TUESDAY, Jan. 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers in Spain have some good news for people who enjoy eating fried food: Cooking in olive or sunflower oil is not linked to heart disease or premature death.
Because heart disease risk factors -- such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity -- have been linked to eating fried foods, the study authors decided to investigate the association.
For the study, the researchers examined the cooking habits and health of nearly 41,000 adults, aged 29 to 69, who did not have heart disease at the start of the 11-year study. The participants were split into four groups depending on how much fried food they consumed.
The study authors pointed out that because their research was conducted in Spain, where olive and sunflower oil are used for cooking, the findings may not apply in other countries where other types of oil are more commonly used. For example, when food is fried in solid and re-used oils (as in the Western diet), it absorbs the fat of the oils, which increases the calories of the food.
There were 606 heart disease-related events and 1,134 deaths during the study follow-up period, according to the report published in the Jan. 24 online edition of the BMJ.
"In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death," according to the research team, led by Pilar Guallar-Castillon from Autonomous University of Madrid.
In an accompanying editorial, Michael Leitzmann, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, wrote that the findings challenge the belief that "frying food is generally bad for the heart."
However, he added that this "does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences." Specific aspects of frying food, such as the type of oil used, are important, Leitzmann noted.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines how to eat for a healthy heart.