As a server approaches to take your order, the ultimate moment of willpower arises: Will you order the side salad or a plate of french fries? Sure, the salad's the nutritious choice, but, let's be honest, fries are the tastier pick.
But while potatoes are naturally free of gluten, the fries you order aren't necessarily gluten-free. They may come in contact with breaded or wheat-containing foods in restaurant kitchens or during the manufacturing process for frozen brands. If you're sensitive to or can't eat gluten, you may need to play it safe and skip the fries.
Read more: 9 Foods You Didn't Know Contain Gluten
Are French Fries Gluten-Free?
Potatoes are a gluten-free food, but don't assume the same rule applies to french fries. If you're wondering whether a side of fries is gluten-free, you're going to need a little more information about how those fries were prepared, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
While recipes for fries don't usually contain gluten, french fries may be cooked in the same fryer or using the same oil as gluten-containing foods like breaded chicken tenders. French fries are among the most easily cross-contaminated food in restaurants, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. And for people with celiac disease or who are severely sensitive, exposure to even trace amounts of gluten can be risky, causing symptoms like digestive problems or abdominal pain, according to Lisa Moskovitz, RD.
Most store-bought, frozen french fries can't guarantee they are gluten-free or promise no cross-contamination, either. A majority of frozen fry brands are not certified gluten-free and may manufacture their fries alongside gluten-containing ingredients.
If you're avoiding gluten, it's safest to stay away from pre-made french fries, especially in restaurants that also serve breaded or battered foods. The good news: Fries are an easy DIY food you can bake at home to enjoy 100 percent safely.
Gluten-Free French Fries in Fast-Food Restaurants
Cross-contamination is the primary concern when it comes to fast-food fries. While most fast-food restaurants don't traditionally prepare their fries with wheat or wheat-containing ingredients, most chains warn customers that they can't guarantee the fries haven't come in contact with gluten.
However, cross-contamination usually only poses a risk for those with celiac disease, according to Moskovitz. "For this population, you should be cautious and aware of anything your food touches that a gluten-containing food has touched," she says.
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivities are usually minimally affected by gluten from cross-contamination, Moskovitz says. Ultimately, how safe it is for you to eat foods that may have come in contact with gluten depends on your individual level of sensitivity.
Here's where some of the most popular fast-food chains stand on gluten-free fries.
- In-N-Out Burger: In-N-Out Burger's fries are prepared in 100% sunflower oil using only fresh potatoes, according to the chain's allergen page.
- McDonald's: McDonald's french fries are not gluten-free, as they are prepared with wheat-containing natural beef flavor, according to McDonald's nutritional information.
- Popeye's: Popeye's cajun fries are not gluten-free, according to the restaurant's allergen information page.
- Arby's: The curly fries served at this chain are made with wheat, according to Arby's nutrition information.
Risk of Cross-Contamination
- Burger King: Burger King's fries are not battered with wheat flour (or other gluten-containing agents). However, the chain does prepare their fries in fryers also used to cook wheat and milk ingredients, according to Burger King.
- Chick-Fil-A: Chick-Fil-A doesn't prepare their fries with gluten but can't promise that they are wheat allergen-free due to shared cooking spaces and prep areas, according to Chick-Fil-A.
- Five Guys: Five Guys fries typically don't contain wheat, but there is a possibility that manufacturers may change food ingredients at random with no notice, according to Five Guys.
- Sonic: Sonic's fries don't contain wheat or gluten, but the chain warns that they may be exposed to gluten in the restaurant or fryer, according to Sonic's allergen guide.
- Wendy's: Wendy's fries don't contain any gluten, but the restaurant's fries are cooked in the same oil as items made with wheat, milk and fish, according to Wendy's.
The takeaway? Most fast-food fries don't contain wheat ingredients, but they're likely prepared alongside gluten-containing foods, which is problematic for certain people.
Gluten-Free French Fries in Fast-Casual Restaurants
While most fast-casual restaurants have been moving toward more health-conscious menus, including offering more gluten-free items, many still haven't incorporated dedicated gluten-free fryers or preparation areas. As with fast-food chains, it's best to exercise caution before ordering fries with your meal if you're avoiding gluten.
Here's where some of the most popular fast casual restaurants stand on gluten-free fries.
