Are air fryers healthy for you? Pros and cons of air fryers

Are air fryers healthy for you? We settle the debate, with help from the experts

An open air fryer with samosas inside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

They’re a convenient way to make delicious, crispy dishes with less oil – in other words, they’re a shortcut to food heaven, but are air fryers healthy? 

With all their benefits, air fryers are fairly new to the food scene, which raises a lot of questions, like can you put foil in an air fryer and how to clean an air fryer. TikTok videos also sparked a debate around the safety of air fryers, with users wondering are air fryers toxic? 

With things up in the, well, air, plant-based chef and nutrition coach Lisa Marley has made up her mind on the cooking appliance: “As we become more aware of the detrimental effects of eating high fat, deep fried food, it’s never been a better time to start using an air fryer. 

"An easy, healthier and cost effective way to cook, the air fryer can produce wonderfully crisp food without the fat and grease, saving time and money in the process.” But how healthy is it?

Are air fryers healthy?

It may not come as a surprise that air fryers can be a healthier cooking option compared to traditional frying in a pan, for example, because air fryers use hot air to cook food using a small amount of oil. 

Essentially, the beauty of air fryers is that they can cook food that’s just as crispy and flavourful as deep fat fried meals, but with much less fat. By doing this, it’ll naturally reduce your calorie intake and fat content in your dishes.

By choosing lean cuts of meat, using healthy oils – such as olive oil – in moderation, and focusing on whole, unprocessed ingredients can make air-fried foods part of a balanced diet. 

A collage of deep fried chips and air fried chips

(Image credit: Future / Alamy)

But (because there’s always a but), the health factor of the food you cook in an air fryer also depends on the ingredients and recipes you use. 

Personal trainer and nutritionist Rebecca-Leigh Stainton, explains more: “Whether air frying is healthy depends on how much oil or butter you’re using. The appliance itself doesn't make anything healthy as its purpose is to heat up the food.

“It depends most importantly on the ingredients and how much you're using to prepare, marinate and cook the food.

“For example, if you were going to cook vegetables with a cup of garlic butter, the food might taste incredible but it wouldn't be as 'healthy' as using fry lite or a teaspoon of olive oil."

Basically, if you’re cooking a food that you wouldn’t normally add fat to, then preparing it in an air fryer is unlikely to make it healthier.

Registered nutritionist Jenna Hope recommends “combining air frying with boiling or sautéing and steaming for healthier cooking methods.”

She adds: “It’s important to note that foods high in sugar and fat can be cooked in an air fryer, so for the food to be healthy it needs to be nutritious and rich in vitamins and minerals.”

But there are certainly worse ways to cook your food. Electronics retailer Currys explains: “Air frying uses a whopping 75% less fat than normal frying, so you can serve up crispy chips and fried snacks for the whole family without piling on the calories.

“An air fryer is basically a mini convection oven that uses a fan to circulate heat around food. This cooks things evenly and quickly – and it’s the speed that gets your food so crispy.”

If you're using an air fryer for a big brood – say, more than four – we tested the best air fryers for families to help you make the right choice.

One tester rated the Proscenic T31 15L Air Fryer Oven five stars for a large family. Mum-of-three, Heidi, said: "As it's a large-capacity, hassle-free machine, it takes the stress out of midweek cooking thanks to its two-level cooking space."

Proscenic T31 15L Air Fryer Oven - £159 | Amazon

Proscenic T31 15L Air Fryer Oven - £159 | Amazon

A great choice for big families feeding hungry teens or those looking to cook a variety in one go. 

The smartphone app 'remote control' is an added bonus for preheating the machine when you're on the school run.

Are air fryers healthier than ovens?

Well, it kind of depends. Air fryers and ovens serve different purposes, so it may not necessarily be a fair comparison.

As we now know, air fryers use a fan to circulate hot air to cook food quickly – often with a small amount of oil – which can make them a healthier alternative to deep frying for certain dishes. 

Ovens on the other hand are versatile and can be used for baking, roasting and broiling. 

To reiterate what Hannah and Jenna have said, it depends on what you’re cooking and how you use both an air fryer and oven. 

From a money-saving perspective, an air fryer might be the way to go, as they’re cheaper to run than a conventional oven. If you’re wondering how much does it cost to run an air fryer, we’ve run the numbers.

Goodto's Money Editor Sarah Handley says: “If you use your oven daily, it might be worth considering an air fryer. Not only is it a healthy way of cooking, but an air fryer uses significantly less energy, and can cook food faster too. But do your research first. See what kinds of foods you can and can't cook in an air fryer, and what capacity air fryer would best suit the needs of you and your family.”

