One of my all-time favorite indulgences has long been French fries: after all, few comfort foods do the trick quite like this salty spud. I’m the fry connoisseur who enjoys the occasional online quiz about what kind of fry I am, (a waffle fry, all day every day) and who never passed up the opportunity to share an order of any kind of fries with a friend or my husband.
An Emotional Attachment to French Fries
Though I often joke my poor eating habits are my parents’ fault, they always did the best they could. For divorced parents working 12-hour shifts in a factory, the best sometimes looked like a hot meal from a drive-thru.
This is where I developed an emotional attachment to the infamous shoestring fries found at McDonald’s, largely because my dad would take me there on our weekends together. He always knew my order. From the age of six and up, I demolished ten nuggets, a large order of fries, and a cup of Dr. Pepper. Our time together at McDonald’s always felt special — sometimes we’d sit in the restaurant and eat together. Other times he’d take me home, and we’d choose a movie to watch while we feasted in between giggles and burps.
As a child, I was always overjoyed to pull up to the Play Place and sit for a moment with my fries and honey mustard dipping sauce. It’s familiar food combination that I still love to this day — but love much more sparingly now that I’m thoughtfully choosing my own meals.
Why Fast Food French Fries are Bad for You
In my recent quest to give up junk food, I wanted to dig deeper into my crunchy cravings. During my research, I was shocked to learn French fries are more complicated than just dredging a potato in oil and salt.
According to family medicine resident physician Jonathan Bonnet, MD, your order of fries are vastly transformed from the spud they originated from. “They involve frying, salting, and removing one of the healthiest parts of the potato: the skin, where many of the nutrients and fiber are found,” he says.
“The fry you eat is much different than the potato from which it came.”
After learning about the lack of nutrients, I discovered that French fries are the number one vegetable consumed by toddlers. After combining these facts in my head, I was shocked by what was actually happening. I was once a toddler consuming French fries, did that set me up for unhealthy failure as I continued to crave this crap as an adult?
Not only are French fries lacking in nutrients, it’s also possible that restaurants are serving up a hot side containing carcinogen acrylamide. It’s a chemical that forms when food is cooked at high temperatures by roasting, baking, or — you guessed it — frying. There have been suggestions that carcinogens can increase your risk of developing cancer in living tissue. No thank you.
This was disheartening news for a fry-fiend like myself who sometimes loves to soak in nostalgia by snacking on French fries. But in all only proved that guilty pleasure foods are best in moderation.
Healthy Alternatives to French Fries My Family Loves
I’ve made a vow several times to make healthier choices for myself and for my family — but that doesn’t mean I’ve totally sacrificed tasty treats. My family still loves a good, crunchy veggie, so I’ve found recipes to feed our occasional hankerings.
It started with baked sweet potato fries and green bean fries. They are incredibly yummy when combined with low-calorie swaps that enable you to enjoy a dipping sauce.
One of my all-time favorite French fry swaps if for zucchini fries (we call them zukes). Zukes are a low-cost, low-calorie favorite that is frequently featured in our household, as it is so versatile that you are almost able to forget you’re actively enjoying vegetables. The recipe calls for breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and spices. The Greek yogurt chive dip is also delish.
In the case of the French-fried potato — I’ll continue to enjoy them (and other such comfort foods) sparingly so that when I am able to do so the reward is that much sweeter. I want to feel good when eating, but I want to feel equally good afterward: and sometimes that emotion is born out of compromise and sacrifice, not out of giving in and giving up.