- Cheeseburger in Paradise: While Cheeseburger in Paradise does not have a certified gluten-free kitchen, the chain does offer a gluten-friendly menu, fries included.
- Red Robin: Red Robin allows customers to select which allergens they want to avoid in an online interactive tool. While Red Robin says its fries are prepared in a dedicated fryer, they are not listed as wheat-free.
Risk of Cross-Contamination
- Applebee's: Applebee's fries are marked gluten-free, according to the restaurant's allergen page, but the chain warns that oil used to cook fries may be shared with gluten-containing ingredients.
- Buffalo Wild Wings: Buffalo Wild Wings' fries are not made with gluten but are at a high risk of cross-contamination, according to the Buffalo Wild Wing's nutrition, allergy and preparation guide.
Whether or not a chain promises gluten-free fries, it's always best to verify at the specific location. Moskovitz recommends asking your server about potential cross-contamination and, politely, requesting that they confirm with the chef for good measure.
Bear in mind that many restaurant employees may answer incorrectly, so never assume the server totally understands what gluten is or where it can be found. "Be specific and say that if any bread crumbs, bread products, wheat, barley or rye, etc., have been cooked or prepared on the same surface your food has been, it can pose a serious health risk or at the very least, lead to extreme discomfort," Moskovitz says.
When you ask your server whether fries are gluten-free, never assume they fully understand what gluten is or how cross-contamination can occur. Pose specific questions to cover all your bases and even request confirmation from the chef.
Gluten-Free French Fries at the Grocery Store
Frozen food companies don't often mark or certify their fries as gluten-free, as they're usually packaged in facilities that also prep gluten-containing foods.
Nevertheless, there are several popular brands that don't directly formulate their fries with gluten. Safety depends on your level of sensitivity, so purchase and consume these frozen fries with caution.
- Alexia: Alexia frozen fries can be found at stores like Target, Walmart and Whole Foods. While most of their varieties don't contain gluten in the ingredients, like the company's House Cut Fries, they are not certified gluten-free.
- Ore-Ida: Another popular frozen fry company, Ore-Ida's fries are free of gluten and generally safe for consumption. While the company's fries are not certified gluten-free, many of its varieties, like the Golden Crinkles, are marked gluten-free.
- McCain Foods flavored fries: As a popular french fry supplier, you may find McCain Foods fries at restaurants across the country. McCain Foods' standard fries are not prepared with gluten-containing ingredients, but they also don't carry any gluten-free certification. McCain Foods also produces fries with various seasonings and flavors, many of which are battered and contain wheat. Be cautious before you purchase or order any flavored fries.
Risk of Cross-Contamination
- 365 Everyday Value: The shoestring fries from this Whole Foods brand don't contain gluten ingredients but are processed in a facility that also processes wheat products, putting its frozen fries at risk for cross-contamination.
Try This Gluten-Free French Fries Recipe
As the saying goes, if you want something done right, you do it yourself. Gluten-free fries are no exception. If you want to be 100 percent sure your side of fries is gluten-free, you might have to make them at home.
This sweet potato fry recipe is gluten-free, requires only three ingredients and takes just 20 minutes. Considering potatoes are naturally gluten-free, you can swap in your favorite type of spud. While most restaurants prepare their fries in a deep fryer with peanut oil and plenty of salt, this variety is oven baked and uses extra-virgin olive oil (and you control the salt shaker), so they're healthier, too.
Get the Simply Sweet Potato Fries recipe and nutrition info here.
- Celiac Disease Foundation: "Sources of Gluten"
- McDonald's: "World Famous Fries"
- Burger King: "French Fries"
- Chick-Fil-A: "Nutrition and Allergens"
- Popeye's: "Nutritional Information"
- Five Guys: "Nutrition and Allergen Information"
- Sonic: "Allergen Guide"
- In-N-Out Burger: "Allergen Information"
- Wendy's: "Small Natural-Cut Fries"
- Applebee's: "Food Allergy Listing"
- Cheeseburger in Paradise: "Gluten-Friendly Menu"
- Buffalo Wild Wings: "Nutrition, Allergen & Preparation"
- Red Robin: "Interactive Allergen Menu"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose"
- Arby's: "Nutrition & Allergen Information"