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  • Writer's pictureJosie Miller

Healthier alternatives to french fries

Warm, salty, crunchy goodness… French fries are a staple that can be ordered at pretty much any American restaurant. French fries are available at many restaurants because of how cheap and easy they are to make. They’re a comfort food that just about everyone loves, and they’re so common that you could almost eat them for every meal. However, you probably wouldn’t want to because eating too many french fries could be bad for your health.

French fries are known for being “fattening” and “unhealthy”, but that is not entirely true. Read on to understand french fries so you don’t have to fear them. Plus, discover some french fry alternatives that could please your taste buds and better support your health.

sweet potato french fries with a low food health score

Why are french fries unhealthy?

Unfortunately, as tasty as french fries are, they get a bad rap for being “unhealthy”. But what does it even mean for food to be unhealthy? What is considered healthy for one person, might not be considered healthy for another. For example, a low-fat greek yogurt parfait with fresh fruit sounds like a fairly healthy breakfast for most. However, if you have a dairy allergy, then that is a seriously unhealthy breakfast for you. You would be better off having eggs and bacon instead. So, we prefer to not blanket-label foods as good and bad or healthy and unhealthy.

Instead, there are “sometimes foods” and “all the time foods”. All the time foods are things like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains that we can have every day, and sometimes foods are like baked goods, sodas, and fried foods that we should just have every once in a while. French fries fall into the sometimes food category. Depending on how fries are prepared, eating french fries regularly can have negative effects on your health.

Inflammatory Oils

If you order french fries from a fast food restaurant, they are often fried in oils made from corn, soybeans, or cottonseeds. These oils are cheap and accessible, which makes them a popular choice for fast-food chains. However, these oils are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are high in omega-6. Omega-6s are associated with inflammation in the body.

Excessive consumption of omega-6s can cause our bodies to create a surplus of pro-inflammatory compounds. The American diet is already high in omega-6s, and therefore we should avoid eating foods cooked in oils that have nutrition profiles high in omega-6s.

Try looking for restaurants that cook with oils high in omega-3s. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help offset the effect of omega-6s. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce oxidative stress. Oils high in omega-3s are known as the fabulous four: olive, avocado, peanut, and canola.

High Sodium Content

French fries are known for being salty and satiating. However, this delicious flavor comes with a cost, and that’s high sodium. The french fries from Burger King have 476 milligrams of sodium in a large order, which is about 20% of the recommended daily value. Therefore, if you have one large order of Burger King fries then you are consuming a fifth of your daily allotted amount of sodium just on one single side. Sodium content varies per restaurant. For example, a large order of Arby’s curly fries has 1,480 milligrams of sodium, which is 64% (almost 2/3) of the recommended daily value.

High-sodium diets are associated with hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. Eating an excessive amount of sodium throughout the day can also lead to bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. However, an easy way to lower the overall sodium content of french fries is to season your french fries with herbs and spices instead of salt. Instead of dousing your french fries with table salt, try seasoning them with garlic powder, paprika, or dried parsley instead.

High in Carbohydrates

Although potato is botanically a vegetable, it is a starchy vegetable, meaning it’s high in carbohydrates (aka carbs). While we try to have carbs at each meal, carbs in abundance have health implications.

Carbohydrates consumed in high volumes, and by themselves, can cause our blood sugar levels to spike. Consistent spikes in blood sugar can decrease insulin sensitivity and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. It is important to pair carb sources, like french fries, with protein, fiber, and fat to help stabilize blood glucose levels. When you look at it this way, eating a burger with your french fries is actually better than having your fries alone.


Can french fries be healthy?

French fries are considered a "sometimes food" that should be eaten in moderation due to their potential negative health effects. Our beloved french fries are known for containing Inflammatory oils, high levels of sodium, and a high amount of carbs. However, some more nutrient-dense options for french fries exist. They include thick-cut, oven-baked, and air fryer french fries. Also, believe it or not, mashed potatoes can be a good alternative too if they are made with low-fat ingredients and served in appropriate portions.

What is the healthiest type of fries?

