Good news: Deep-frying doesn't have to crash your diet.

The bubbles that form when food is submerged into hot oil are actually pockets of steam rapidly escaping out of the food. When foods are coated in a starchy batter before being fried, a barrier is created between the oil and the food. Underneath the coating, the food steams in its own natural juices, and the coating itself is what actually fries—absorbing the oil to create that crunchy crust and exponentially increasing the amount of fat on the food. More breading = more fat absorbed.

Exactly how much fat is absorbed? Does the type of coating make a difference? We lab-tested deep-fried tilapia two ways: Both batches were dredged in egg white; one was lightly coated in flour, and the other in panko. For comparison, we analyzed a plain piece of baked tilapia with no added fat. Per 3.5-ounce portion, the flour-coated fried fish absorbed less than a teaspoon of oil, adding only 3g total fat to the lean fish fillet. The panko-coated fish absorbed more than triple the amount of oil for a total fat count of 12.1g. The thinner coating of flour was just the right barrier to keep the fish flaky and moist, absorbing just enough oil to form a crispy coating on the outside.

To satisfy your deep-fried desires (and up your fish intake) with less guilt, try our Crispy Tilapia Tacos. The frying process adds only a tablespoon of oil to the 12-ounce portion of lightly floured fish. That portion is then stretched over 8 charred whole-grain tortillas and topped with crunchy slaw and juicy tomatoes. Skip the sour cream—a tablespoon adds nearly as much fat as the frying process and would likely just sog out the crispy coating.

The Takeaway: Deep-frying can be part of the healthy kitchen on occasion, especially when you fry naturally lean, nutrient-dense foods like fish, veggies, or grains.

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