French fries: Addictive, comforting, and more dangerous than you think

In light of International French Fries Day, a dietician explains the health risks of this classic food.

 Are you getting the most out of your french fries without compromising your health? (photo credit: PEXELS)
Are you getting the most out of your french fries without compromising your health?
(photo credit: PEXELS)

Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with a slightly salty taste and an oily texture - all these factors make fries highly enjoyable, and the combination of fat and salt leaves us craving more.

However, we are well aware that it's better to reduce our consumption of fried foods, be mindful of our salt intake (sodium), and opt for less processed and industrialized foods.

In honor of International French Fries Day, celebrated today, let's explore five things you may not know about this beloved food and discover how you can still enjoy it without compromising your health:

The best and healthiest way to make fries is by using your home oven

 Just like with any food, it's recommended to use high-quality ingredients. Preparing fries at home allows you to control the quantity, choose your preferred ingredients, and decide what to add.

How do you make them?

Start by selecting fresh potatoes without any buds (the presence of buds indicates that the potato is not fresh and may contain toxins). Cut the potatoes into strips using a Magimix or do it manually (a great activity for children). Mix the strips with a reasonable amount of salt and olive oil, ensuring they are evenly coated. This will result in delicious fries while minimizing the need for excessive frying. Place them in the oven or use an air fryer.

Frying at home

 if you still prefer deep-fried fries, it's better to fry them at home using the potatoes you bought and cut yourself. However, be aware that frying can be messy and requires a large quantity of refined oil. While frying in olive oil is a possibility, it's less practical due to its higher price.

French fries  (credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)
French fries (credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Preparing frozen french fries at home

Take a close look at the list of ingredients. It's important to note that frozen fries already contain oil and salt, so frying them at home means adding extra oil to the dish.

Even if you choose to bake them in the oven without additional oil, it's crucial to understand that the vegetable oil used may be palm oil (sometimes explicitly stated). Palm oil is a vegetable oil that doesn't contain cholesterol but is high in saturated fat. It is commonly used in the food industry due to its lower cost and resistance to high temperatures.

However, consuming excessive amounts of saturated fat, even of plant origin, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The frozen fries you buy may also contain additives such as dextrose and stabilizers, indicating that they are industrial products far from natural ingredients.

Buying fries from restaurants and fast food stands 

This habit should be minimized due to the reasons mentioned above. These establishments often use frozen fries that are already high in fat, salt, and additives. Furthermore, the frying oil used may have been recycled multiple times, which can result in harmful substances and pose health risks. If you still decide to buy fries from outside sources, opt for a smaller portion or share a plate with others.

Potato chips and other snacks - all you need to know

should be consumed in moderation as they typically contain high amounts of sodium (salt) and fat. If you choose to indulge in these snacks, it's better to select those with ingredients commonly found in a home kitchen: potatoes, oil, and salt. Unfamiliar substances such as preservatives, stabilizers, and emulsifiers indicate that the product is "ultra-processed" and should be avoided.

In general, it's advisable to reduce the consumption of fried foods and those high in fat and salt. However, as fries are a favorite among both children and adults, you can incorporate them into your daily menu occasionally. Prepare them at home in the oven using your preferred ingredients, and limit consumption when eating out. It's also important to view fries as part of a balanced meal, accompanied by proteins and vegetables, rather than considering them as the main dish.

And if you truly want to make your fries healthier, you can try substituting carbohydrate-rich potatoes with nutritious vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, or kohlrabi. Chef Omer Miller, featured in a recently released cookbook, shares a simple and healthy recipe with Walla! Feel free to give it a try.

Batia Shahrabani, a clinical nutritionist focusing on family health at Maccabi Health Services in the North, actively engages in providing personal support and guidance to parent groups at Maccabi Active (an institute for treating childhood obesity) and delivers lectures to educational teams and teenagers.