When you consider some of the more outrageous deep-fried concoctions available-fried cola dough, fried cookies, fried ice cream, and batter-fried bacon, for example-standard fare, like French fries and fried onion rings, starts to sound downright healthy.

Any food that is deep-fat fried, especially if it is coated in batter before it is immerged in boiling oil, is going to be at least two or three times higher in calories and fat than a steamed or broiled counterpart. Breading not only adds another layer of calories, it soaks up more fat, adding more grease than if the foods were sautéed or stir-fried in a small amount of oil or brushed with oil and roasted or broiled.

But how healthy (or unhealthy) a fried food really is depends on the type of fat used for frying, the type and amount of batter or crumbs used for coating, and the type of food you are frying. Peanut, soybean, and canola oils are all heart-healthy oils with high smoking points, which means they are good frying fats because they don't burn or smoke at the high temperature necessary to deep-fry foods. When the cooking oil is at the right temperature for frying, even batter-dipped foods absorb much less fat than when they are cooked at a lower temperature. 

When you buy fast food that looks, feels and tastes greasy, it means the food has been fried at the wrong temperature, in an overcrowded vat, or in oil that is past its prime. All of these situations cause excess oil to be absorbed into the food. Still, we indulge. Next time you need a crispy-crunchy, fried food fix, consider these somewhat healthful options:

Sweet Potato Fries 

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A and fiber, which can help offset some of the damage from fat. Your best bet: freshly made, rather than frozen fries, and sweet potatoes fries that are uncoated.

Fried Catfish

When cooked in traditional fashion, fried catfish has a cornmeal coating that helps make it less greasy than fish fried with a flour coating.  That's because all-purpose white flour and other gluten (protein)-rich flours simply soak up more oil than those that are low in gluten, like cornmeal or rice flour.

Fried Calamari (Squid)

Although grilled squid is the better choice, if you split an appetizer portion of lightly breaded and properly fried squid (calamari) so that you only eat about six ounces, the nutritional breakdown isn't so bad.  Along with 350 calories and 10 grams of fat, you'll get more than half your protein requirement for the day along with significant amounts of B vitamins and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron.

Taco Salad

The tortilla bowl may be deep-fat fried but a filling of fresh lettuce and other vegetables topped with lean grilled chicken and salsa is still healthful. Skip the sour cream and the ground beef, and ignore the temptation to order a Grande-size bowl. And if possible, split the bowl with a friend. Of course, making the same dish at home with lots of beans, fresh tomatoes, reduced-fat cheese, yogurt in place of sour cream and baked tortilla chips instead of a fried bowl will get you more kudos from a nutritionist!

Vegetable Tempura

In a Japanese restaurant, vegetables that are coated in tempura batter and fried usually include sweet potato and carrot slices, broccoli and sometimes even leafy greens, all of which are some of the most nutritious vegetables available.  Yes, steamed vegetables would be a lower calorie choice and contribute a lot less fat to your diet but, when an occasional indulgence takes the form of vitamin-rich veggies, it's hard to call it unhealthy.