In case you haven't heard, July 13 is National French Fry Day!
As much as we love a perfectly-salted, golden-brown fry every now and then, it’s still a little troubling that a country where 35.7 percent of adults are obese would devote a day (even in jest) to celebrating one of the most egregious nutrition offenders.
Twenty years ago, a serving of French fries clocked in around 210 calories. Today, the average size will set you back almost triple that, according to the New York City Department of Health. In fact, French fries (and other potato products) seem to contribute directly to weight gain over time, according to a 2011 Harvard study. The researchers found that eating more potato products (chips, in particular) led to a gain of over one pound a year, while sugary beverages led to less than a pound gained.
But nobody likes a spoil sport. That's why, even here at Healthy Living, we're celebrating National French Fry Day -- with a healthy twist of course.
Click through the tips below for some easy ways to enjoy French fries with a slightly clearer conscience. Then tell us in the comments how you make this indulgent side a little bit healthier.
Downsize, Don't Supersize
We're firm believers of the "everything in moderation" principle, but it's all too easy to stretch the limits of what counts as moderation. There's a big difference between having a few fries at your favorite diner, pub or fast-food joint and ordering the largest size on the menu. Take McDonald's for example. A medium-sized order will set you back 380 calories and 19 grams of fat. But switch to a kids' order and you'll save big: This smaller size has only <a href="http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/nutritionfacts.pdf" target="_hplink">100 calories and five grams of fat</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/calgaryreviews/5583703159/" target="_hplink">Calgary Reviews</a></em>
When it comes to fried foods, the less you eat, the better, says Gayl Canfield, Ph. D., R.D., nutrition director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. You'll eat less if you split the order with someone else. "Order it, and share it, along with other, healthier foods," she recommends. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/4426637814/" target="_hplink">Ian Sane</a></em>
Ask About Oils
A number of chain restaurants, like Five Guys, advertise the fact that they use peanut oil in their cooking, which results in at least a <em>slightly</em> healthier batch of fries. <a href="http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/05/peanut-oil-for-deep-frying-foods-carnivals-fairs.html" target="_hplink">Peanut oil is great for frying</a> because of its high smoke point and neutral taste, according to Serious Eats, but it also has less saturated fat than lard, beef fat or duck fat, says Canfield, all of which are used on French fries. Plus, peanut oil also boasts heart-healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats. If your favorite restaurant doesn't openly disclose what kind of oil they use, ask your server. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/4328093689/" target="_hplink">Steve Snodgrass</a></em>
Order Thick Cuts
Shoestring, curly, waffle, wedges -- there is a style of French fry for just about everyone, but is there a healthiest cut? The thicker the better, Canfield says. A smaller fry packs less potato and more unhealthy fried surface area, she says.
Savor That Spud
<a href="http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/healthy-french-fries-cutting-fast-food-calories" target="_hplink">Eating your fries slowly</a> may help you eat just a few, Prevention.com recommends. Not gobbling up your food is a healthy idea in general, as it allows <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/health/23real.html" target="_hplink">time for the brain to register when you're feeling full</a> before you have time to wolf down more calories. Savoring each bite may help you take fewer bites all together. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/4328071937/" target="_hplink">Steve Snodgrass</a></em>
Bake Or Roast Your Own
If you're going to be "celebrating" in the comfort of your own kitchen, you have a few more options to get healthy -- and creative. Baking or roasting potatoes drastically cuts back on the amount of oil absorbed into the spud, says Canfield. Cut them into thick wedges, sprinkle on your favorite herbs (she loves dill!) and pop them in the oven until they're golden-brown. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nexus_icon/2420997185/" target="_hplink">Christian Cable</a></em>
Try A Potato Alternative
Potatoes get a bad rap, but they actually made our list of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/healthy-food-healthiest-list_n_1636409.html#slide=1161988" target="_hplink">50 of the healthiest foods</a> thanks to their mix of complex carbs, vitamins and fiber. You've probably already tried sweet potato fries, which may have a healthy leg up on the white stuff, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/healthy-food-healthiest-list_n_1636409.html#slide=1162283" target="_hplink">thanks to beta carotene</a>, but "it's what we do to them that makes them unhealthy," says Canfield. An order of deep-friend sweets, that means, might not actually be a whole lot better than the regular kind. That said, there are a number of other superfoods that make for healthier sides -- and are even better baked or roasted. There is a seemingly endless number of recipes for healthy French fry alternatives made with everything from <a href="http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2011/12/herb-and-whole-wheat-panko-crusted-zucchini-spears" target="_hplink">zucchini</a> to <a href="http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2011/12/parsnip-sticks-with-harissa-powder-and-cayenne-pepper" target="_hplink">parsnip</a> to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/07/health/research/kohlrabi-home-fries-recipes-for-health.html" target="_hplink">kohlrabi</a>. "I've seen squash fries, green beans, but it's all the same concept," says Canfield. "You could oven roast them and have a much better outcome calorically and nutrition-wise." <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/willfolsom/5956179060/" target="_hplink">Will Folsom</a></em>
"Another thing you can do especially with vegetables is put them on the grill," says Canfield. "Make big wedges of potato and zucchini and onion and grill in a grill basket and it's really yummy," she says. That technique may even give you a little of the crunch you're looking for. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4765765051/" target="_hplink">woodleywonderworks</a></em>
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