Here are a bunch of foods that are actually more nutritious if you fry them with oil

What Carotenoids Are

That's right, some foods are actually more nutritious after you fry them with oil.

For most foods, frying will reduce nutritional value, but there's an exception to the rule:

It's a group of foods that contain significant amounts of the organic pigments called carotenoids, which studies indicate can help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases in humans, like heart disease.

When you expose carotenoids to high temperatures, energy from the heat breaks them down, making it easier for your body to absorb into the blood stream.

And if you fry those foods in oil, as opposed to steaming or baking them, you absorb even more because carotenoids are fat soluble.

Where to find carotenoids

Carotenoids are prevalent throughout nature, but the three that are most common in our foods are:

  • Pro-vitamin A carotenoids like alpha carotene and beta carotene, which gives carrots and sweet potatoes that iconic orange color and has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration — a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50.
  • Lycopene, which provides most red-hued fruits, like tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and red peppers, their color. About 80% of the lycopene we ingest comes from tomato-based products, and over the last decade, studies have found that the lycopene in tomatoes could be linked to a reduced rate of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers.
  • Lutein, which is found in dark leafy greens like kale and Brussels sprouts and has also been shown to reduce the risk of eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration.

A major nutritional boost

brussels sprouts 2Flickr/Liz West

So just how much more of these disease-fighting carotenoids do you get by pan frying them in oil (not to be mistaken for deep frying, which is an entirely different method of cooking)?

We asked Guy Crosby, who has spent 30 years in the commercial food industry business and is now the editor for America's Test Kitchen and teaches a food science course at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can learn more about him on his site "The Cooking Science Guy."

As Crosby explains:

"In the fresh tomato most of these [carotenoid] pigments are all tied up with proteins," Crosby told Business Insider. "If you cook the tomato you break down the bonds between the proteins and the pigments — the lycopene — and you absorb about four times more lycopene into your blood from cooked tomatoes than from fresh tomatoes."

But wait, there's more: Carotenoids fall under a class of vitamins called fat soluble vitamins, as opposed to water soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and some types of Vitamin B. This means that carotenoids will dissolve in fats, for example the fat in frying oil, just like the Vitamin B-6 in broccoli dissolves in water when you boil it.

See foods high in carotenoids:

Foods high in carotenoids
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Here are a bunch of foods that are actually more nutritious if you fry them with oil


(Photo by Dethan Punalur via Getty Images)

Sweet potatoes

(Photo by Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock)


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Butternut squash

(Photo by Brian Yarvin via Getty Images)

Dried apricots

(Photo via Getty Images)

Cooked peas

(Photo via Getty Images)


(Photo via Shutterstock)

Red Peppers

(Photo by Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star via Getty Images)


"Since lycopene is soluble in oil, if you cook your tomatoe in olive oil, you'll absorb two times more again above and beyond from what you absorb from cooking tomatoes with the oil," Crosby said.

Now, if you're watching your waist line, it's important to limit the amount of fat you ingest daily. And frying anything is certainly going to up the fat content.

However, you don't need very much oil to get this boost in nutrition — about three to five grams of fat is enough, which is equivalent to one teaspoon of olive oil.

Here's a list from the Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University of foods high in the four carotenoids we discussed earlier: alpha-carotine, beta-carotine, lycopene, and lutein.

Screen Shot 2016 01 30 at 11.16.38 AMFlickr/Liz West

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