Air fryers: Pros and cons

Pros of using an air fryer

  • Healthier cooking - Air fryers use significantly less oil than traditional frying on the hob, making it a healthier choice if you want to reduce your calorie and fat intake.
  • Faster cooking - They cook food faster than conventional ovens, saving you time in the kitchen. 
  • Crispy texture - Air fryers are renowned for their ability to make your favourite foods super crispy – which is a similar texture to what you’d expect after deep-fat frying something. 
  • Versatile - Air fryers can be used for a variety of foods, from vegetables and tofu to chips and chicken nuggets. 
  • Easy to clean up - Some air fryers come with a dishwasher-proof drawer but generally, they’re easy to clean. 
  • Great for reheating food - air fryers are like mini convection ovens, so they won't make reheated food soggy in the same way microwaves can

Cons of using an air fryer

  • Small capacity - Standard air fryers rarely have a capacity of more than 6L, which cooks for about four people.
  • They take up a lot of space - air fryers can be bulky, and they take up a lot of precious kitchen counter space.
  • Learning curve - You may have to play around with cooking times and temperatures before you get the results you want, which can be time consuming. 
  • Noise - Some air fryers can be relatively noisy due to the fan and heating elements.

What can you cook in an air fryer? 

1. Crispy kale

  1. Remove stalks from 10oz of kale and rip into bite size pieces
  2. Massage 7ml rapeseed oil into the kale, and mix in 1/2 tsp salt
  3. Lay the kale in the air fryer basket, separating the pieces as much as possible
  4. Cook on 180° for 4-5 minutes, shaking the pan half way through

A plate of crispy kale

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Cauliflower steaks

  1. Remove the leaves from a head of cauliflower and cut into 1 inch slices, leaving the core in tact
  2. Combine 1tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp pepper powder, 1 tbsp lime juice and a pinch of salt in a bowl, and brush the mixture onto the cauliflower slices
  3. Place the stakes in the air fryer basket and air fry at 108° for 15 minutes

A plate of cauliflower steaks

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Honey and garlic salmon

  1. Mix together 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and a pinch of ground ginger (per salmon fillet)
  2. Place the salmon fillets in the air fryer basket so they do not touch, and pour the mixture on top (you could line the air fryer with foil for an easier cleaning job)
  3. Cook at 180° for 5-10 mins, depending on the size of the fillets. You will need to keep checking to make sure the salmon is cooked through but not over cooked

A salmon fillet next to a wedge of lemon

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Falafel

  • In a food processor, blitz 1 can of chickpeas, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1/3 cup chopped coriander, 1 small red onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1tsp cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Sprinkle 3 tbsp all purpose flour and 1 tsp baking powder into the mixture and combine
  • Refrigerate the mixture for 2-3 hours
  • Form the mixture into 12 balls of roughly equal size
  • Place in the balls in the air fryer basket and cook at 180° for 15 minutes, turning halfway 

A bowl of falafel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lisa Marley says, "As well as potato and sweet potato chips, air fryers are great for vegetable bakes, roast potatoes, and even risotto. Chips come out crispy and golden, with soft fluffy centers and none of the high calories from oil."

For more recipe inspiration, take a look at our best air fryer recipes - including breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert ideas.

Got an air fryer but aren’t sure what to actually make with it? Use our round up of the best air fryer cookbooks for inspiration. Believe it or not, air fryers can’t cook everything – find out what can you not put in the air fryer to be on the safe side. 

Video of the Week

A headshot of Lisa Marley
Lisa Marley

Lisa Marley is a popular plant-based chef, nutrition coach and ProVeg UK Chef trainer. She trained as a pastry chef at Westminster Kingsway College as well as gaining  a  culinary  diploma  from  Ashburton  Cookery  School, and this unique blend of influences enables her to create her mouth-watering recipes for various major publications and media platforms. In addition, Lisa has performed professional demonstrations and product launches for many high-profile brands, including KitchenAid, MorphyRichards, Tesco Real Food, Britannia Living and many more.

Rebecca-Leigh Stainton
Rebecca Leigh-Stainton

Rebecca-Leigh Stainton is a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist, and her credentials include Level 4 Nutrition for Weight Management and Athletic Performance, Level 3 Personal Training, and a Level 3 Diploma in Exercise Referral. Via her Instagram, she offers fitness advice and recipe inspiration.

Jenna Hope, registered nutritionist
Jenna Hope

Jenna Hope (RNutr) is a Registered Nutritionist with a first-class undergraduate degree and a masters degree from The University of Surrey. She works closely with brands, corporates and individuals to help them implement smarter strategies for Nutrition, including ASOS, Google, Soho House, The Ned, Phillips, Accenture, The Telegraph and many more. She is also the resident nutritionist at The Grove Hotel & Spa Resort.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.

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