Sweet Potato Fries vs. French Fries
With a side of French fries! When treating ourselves to a night out to eat, we often find that French fries are the default side to restaurant meals. With the recent negative reputation that French fries have been given, many health-conscious individuals have begun to pay the extra dollar to upgrade to sweet potato fries, hoping to still enjoy a treat with less guilt. So, is it true? Are sweet potato fries really a healthier option, even when served fried in oil from our favorite restaurants?
Currently, a debate exists on whether or not deep-fried sweet potato fries can be used as a healthier alternative to regular French fries, and the short answer is that nothing deep-fried can really be considered “healthy”. A new law requires large chain restaurants to display the calorie content of their products as features on their menus, which may help us to decide. But what do these numbers mean in terms of our health, or are there ways to make these options healthier at home?
A 3 oz. (10-12 fry) serving of frozen sweet potato fries is more calorie dense than that same size serving of regular French fries (containing 150 calories compared to 125 calories, respectively). However, though the sweet potato fries also have a slightly higher fat content with 5 grams of unsaturated fat, this is a healthy fat that is important for heart health, among other benefits. This same serving of sweet potato fries also contains a large number of micronutrients, most notably 41% of one’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which is an essential vitamin for vision and immune system functioning. Additionally, sweet potatoes carry many antioxidants and phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory properties, as well as a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, which helps to maintain a more stable blood sugar. It is also worth noting that sweet potato fries contain more manganese, vitamin E, fiber, and calcium than regular French fries.
Regular French fries (made from white potatoes) have an unsaturated fat content of 4 grams in a frozen 3 oz serving. While regular French fries do not contain any vitamin A, they contain slightly more iron, potassium, and vitamin C than their sweet potato fry counterparts. Both regular French fries and sweet potato fries are relatively equal in other micronutrient components, such as potassium, thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B5, and Folate.
All of this might lead us to believe that both are healthy choices to order in restaurants…right? Not so much. In restaurants, both types of fries are often fried in oil, which greatly increases their calorie and fat contents because the potatoes absorb the oil they are fried in. A deep-fried 2.5 oz serving of sweet potato fries contains a whopping 260 calories and 11 grams of fat (almost double the calorie and fat content of baked frozen fries, with a smaller serving size). This is the same for regular French fries, as a 2.5 oz serving of deep-fried French fries contains 222 calories and 10 grams of fat. That’s not all, a 2.5 oz serving is rather small, so most restaurant servings are larger and, thus, more calorie dense. There are also many health risks associated with frequent consumption of deep-fried foods, including high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The Verdict: Oven-baked sweet potato fries are a slightly healthier alternative to oven-baked French fries due to the large amount of vitamin A, antioxidants, phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory properties, and other micronutrients that are found in sweet potatoes; even though they are more calorie dense. Oven-baked sweet potatoes and French fries are BOTH healthier than either of those two options served deep-fried. When dining out, it would be healthier to choose a lower calorie side such as fresh fruit or steamed vegetables. Save the fry cravings for at home, when you know how many calories you are consuming, and remember that moderation is key! Check here for many other healthy (and tasty) alternatives to French fries that are quick and easy to make and will complement your favorite meals at home!
Kaylynn Carew, WOTFV AmeriCorps Member