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Ugly Side Effects of Eating Fried Chicken, According to Science

It may be time to stop frequenting Popeyes.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Americans love fried chicken and fast-food restaurants know it, with popular chains competing in what's known as the "fried chicken sandwich wars."

Spearheaded by Popeyes in 2019, the fried chicken sandwich wars have continued to heat up into 2021 as popular chains including KFC, McDonald's, and Shake Shack, recently launched their own version of Popeyes hit sandwich. However, before you feel the need to scope out the competition, we wanted to remind you to pump the brakes and prioritize your health. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).

It shouldn't come as a surprise that consuming fried chicken on the regular can lead to various health issues. Below, we detail just five of these complications so you have more incentive to limit your intake of it and other fried foods.

Eating fried chicken regularly could cause you to experience…

Elevated cholesterol levels

high cholesterol

If you're eating a fried chicken sandwich or fried chicken wings almost every day, it's very likely your cholesterol levels are higher than what they should be. Ashely Kitchens, MPH, RD, LDN previously explained to Eat This, Not That! just how fried foods, like fried chicken, can cause your cholesterol levels to increase.

"When foods are fried they become more calorically dense because the outer part of the food loses water and absorbs the fat [or] oil," she said. "The oils in which foods are fried can contain trans fat, which has been shown to raise your LDL."

For context, LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein or the harmful type of cholesterol. LDL can build up in your arteries causing them to narrow over time, causing a form of heart disease called atherosclerosis.

Be sure to get your cholesterol levels checked the next time you go to the doctor. According to the Cleveland Clinic, healthy total cholesterol levels for both men and women 20 years and older fall within the range of 125 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL. LDL levels shouldn't surpass 100 mg/dL for women or men.

Here are 17 Foods That Lower Cholesterol.

Gradual weight gain

Woman with measuring tape using scale surrounded by food and alcohol after party on floor

This is a bit of a no-brainer, right? Continuously going through the drive-thru at fast-food chains and ordering a fried chicken sandwich can wreak havoc on your waistline. This is simply because fried foods, whether it's chicken or fish, inherently contain more calories than their non-fried counterparts. Fried chicken is often dipped in batter or flour and then submerged into a vat of frying oil, where it—as Kitchens explained—absorbs the oil. Opting for the fried version of your favorite protein can tack on at least 200 extra calories.

For example, Popeyes Signature Chicken Sandwich (which is fried) clocks in at just under 700 calories whereas Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich only contains 360 calories—that's nearly half the calories!

Increased risk of type 2 diabetes

Close-up Of Person's Hand Checking Blood Sugar Level With Glucometer

This side effect may go hand-in-hand with weight gain. While there are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, one of the top ones is being overweight. Another key risk factor is having high cholesterol, specifically elevated LDL levels. So, if eating fried chicken regularly has caused you to become overweight and increased your cholesterol levels, you may be even more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There's science to back it up, too. For example, one 2014 study revealed that frequent fried-food consumption was associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.

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Changes in mood

Melancholy woman resting at the terrace

The gut-brain axis can explain why our mood and emotions can change based on what we eat that day. About 95% of our body's supply of serotonin (the "feel-good" hormone) is produced by gut bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract is also lined with millions of nerve cells, called neurons, that help to digest food and regulate your mood. How much serotonin your gut produces is largely based on how much good bacteria comprises your gut's microbiome.

Eating fried foods regularly, for example, can cause more bad bacteria to form than good, which can then lead to more inflammation in the body. This can also inhibit how much serotonin is produced in the gut and then communicated with the brain. So, if you've ever felt sluggish or even grumpy after eating a fried chicken sandwich with French fries, now you know the science behind why that happens.

Increased risk of death

fried chicken

OK, we get it this one is pretty intense, but believe it or not, it's based on a scientific finding—and a pretty big one at that. According to a 2019 study published in the medical journal BMJ, women who ate one serving of fried chicken at least once a day had a 13% higher risk of death from any cause compared with women who didn't eat any fried foods. Limiting your fried chicken consumption to just once a week (or less) may be one step you can take toward living a longer, healthier life.

For tips on how you can eat healthier without sacrificing that crispy texture, be sure to check out 27 Air Fryer Recipes That Make Healthier Fried Foods.

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the former news editor of Eat This, Not That! Read more about Cheyenne
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