You Don’t Really Want Fries With That

With nutrients taken out and unhealthy fats and salt added, fried potatoes should be an occasional treat

If your mother ever gave you a firm look at dinnertime and said, “Eat your vegetables,” chances are you did not have crispy, golden French fries in front of you waiting to be eaten.

There’s a reason nobody thinks of French fries—or their bagged cousins, the potato chips—as vegetables. Their source has been altered into something very different and much less healthy.

Where’s The Health?

“Potatoes are a healthy food,” says Haley Cox, a clinical dietitian at St. Joseph’s/Candler. “But the preparation of French fries and potato chips involve frying, salting, and often removing one of the healthiest parts of the potato—the skin.”

Fiber and other beneficial nutrients in the potato get tossed away when the skin does. Then comes the salt and oil.

“Frying adds lots of saturated fat, and excessive amounts of that kind of fat in your diet may be a contributor to multiple diseases,” Cox says.

Moderation Is The Golden Rule

Despite the negative assessment of French fries and chips, physicians and dietitians don’t want to take them away.

“I love a good French fry,” Cox admits. “They’re hard to pass up. However, moderation is key.”

Unfortunately, there are no concrete numbers for what moderation means for different people. For some, having a plate of fries once a week might be fine. For others, twice a month may be a better idea.

“Everyone should limit their intake of fried foods, but there is not a one-size-fits-all answer,” Cox says. “This is definitely a topic to discuss with your primary care physician. If you feel you need further nutritional advice, seek out a dietitian. We can help tailor an eating plan for your specific health concerns.”

Sustainable Alternatives

Cox advises her patients to focus on small, gradual changes that can be sustained. One alternative to buying French fries is baking potato slices at home.

“Wash and slice a potato, maybe toss with a little olive oil and a few herbs, and place in the oven until crispy,” Cox says. “Or try slicing and baking a sweet potato instead for additional health benefits.”

For those who love the classic restaurant fries, a couple of new habits would be a good place to start.  

“If someone is eating French fries and fast food a few times a week, they could start by cutting that in half,” Cox says. “Also, if you’re currently consuming a medium-size, choose a small instead. It should be considered a treat that you eat occasionally—and enjoy every bite.” 

How can we help you?