Who doesn't love french fries? Or fried chicken? Well, your taste buds might, but your stomach could very well revolt. If downing a delicious helping of fish and chips ends up leaving you in a world of discomfort, it might be time to cut back.
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Fried Food: Tasty but Hard to Digest
"Fried foods are more difficult to digest due to the fat they contain," explains Connie Diekman, RD, a food and nutrition consultant, former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book. In essence, fried foods equal fatty foods. And fat, she adds, "is a very large chemical molecule, and it requires several steps in digestion."
"Most of the digestion of fat occurs in the intestine," she notes. "In the intestine, we release enzymes and bile that help break down the fat so that we can absorb the nutrients it contains."
High-fat meals also take longer to digest than low-fat meals, and that means you won't feel full as quickly as you would with lower-fat foods. That can lead to overeating. The situation is accelerated if the high-fat content comes from fried foods in particular.
If we overeat fat, it can be uncomfortable, Diekman notes, as your body slowly releases the needed enzymes or bile. "Generally, the discomfort is in the midsection of the abdomen. But if the meal was especially high in fat, we can feel discomfort all through the midsection and lower abdomen."
Read more: Intolerance of Fried Fatty Foods
"Since fat does take longer to digest than other foods, the discomfort of a high-fat meal can linger longer than we like," she notes. "If the discomfort is more of a gas-type pain and it only lasts two to four hours, then it likely is nothing more than 'I ate too much.' But if the discomfort goes on for longer than a day, you should contact your doctor to assess if it could be something more serious."
Fried Foods: A Heartburn Trigger
Here's something else to consider when staring down a plate of deep-fried donuts or egg rolls. You could be setting yourself up for payback.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, high-fat foods are a recipe for gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD means having persistent acid reflux, more commonly known as heartburn — no one's idea of a pleasant post-meal experience.
Fried Foods: A High-Risk Proposition
If post-meal discomfort isn't enough to dissuade you from another helping of fried chicken, a warning from Mayo Clinic might: Fried foods could actually increase the risk for chronic diseases. Why? Aside from the higher risk for obesity that comes with consuming high- calorie/high-fat foods, blame the oils that are typically used to fry up your favorite meal.
Vegetable oil, corn oil and sunflower oil are all common frying options, and all are problematic. According to Mayo, our bodies really weren't designed to process such oils. Eating a lot of foods fried in oil ups the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart trouble. Surprisingly, nearly a third of all Americans eat a fast-food meal, most often fried, every day. And that's taking a toll on health and longevity.
According to a study published in 2019 in The BMJ and based on the health records of more than 100,000 women 50 to 79 years old, consuming a daily helping of either fried chicken or fried fish increases the risk of death by 13 percent.
Less is More
So what is a fried food aficionado to do? Pause between crunches to make the meal last longer so you'll eat less, says Diekman, and come up with a reasonable compromise. For one thing, "fried foods provide more calories per portion than foods that are baked, broiled, steamed or grilled," she notes.
"But the real key is portions. So if you have one piece of fried chicken with brown rice, Brussels sprouts and fresh fruit, the fried part of the meal isn't that bad. But if you consume predominately fried foods — fried potatoes, meat, chips, desserts— then you are overconsuming fat and probably calories."
- Connie Diekman, M.Ed, RD, food and nutrition consultant, former president, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, author, Everything Mediterranean Diet Book.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for GER & GERD."
- Mayo Clinic: "Why eating too many fried foods could lead to an early death."
- BMJ: “Association of fried food consumption with all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: prospective cohort study.”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.