Are Air Fryers Toxic? Experts Weigh In
Ask any air fryer devotee about their favorite appliance and they’ll probably give you an endorsement so enthusiastic that it sounds like an infomercial. Crispy French fries with a fraction of the calories? Pot stickers with crackly exteriors and steamy stuffing? Perfectly crunchy, never-soggy veggies, golden donuts, and crisped-up gnocchi? The Instant Pot could never; and the Crock Pot could only dream to be so versatile!
When compared to greasy, deep-fried dishes, air-fried foods are lauded for cutting down on trans fat and calories without sacrificing crispy, crunchy goodness. These petite convection ovens work their magic by circulating super-hot air (usually up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of relying on vats of grease.
But you may have also heard claims that air fryers can be toxic, especially if you’re on the #healthyliving side of TikTok. These rumors might have you wondering if your appliance and its non-stick coating is doing you more harm than good.
In short, experts say you don’t have much to worry about. This is especially true if you’re not air frying at temps above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, because that’s when some of the troubling chemicals can break down, explains dietitian Megan Hilbert, M.S., R.D.N, with Top Nutrition Coaching. (This shouldn’t be a problem, by the way, as most air fryers don’t go above 450 degrees.)
So What Are People So Worried About?
Air fryers are often coated with non-stick material, Hilbert says, and Teflon and other non-stick coatings historically contained compounds called PFOAs that were linked to things like kidney and liver disease. Since 2013, though, all Teflon products have been PFOA-free, Hilbert points out.
PFAS and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) still exist in many non-stick cookware like air fryers and the effects of these compounds on the body are still not fully understood, she says. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have found that high levels of PFAS may lead to some health problems like increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of kidney or testicular cancers, decreased infant birth weights, and lower vaccine response in children.
How To Safely Use Your Air Fryer
To further reduce risks, Hilbert recommends not using a non-stick air fryer if the material is damaged, scratched, or chipping. Use wood- or heat-resistant silicone utensils in the air fryer to reduce scratching and damage. When it comes to cleaning your air fryer, don’t use anything too rough that could scruff things up—scrubbing with a damp cloth or sponge and soapy water does the trick.
But as far as Hilbert sees it, the convenience that comes with air fryers can’t be beat.
“Air fryers make it easy to use less oil and enjoy crispy textures of certain foods without deep frying,” she says. “Decreasing the amount of deep-fried foods we eat can have positive impacts on our weight, cholesterol, heart health, brain health, and more due to the decrease in saturated fats, trans fats, and pro-inflammatory compounds.”
As far as kitchen-safety basics go, an air fryer is usually considered a better alternative to scalding hot oil that’s popping and splattering in a home kitchen. To use your air fryer safely, avoid overfilling the cooking basket though because not only can this cause uneven cooking, it can also create a fire hazard, says Norah Clark, a professional chef. Regularly cleaning your air fryer, including the cooking basket, can prevent buildup and food particles that can burn and lead to unpleasant odors.
Another concern that sometimes pops up when talking about air fryers has to do with acrylamides, which, according to the Food and Drug Administration, are substances that form through a natural chemical reaction between sugars and asparagine, an amino acid. In research studies, high levels of acrylamide caused cancer in lab animals, according to the FDA, but the levels of acrylamide used in these experiments were much greater than those found in foods people eat.
Acrylamide is most commonly found in foods that have a lot of sugar or amino acids, like potato chips and French fries, explains Board-certified Family Medical Physician Dr. Laura Purdy, MD, MBA, and meat, fish, and veggies don’t have the same likelihood for developing this substance. To be clear, acrylamide can form during any type of high-temp cooking like frying, roasting, baking, or air frying, she explains. And, yup, that means your roasted coffee beans contain acrylamide.
“So, it’s not necessarily the appliance that creates it because it can be naturally present in food,” Purdy says.
In fact, when compared to deep frying, air frying food can actually lower acrylamide content by up to 90 percent, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Food Science. Burnt foods tend to have higher levels of acrylamide, according to Poison Control, and acrylamide can form when foods are heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Purdy’s verdict? Go forth and air fry.
“I can find no solid medical evidence to back up a recommendation against using air fryers,” she says.
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