First and foremost, I would like to express the fact that the “healthiest” type of french fry is going to be one that you make at your house. When you cook food yourself you know exactly what ingredients were used, exactly how much of each ingredient was used, and the cooking methods that were needed to make the meal. Many restaurants are secretive about the ingredients that they use and you have to jump through numerous hoops just to figure out the answers to questions as simple as what kind of oil do you use in your deep fryer? If you love french fries but want to make them more nutritious and nutrient-dense, try making them yourself using the methods below.

Thick Cut Fries

Thick-cut fries may be a good alternative to traditional french fries if you are trying to eat a lower-fat diet and consume fewer calories. Thick-cut fries absorb less oil during cooking, therefore resulting in a lower fat content. Their thicker size also means they have a lower surface area-to-volume ratio, which can help to reduce the amount of acrylamide formed during cooking. Acrylamide is a chemical substance that forms from the reaction between sugar and an amino acid during certain types of high-temperature cooking like frying, roasting, and baking. The FDA states that acrylamide may increase your risk for cancer. If you are trying to eat a lower-fat diet or follow an anti-cancer diet, then thick-cut fried might be a better option for you.

Air Fryer Fries

Air fryers are all the rage nowadays. People love the convenience, quickness, and easy cleanup associated with air fryers. If you love trying out new trends, then get yourself an air fryer and make yourself some delicious, crispy french fries.

Air fryer fries can be a good substitute for traditional french fries because they are cooked with less oil. Reducing the amount of oil decreases the overall amount of calories and reduces your risk of consuming an excess of pro-inflammatory omega-6s. Air fryer fries are also typically crispier than oven-baked fries, which makes them a satisfying substitute for the legendary deep-fried french fries.

Baked Fries

French fries made in the oven are baked, not fried, which reduces their fat content. They are typically lower in calories and inflammatory oils than your typical deep-fried french fries. They are also usually made with fewer ingredients and less salt. That means less bloating, easier digestion, and an overall happier tummy.

Try cutting your potatoes into skinny sticks, drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling them with spices, and baking them in the oven on a baking sheet. You will have a snack so scrumptious that Mcdonald’s will be calling you for the recipe.


What can I replace french fries with?

There’s nothing wrong with eating french fries every now and then. There are no “good” and “bad” or “healthy” or “unhealthy” foods. Instead, we have foods with a high nutrient density that we can eat all the time and foods with lower nutrient densities that we should eat on occasion. French fries are not a toxic food that must be avoided at all costs; however, just like most things french fries can have negative side effects on our health when consumed in excess. If you're looking to swap your french fries for an option that is lower fat, incorporates a serving of veggies, or simply offers a different variety of nutrients, try substituting your regular order of french fries for one of the following options below.

1. Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins, like beta-carotene. Fiber helps aid in digestion, while also making you feel full for longer. Beta-carotene is an important vitamin found in orange vegetables that promotes eye health. If you want the same satisfying taste of french fries, but with more nutritious benefits, you should substitute your classic french fries for sweet potato fries.

2. Baked Potato Wedges

Baked potatoes are not deep fried in oil, like their cousin the french fry. Therefore, they have a lower overall fat content. This may be beneficial for someone struggling with high cholesterol levels who have been recommended to follow a low-fat diet. Try dressing up your baked potatoes with low-fat cheese, seasoned ground turkey, chives, or low-fat sour cream.

3. Mashed Potatoes

If you are avoiding fried foods then eating mashed potatoes instead of french fries might be the right choice for you. Some people avoid fried food because it can cause inflammation. Traditionally, mashed potatoes are made with high-fat ingredients like butter, heavy cream, and salt. However, mashed potatoes can be lower in fat and sodium than classic fast-food french fries when they are made with ingredients like low-fat milk, instead of cream, and savory spices, instead of salt.

4. Side Salad

Many restaurants offer side salads as substitutes for french fries. Salads provide a satisfying, crunchy texture that can help kick cravings to the curb. Try topping your salad with dried berries, savory cheese, or crunchy nuts to add more flavor.

5. Roasted Vegetables

Roasted vegetables are a great side option for any meal. Try seasoning them with spices, herbs, cheese, or balsamic vinegar. Roasting, air frying, or broiling vegetables will help give them a satisfying, crispy crunch, similar to the texture of french fries. You can even roast potatoes in the oven on a sheet pan. Roasted potatoes are a great substitute for someone who is trying to avoid deep-fried foods.

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