Are air fryers healthy? An expert reveals all

They’re said to be a healthier way to enjoy fried foods. But with the word fry in their name, can this must-have kitchen gadget really be that good for us? We take a closer look.

Air fryers have become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people claiming they offer a healthier way to enjoy fried foods.

But are air fryers really as healthy as they’re made out to be? Or are they just another way to quickly cook deep-fried favourites, such as chicken nuggets and chips?

Cooking green beans in an air fryer to illustrate are air fryers healthyCredit: Shutterstock/Romix Image
Air fryers can be healthy, depending on what you’re making

How does an air fryer work?

It’s a load of hot air

An air fryer works by circulating hot air to cook food from all sides. The hot air is generated by a heating element and a fan that circulates the air around the food, which is placed in a basket or tray within the air fryer.

Some of the best air fryers also have a grill, steamer or rotisserie function, which allows you to cook a variety of foods.

Even though it cooks with hot air, your food will still need a small amount of oil added to help the cooking process, brown it up and prevent food sticking to the basket. This is typically sprayed or brushed on or added to the basket before cooking. This is also an opportunity to add seasoning, so it sticks to the food and not to the air fryer.


 How healthy are air fryers, really?

A good choice for deep-fried favourites

“Air fryers can help reduce the amount of oil used to cook foods – especially compared to deep frying,” says Bridget Benelam, Nutrition Communications Manager at the British Nutrition Foundation. “This means you can make things like chips, with fewer calories.”

If you look at a 70g (2.5oz) serving of deep-fried chips, these come in at around 225kcal, whereas the same portion made in an air fryer is approximately 90kcal. Oven chips come somewhere in the middle at around 135kcal. Reducing the amount of oil you use still more – or getting rid of it altogether – will lower the calorie count further.

An air fryer in a kitchen next to a serving of chips to illustrate are air fryers healthyCredit: Shutterstock/Yulia Furman
Cooking chips in an air fryer can lower the calories

Benelam says air fryers can help if you’re looking to reduce fat and calories, but she cites other methods as being just as healthy, including grilling or stir frying.

Let’s not forget, it also does depend on what you’re cooking. Air fryer potatoes – if they’re smothered in cheese – are unlikely to be as healthy as a seasoned salmon fillet cooked in the same way.

Do air fryers help to preserve nutrients?

More research is needed

While air fryers reduce cooking time and, in theory, protect nutrients in the food, too little is known so far about whether this is true.

“In terms of nutrient preservation during cooking, this generally relates to cooking vegetables, where nutrients such as vitamin C are degraded by heat and can leach into the water,” says Benelam, who recommends steaming vegetables rather than boiling them.  

She continues: “At this stage, we don’t know much about whether this is the case for air fryers – although it may be if used for cooking veg.” 

Are there any health dangers with air fryers? 

Don’t overcook your food

Acrylamide is a chemical substance formed when starchy foods such as potatoes and bread are cooked at temperatures above 120°C (250°F). As air fryers use high heats to cook food quickly, there is some concern that they may increase the presence of this chemical in food.

The Food Standards Agency recommends we reduce the amount of acrylamide we consume as it has been found to cause cancer in animals.

“To reduce acrylamide in foods, aim for a golden yellow colour or lighter when cooking,” says Benelam. “Also follow the instructions on the pack when cooking packaged foods such as oven chips to reduce it.”


How to make air fryer dishes healthier

Choose your ingredients wisely

Benelam says healthy nutrition is less about how your food is cooked than what you’re eating.

“The healthiness of the dish depends on the ingredients you choose, so, for example, go for plenty of vegetables, keep skins on potatoes and choose lean cuts of meat,” she says.

Here are some more air frying tips that can help make your dishes even better for you:

1. Don’t ignore the carbs

Potatoes in particular get a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating, but Benelam says they’re a valuable vegetable and shouldn’t be ignored, especially when cooked in an air fryer.

“They are a source of potassium and thiamine and also contribute vitamin C and fibre, so can be part of a healthy diet,” she says. “Just avoid adding a lot of fats or oils when cooking, and eat with skins on for extra fibre.”

2. Go easy with the seasoning

“Instead of adding salt to your meals, try using herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme or garlic powder to add flavour,” says Amanda Place, an award-winning health coach and nutritionist.

“This can help reduce your sodium intake and add extra antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds to your diet.”

Cooking potatoes and carrot sticks with spices in an air fryer to illustrate what not to cook in an air fryerCredit: Shutterstock/Francisco Zeledon
Using herbs and spices to flavour your air fryer dishes can help make them healthier

3. Choose heart-healthy oils

The best kinds of oil for an air fryer are those that have a high smoke point. This means they can withstand the high temperatures of an air fryer without burning.

Sunflower oil is a good all-round choice, which is also an unsaturated fat – the kind which is better for your heart health. Other vegetable oils, such as olive oil and rapeseed oil (often sold as vegetable oil) are also heart healthy-choices. 

Remember, most dishes need only about a tablespoon of oil, as adding any more can cause issues with your air fryer.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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