Friday, February 10, 2012

Fried Foods May Not Be As Bad For Our Heart As We Think

Every now & then, it's good to think outside the box.  Walk in someone else's shoes.  Question conventional wisdom.  If Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis hadn't thought about washing hands after examining cadavers and prior to delivering babies, puerperal fever might still be rampant.  If Dr. Barry Marshall hadn't discovered H. pylori, we'd still be performing vagotomies to treat peptic ulcer disease.  If Bill Gates & Steve Jobs hadn't spurred on the development of easier to use personal computers, I might still be programming in FORTRAN or C on a large room-sized computer and my kids would certainly be arguing over what to watch on the drive to Orange County rather than each playing on his/her own iPod Touch (ah, peace & quiet, if only for 3+ hours).

I mention this because an analysis of the Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer & Nutrition (EPIC) published 2 weeks ago in BMJ found no link or association between consumption of fried foods and heart disease and more importantly, all-cause mortality.  But sacre bleu!  How can this be?  After all, we've been warned all these years that fried foods are bad for us.  In fact, I've mentioned this bit of conventional wisdom on many occasion, especially when it comes to cooking fish, in which fried fish is not associated with the health benefits of other methods of cooking fish.

Perhaps the authors goofed?  Perhaps the study wasn't set up properly?  Or perhaps the statistics weren't calculated properly?  Well, we've seen lots of amazing information coming out of EPIC for quite some time now.  Granted, it's an observation study but nonetheless, it's perfect for developing hypotheses.  But as it turns out, the participants were only asked once about their food consumption, and then only about the previous 24 hours.  What about consumption of other types of fat, especially the dangerous trans fats?  Never asked, so no information is available.  And when you follow 40,757 individuals 29-69yo, of whom two-thirds are women, for an average of 11 years, it's difficult to claim poor study size or  inadequate study duration.

So (how) are the Spanish really different from the rest of us?  Perhaps there's a Spanish paradox, just like there exists the French paradox?  Well, it turns out that when the Spanish fry their food, they use olive oil & sunflower, rather than saturated & trans fat (partially hydrogenated).  And it's less likely to be reused (once heated, even good mono- & polyunsaturated fat turns bad).  Other factors that might come into play include temperature & duration of frying.  Check out the editorial for other arguments.

So while I still am not going to recommend increasing your consumption of fried foods, at least not typical American-style, perhaps we can reconsider how & what we use at home (where we're less likely to reuse the oil).  Certainly this will make for more interesting hypotheses for future (gastronomic) studies!

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