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French Fries – Nutritional or Not?

French Fries – Nutritional or Not?

5 minute read time

Every year, the second Friday of July is National French Fry Day! While it might seem a bit unusual to have a whole day dedicated to one of the most popular fast food side dishes, when you evaluate the overall popularity of French fries it seems decidedly less odd!

A lot has been said about this versatile side dish. There have been many discussions as to whether you should have them salty, skinny, fat or with an assortment of sauces. However, the question that’s on many people’s lips is whether or not French fries are healthy, at least in a comparative sense to other side dishes.

At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, French fries are generally considered unhealthy. This is because of the high number of calories in French fries, high levels of trans fats and formation of acrylamide. However, it’s not so simple that we’ll leave it there.

The nutritional attributes of the fries can vary greatly depending on the type of potato and the cooking method that’s used. For instance, all fried foods carry an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. On the other hand, foods that are cooked in healthier frying oils or via alternative cooking methods exhibit a lower health risk.  Additionally, sweet potato fries are often healthier than their deep-fried equivalent. 

As with any food, consumption in moderation is key. Moderation is vital to maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. But just how unhealthy, or healthy, are French fries? To honour National French Fry Day, we have decided to delve into the nutritional aspects of this popular side dish. 

Potential Health Risks of French Fries 

Before deciphering if fries are unhealthy or not, it is worth breaking down some of the potential health risks. 


French fries are high in calories. This means moderate to excessive consumption can easily lead to weight gain and, in more extreme cases, obesity. 


French fries are loaded with carbohydrates and this can lead to increased blood sugar levels. As such, there have been many studies dedicated to finding a direct link between type 2 diabetes and French fries. However, there is a need for more extensive research to fully understand the relationship between French fries and diabetes.

Heart Disease

Some studies have found that French fries can sometimes lead to an increase in heart disease factors such as high blood pressure and low HDL, commonly known as the ‘good’ cholesterol.

French Fries Nutrition Facts

Here are some of the key nutrient facts about French fries. 


Carbohydrates are the main energy source for your body, and French fries get most of their calories from carbohydrates, mainly starch. To put things into perspective, in a normal 100-gram serving of French fries you’d get about 41 grams of carbohydrates. 


Proteins are an essential part of our food, they are needed for the growth, repair, and maintenance of our body tissue. Unfortunately, French fries are decidedly lacking when it comes to protein. In a 100-gram serving, you only receive 3.4 grams of protein. 


When you hear the words fats, you might automatically assume that they are a bad thing. However, fats give us energy, are needed for hormone production and also help our bodies to absorb nutrients. They aren’t all bad! This being said, an overabundance of fats is not a good thing. The fat content of French fries will depend largely on how they are cooked. A 100-gram serving of deep-fried French fries has about 17 grams of fat, with 3 grams being saturated fats. 


Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals which help to keep us healthy. French fries do have some of these, which add to their nutritional value. In terms of vitamins, French fries contain vitamins C and B6 as well as Folate. In terms of minerals, they contain Potassium, Phosphorus and Magnesium. Although all of these vitamins and minerals are present, it is worth clarifying that their presence is minimal when compared to some other foods. 

Potential Benefits of French Fries 

The main health “benefits” you’d gain from consuming French fries are likely to be from the nutrients in the potatoes. Some of the potential benefits of consuming French fries include: 

Support Healthy Immune Function

The vitamin C found in potatoes is a water-soluble vitamin that’s necessary for healthy immune systems. It also plays a role in building strong connective tissue and wound repair. 

May Help Weight Maintenance 

Some researchers suggest that the fibre and resistant starch in white potatoes offer health benefits, including protection against weight gain. It has been found that French fries have more resistant starch than boiled potatoes. Resistant starch, which isn’t digested in the small intestine, can increase satiety. However, depending on the preparation, potatoes and French fries can also be high in calories, sodium, and fat.

Improve Early Brain Development

The vitamin B6 that’s found in potatoes can also have some important health benefits. The vitamin is important for brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Therefore, it’s recommended that the intake of vitamin B6 is higher for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is worth mentioning that while the recommended intake may be slightly higher, overindulging is still not recommended.

Low-Cost Source of Nutrients

Some researchers advocate for including white potatoes in the diet, despite their poor reputation compared to other vegetables. One study highlights that white potatoes are an affordable source of essential nutrients, high-quality protein, and satisfying carbohydrates.


No matter what food is being talked about, allergens should always be a consideration. While allergies to raw potatoes are considered rare, there are some reports documenting severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. However, normal reactions to potato allergies are usually milder, more akin to hay fever or birch tree allergies. These symptoms can include tingling in the mouth and lips, but can progress to having difficulty breathing. Food intolerances to potatoes are much more common and can cause digestive issues and migraines.

Another consideration when assessing the allergen potential of your French fries is the oil they are cooked in. For example, if the fries are cooked in peanut oil, then those suffering from severe peanut allergy run the risk of having a severe reaction. 

Impact of Cooking Methods

The way you cook your French fries can drastically change their nutritional value and “healthiness”.


Frying is by far the most common way of cooking French fries, but unfortunately it’s also the most unhealthy! Frying French fries raises their calorie and fat content. Additionally, high frying temperatures can lead to the formation of acrylamide, a harmful substance that’s linked with possible health risks. 

Air Frying 

Air frying is currently one of the most popular ways to cook food, and it is also one of the most popular ways to cook French fries. Luckily, this cooking method provides a much lower calorie and fat content than normal frying, and air frying might also produce less acrylamide. 


Baking French fries is much healthier than traditional deep frying, mainly because this method of cooking produces fewer calories and less fat content in the fries. However, baking at high temperatures can still lead to acrylamide formation. 


Grilling, similar to baking, falls somewhere between air frying and deep frying in terms of healthiness. Grilling requires only a little bit of oil as it uses lower cooking temperatures. This helps to give the fries a crisp and smoky flavour. However, cooking temperatures should still be monitored to avoid excessive charring and acrylamide formation.

Alternative Cooking Oils 

If you must fry your French fries, there are some healthier alternatives when it comes to oils. As a general rule, you should go for an oil with a high smoke point and low levels of polyunsaturated fats. These include Olive oil, Coconut oil and Avocado oil. 

Sweet Potato Fries and French Fries 

French fries and sweet potato fries differ in nutritional value. French fries, made from white potatoes, are typically higher in calories, carbohydrates, and fat: especially when deep-fried. They provide some vitamin C and potassium, but are often low in fibre. 

On the other hand, sweet potato fries are higher in fibre, vitamin A, and beta-carotene, offering more antioxidant benefits. They also have a slightly lower glycemic index, which can be beneficial for blood sugar control. However, both types of fries can still be high in calories and fat depending on the cooking method, particularly when they’re deep-fried.

In Summary

Overall, when assessing if French fries are bad for you, the short answer would be… mostly! While there are certain benefits (mainly the vitamins and minerals that are present in potatoes) there can be negative health implications if you overindulge, including the potential of them contributing to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 

That being said, as with many foods that are consumed in moderation, French fries can be included in a well-balanced diet. Furthermore, if you want to make your French fries healthier, be sure to opt for either sweet potato fries or look for healthier cooking alternatives. 


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