French fries are a beloved snack or side dish on most menus across the country. Although fries are one of the most popular ways to eat potatoes, they can also be a guilty pleasure for those watching their waistline.
Crispy, piping-hot fries are a tasty hit dish on many menus, but they can also be packed with excessive fat, sodium and calories that can have negative effects on the body.
Fries: A Hidden Fat Bomb
Whether they're shoestring, steak cut or regular, crispy hot fries are a popular snack or side dish menu item at bars, fast food and sit down restaurants. Sliced potatoes that are typically fried, or even sometimes double-fried, are tasty, but they can also be a nutritional nightmare — especially when cooked with oils laden with trans fats.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says to limit trans fats often found in foods such as French fries. Because fries can be high in saturated fat, cholesterol and carbs, they may also lead to clogged arteries or other health conditions.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 20 frozen French fries contain about 28 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein; a medium order of fast food fries typically has 48 grams of carbs, 17 grams of fat and 4 grams of dietary protein.
Skip the Salt on Fries
Fries are typically also heavy on the salt, and excess sodium causes fluid retention that can increase blood pressure by creating a burden on the heart. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that most people get more sodium than needed. Too much sodium may also increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
An alternative at a restaurant is to ask for your fries to be made with less or no salt. Or order baked fries (if available) and/or fries that are made from healthier potatoes, such as darker-colored purple, gold or sweet potatoes. The darker pigments found in these types of potatoes offer flavonoids and carotenoids that promote good health.
Potatoes on their own have nutritional benefits of fiber, vitamins and minerals, calcium, magnesium, zinc, contain no cholesterol or fat and are high in fiber and potassium. Potatoes of all varieties are also rich in complex carbohydrates containing starches and glycogen.
Read more: Sweet Potato Fries Nutrition
Make Heart Healthy Fries Swaps
The American Heart Association recommends skipping high-fat restaurant foods. Instead of French fries, opt for a plain baked potato, brown rice or steamed vegetables. At home, consider cooking a lightened-up version of French fries using an air fryer or try making oven-baked or roasted.
An air fryer is a device that is similar to a toaster and microwave combined, using hot air and a minimal amount or even no oil to quickly cook food with a fraction of the fat and calories. This creates the crispy "fried" texture without all the excessive salt or fat-laden oils. If you're baking or oven roasting fries, opt to use herbs and spices over salt, or choose different oils such as olive, peanut, soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn or avocado oils.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "25 Heart Healthy Cooking Tips"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Drink and Eat Beverages and Foods With Less Sodium"
- American Heart Association: "Smart Substitutions to Eat Healthy"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Food Data Central"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Carbohydrates Part of a Healthful Diet"