between eating fried food and the risk for cardiovascular (CV) death along with all-cause mortality in post-menopausal women.
Between 1993 and 1998, over 107,000 postmenopausal women from 40 USA study centers, between the ages of 50 and 79, were recruited into the study. They were followed through February 2017 (when data for this paper was collected).
The researchers examined food consumption habits including the type of food, calories, carbohydrates, and other information. The primary outcomes examined were cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
The results of the fried food study were as follows:
- For 1 fried food serving/day vs no fried food, the adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) was 1.08 (or 8% increased risk) for all-cause mortality and 1.08 for CV mortality.
- For 1 serving of fried chicken per week vs. none, the aHR was 1.13 for all-cause mortality and 1.12 for CV mortality.
- For 1 serving of fried fish/shellfish per week vs. none, the aHR was 1.07 for all-cause mortality and 1.13 for CV mortality.
- The study found no association between consumption of fried foods and cancer.
- The association between fried foods and all-cause and CV mortality showed a dose-response with servings per week, an important finding to support a causal link.
The study had several limitations including no information about cooking methods, food location, and other issues. It did not study all types of fried food that may be in the diet.
However, the study did control for known causes of CV and all-cause mortality such as smoking, obesity, and diabetes.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
This study supports what many of us have heard about eating a lot of fried chicken, fish, or shellfish – it is linked to increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular death. We need to have more powerful studies like this for men and a larger age range, but it may take decades to compile such data.
But for now, using the abundance of caution principle, you may want to remove fried foods from your diet.
- Guallar-Castillón P, Rodríguez-Artalejo F, Lopez-Garcia E, León-Muñoz LM, Amiano P, Ardanaz E, Arriola L, Barricarte A, Buckland G, Chirlaque MD, Dorronsoro M, Huerta JM, Larrañaga N, Marin P, Martínez C, Molina E, Navarro C, Quirós JR, Rodríguez L, Sanchez MJ, González CA, Moreno-Iribas C. Consumption of fried foods and risk of coronary heart disease: Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. BMJ. 2012 Jan 23;344:e363. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e363. PubMed PMID: 22275385; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3265571.
- Sun Y, Liu B, Snetselaar LG, Robinson JG, Wallace RB, Peterson LL, Bao W. Association of fried food consumption with all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2019 Jan 23;364:k5420. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k5420. PubMed PMID: 30674467.
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