French fries have been the downfall of countless dieters. Intellectually it's easy to identify them as a concentrated source of dietary fat and calories, and they're an obvious food to avoid whether you're looking for weight loss or maximum health. Unfortunately, they're also a formidably pleasurable food. Giving them up doesn't come easily. At home, frozen fries can be oven-baked to make them a less-guilty pleasure. However, their quality varies widely and sometimes they need sprucing up to make them more appealing.
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Frozen fries are not all created equal. They can vary widely in their nutritive values, so take time to compare labels. Fat and sodium content are the key health indicators, especially saturated and trans-fats. High-fat fries often have the most restaurant-like texture, but are no healthier than the deep-fried variety. Instead, look for brands with the fewest ingredients and lowest fat content. The closer they are to a plain, prepared potato, the more control you have over their fat content and overall healthfulness.
The unfortunate truth is that even the most natural of oven fries need a modest amount of oil in order to brown and crisp properly. However, working with the plainest possible frozen fries lets you choose the oil you prefer. The best choice is unsaturated vegetable oils, especially heart-friendly monounsaturates such as olive oil or mid-oleic sunflower oil. Some are available in the form of pressurized pan spray, which allows you to apply the bare minimum of oil. Another approach is filling a food-grade spray bottle with your preferred oil and using that to mist the fries.
Spices and Seasonings
Once you've applied the smallest amount of oil that will yield good oven fries, you can turn your attention to making the fries more appealing. One of the simplest ways to do this is sprinkling or shaking them with spices, herbs and other seasonings. Freshly ground black pepper, paprika, smoked paprika, chili powder and chipotle powder are all flavorings that work well with oven fries. Paprika is especially useful as a way to tone down more potent seasonings. Commercially available herb mixtures or salt substitutes are also useful as healthful flavorings for your fries.
Dips, Sauces and Toppings
Although ketchup is the canonical dipping sauce for fries, it's high in sugar and not especially healthful. Consider other alternatives. Set out a bowl of guacamole as an alternative dip, for its spicy flavor and monounsaturated fats. Arrange a plate of fries and layer it with fresh-made salsa, low-fat cheese and browned extra-lean beef for a hearty game-day meal. Chili fries with vegetarian chili and low-fat or soy cheese is another way to turn a simple plate of potatoes into a hearty and reasonably virtuous meal.