Are air fryers healthy? We asked a nutritionist

They're often touted as a healthier way to produce fried food — but are air fryers healthy?

Person adjusting an air fryer's settings
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are air fryers healthy? It's a question many people ask, especially if you're hoping to recreate your favorite takeout foods without the added fat and calories, an air fryer might seem like a great solution. 

The best healthy air fryers work by blowing hot air around your food, creating an intense heat transfer that cooks and browns the food's exterior. The result? A crispy 'fried' texture without the excess oil.

This should be a lot better for our health than deep-fat frying. But how do these popular kitchen appliances compare with oven baking? To unpack just how healthy air frying is, we spoke to Rhiannon Lambert, registered nutritionist, and author of The Science of Nutrition.

Rhiannon Lambert
Rhiannon Lambert

Rhiannon Lambert is a registered nutritionist, best-selling author, and podcast host. In 2016 she founded Rhitrition, which specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, eating disorders, and pre-and post-natal nutrition. She obtained a first-class degree in Nutrition and Health, a Master's degree in Obesity, Risks, and Prevention, and diplomas in sports nutrition and pre-and post-natal nutrition.

How does air frying work?

An air fryer uses a combination of radiation and convection to cook your food. The radiation comes from a heating element near the top of the fryer, which emits heat into the cooking chamber. Then, a fan rapidly circulates the heated air around it (a process known as convection), resulting in a cooking method that's a little like frying.

If you're wondering how to use an air fryer, there are generally two types you can buy. A basket air fryer is barrel-shaped and features a pull-out drawer containing a basket over a drip tray.

An oven air fryer looks more like a microwave oven and has racks on which baking trays and crispers can be placed. Some people like to put around a tablespoon of oil into the air fryer with their food, but this isn't totally necessary. 

Is the air fryer healthier than the oven?

Man cooking with an air fryer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

According to Lambert, we need to limit the amount of saturated fat that we consume in our diets to no more than 10% of our daily energy intake. That's about 200 calories for a 2,000-calorie diet. 

"One great thing about air fryers is they use a lot less oil than when deep frying or using a normal oven," she says. Because ovens are larger, it's harder to get them to the same temperature as an air fryer without adding extra oil.

"This means [air fryers] still give you the same great taste and crispiness, using minimal or no extra added oil." That isn't to say that all oil is bad for us. Olive oil, for example, is an excellent source of healthy, unsaturated fat and a vital component of the Mediterranean diet.

However, we do need to be mindful that even healthy oil is still fat, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting any oil consumption to around 27g a day.

Health aside, Lambert also says that with the rising cost of living, air fryers are a great alternative because they are more economical and cost-effective than a conventional oven. Smaller air fryers typically use about 1,000-1,200 watts to run, while larger models may use up to 1,700 watts. 

According to the US Department of Energy, conventional ovens tend to use a power of 2,000-5,000 watts, which is more than double the average air fryer. Not to mention, air fryers are smaller and take less time to preheat.

Do air fryers destroy nutrients?

As with any form of cooking or processing, says Lambert, ingredients may undergo significant changes to their nutritional content or suffer nutrient losses — it all depends on how you prepare and cook the ingredients. 

Because an air fryer keeps the surface of the food dry and cooks with circulating hot air, the process is likely to help the food preserve more of its nutrients.

"Boiling a potato with the skin on greatly reduces the loss of water-soluble micronutrients such as vitamin B6 and B12, but if you bake or air fry them, most of the nutrients are retained," says Lambert.

Cooking in the oven and air frying both utilize hot air, so food will generally have the same nutrient profile regardless of your chosen method.

Air frying does use more intense heat than a conventional oven, so it's possible that the food may undergo further nutrient loss. However, more research is needed to determine this effect. 

Are there disadvantages to air fryers?

Person loading food into an air fryer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So are there actually any downsides to air frying? According to Lambert, while air fryers are brilliant for encouraging us to reduce our saturated fat intakes and helping to keep costs down, they're often smaller than standard ovens. 

"You aren't able to cook as many dishes at once," she says. As a result, air fryers might not be the most practical option for families or those cooking for large groups of people.

It's also important to remember that not all air-fried food is automatically healthy. Mountains of potato chips, chicken nuggets, and onion rings, for example, aren't automatically good for you just because you've placed them in an air fryer.

Nutrient-dense foods, lean meat, fatty fish, and vegetables are all great options, but they're likely as nutritious as cooked in a conventional oven, but less crispy. If you're not sold on the idea, there are plenty of other ways to eat healthily on a budget

Alice Ball
Health Editor

Alice Ball is the Health Editor for Future Plc. With more than five years of experience working in health journalism, she's covered everything from why we should 'kill' the calorie, to destigmatizing the menopause. Alice also specializes in nutrition and supplements. She's a self-confessed running fanatic, currently in training for her fifth marathon. She enjoys documenting her progress on her Instagram account, @aligoesrunning. Alice works across a number of Future's sites, including LiveScience and Fit&Well.