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Prairie Fare: Even Deep-fried Foods Can Fit in a Healthy Diet

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Although people have been “trained” to think that low-fat equals healthy, we actually need some oil in our diet.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I have a conference out of state next week,” I told my kids one evening at the dinner table.

They glanced at each other and then at their dad and grinned.

“What’s up?” I asked, not exactly pleased that they seemed to be eagerly anticipating my departure.

“We have ‘fried food night’ when you’re gone!” my 11-year-old daughter exclaimed. My husband looked a bit sheepish. I was amused by this revelation.

“That’s OK,” I said, actually sorry I’d miss this culinary adventure.

When I called from my destination late that night, I learned that they already had enjoyed fried shrimp, chicken and clams for dinner.

My seat at the dinner table was barely cold, I thought to myself as I looked down at the package of peanuts from the airline.

“I cut up apples for dinner, too,” my husband noted.

Although people have been “trained” to think that low-fat equals healthy, we actually need some oil in our diet. If you’ve studied the U.S. Department of Agriculture symbol for a healthy diet, MyPyramid, you have noticed it has a thin yellow strip among the larger orange, green, red, blue and purple segments that correspond to different food groups.

The thin yellow strip on MyPyramid represents healthy oils. People on a 2,000-calorie diet have an “allowance” of 6 teaspoons of oil daily.

Oil is made up of three kinds of fatty acids. Based on their chemical structure, oils are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Our body can’t make the polyunsaturated fats found in plant and fish oils, so we need to consume them in our diets.

Oils rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are considered to be the most heart healthy and may help reduce the risk of other diseases, too. Polyunsaturated fats can be further divided into omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Canola, flaxseed and soybean oil are good sources of omega-6 fats. Canola and olive oil are good sources of omega-3 fats.

Oils are a concentrated source of calories at 100 calories per tablespoon. All food, in moderation, can fit in a healthy diet, even an occasional “fried food night” at home.

You can minimize oil absorption and maximize the flavor, color and texture of deep-fried foods with a few steps.

  • Start with safety. Keep deep fryers out of a child’s reach and be sure the cord is out of the way to prevent accidentally spilling the oil and, potentially, serious burns.
  • Choose a healthy frying oil with a smoke point of at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke point refers to the point where the oil begins to break down. For example, canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower, soybean and corn oils all meet the criteria.
  • Heat the oil to the temperature indicated in the recipe or from the food manufacturer (generally, 350 to 375 F). Many deep fryers have temperature indicators or special fryer thermometers may be used. Frying food at too low a temperature increases oil absorption. Be sure to allow the oil to reheat to the desired temperature before adding the next batch of food.
  • Remember that moderation is the key with higher-fat foods. Balance your menu by serving lots of fruits and veggies as side dishes.

Sometimes you can get similar effects to deep-frying in your oven. For a colorful and flavorful addition to an evening meal, try making oven-fried sweet potato fries. They are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which our body uses to make vitamin A. For information about nutrition, visit

Oven-fried Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes

1 Tbsp. canola or sunflower oil

1/4 tsp. black pepper (coarsely ground)

1/4 tsp. salt

Paprika, cayenne pepper (optional)

Wash and cut the potatoes into thin wedges or strips. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Drain the potatoes and blot dry with paper towels. Put in a bowl and drizzle with oil and stir gently until coated. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and optional spices. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are crisp and brown. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 3.5 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of fiber and more than a full day’s supply of vitamin A.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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