Before getting into the subject of Burger King’s new “healthier” fries, I’m going to anticipate a common (and incorrect) objection about using the words healthy and healthier to describe foods. The objection, which I’ve seen in comments on a few blogs, goes something like this:
Foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy! Foods that are good for you are healthful, not healthy!
As Johnny Carson used to say: Wrong, buffalo-breath. If foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy, how the heck can they be full of health? And how can a person be said to have a healthy attitude? Attitudes aren’t living organisms either … but a positive attitude can be conducive to good health. Foods can also be conducive to good health, which is a definition of healthful. But guess what? That’s also one of the definitions of healthy. Here’s a quote from the TheFreeDictionary.com:
The distinction in meaning between healthy (“possessing good health”) and healthful (“conducive to good health”) was ascribed to the two terms only as late as the 1880s. This distinction, though tenaciously supported by some critics, is belied by citational evidence — healthy has been used to mean “healthful” since the 16th century. Use of healthy in this sense is to be found in the works of many distinguished writers, with this example from John Locke being typical: “Gardening . . . and working in wood, are fit and healthy recreations for a man of study or business.” Therefore, both healthy and healthful are correct in these contexts: a healthy climate, a healthful climate; a healthful diet, a healthy diet.
Okay, just felt the need to get that out of the way so I don’t have to keep using clunky terms like more healthful and less healthful. Now let’s take a peek at an article by a journalist who was invited to try Burger King’s new healthier french fries:
We tasted them, and you may not miss the 40% fat and 30% calories stripped from the spuds.
So the next time you’re at a Burger King and asked ‘Do you want fries with that?’ you might feel a little less guilty about saying yes.
I’d say that depends on what’s in those fries.
Just over half of the the fast food chain’s 100 million monthly customers orders fries. And while most of them aren’t expecting to get a health boost from their meal, heightened awareness about diets and nutrition, and the role that fried foods play in obesity, are starting to weigh on customers’ choices. It’s not entirely realistic to expect a healthy, nutritious meal delivered at a fast food counter, but it does makes sense that their menu developers start listening to what people want.
Have you discussed this with The Guy From CSPI? He thinks McDonald’s should be serving tofu and salads. That’s because he thinks people are mindless idiots who just eat whatever you offer them.
That’s why quick service restaurants are all offering healthier fare. There is a grilled chicken option for nearly every fried item, and salads freshen up the menu boards of all fast food chains now. But it turns out visitors to these restaurants want only one thing — the food that made these chains so popular in the first place — burgers, fries and shakes.
Bingo. This is the basic-economics stuff activists like The Guy From CSPI can’t grasp: people don’t buy burgers and fries because fast-food chains sell them; fast-food chains sell them because that’s what people buy. One of my favorite on-the-street interviews in Fat Head was when I asked a young lady, “If McDonald’s sold broccoli in a nice red container like this, would you order the McBroccoli?” She replied, “Maybe if they fried it or put cheese on it.”
Which is why we see behavior like this:
Getting people to eat healthier food at fast food joints is a major challenge for the industry. Burger King’s market research, for example, showed that people who walk into a restaurant intending to order grilled chicken change their minds at the register and consistently order fried.
People want their fried food. Got it. So what is it exactly that makes Burger King’s new version of fried potatoes healthier?
Satisfries are made with the same oil and equipment as the traditional french fries, and, not surprisingly, Burger King won’t reveal the oil-repelling agent responsible. But we consulted some food science experts who say that lowering fat content in fried food is more an engineering trick than a nutritional one.
That’s what I want when I order food: an engineering trick.
“There are several patents out there now. It’s actually kind of an old technology,” says Mary Ellen Camire, the president-elect of the Institute of Food Technologists of the fat-fighting batter technique.
Adding modified starches to the surface of foods like potato chips, or adding ingredients to wet batters like proteins, gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours, are well known ways to make fried foods less absorbent.
Sounds yummy! And healthier, of course.
Camire says many fast food industry efforts to lower fat content costs them customers because the loss of fat leads to loss of taste or texture or both.
Or it could be that people’s taste buds are warning them they’re about to eat a frankenfood.
I don’t think I’ll be trying the gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours fried in canola oil anytime soon. I suspect readers of this blog won’t either. But if you miss fries and want to indulge in a healthier version now and then, try Chareva’s sweet-potato fries. Here’s the recipe:
- Heat bacon grease in a frying pan
- Toss in some thinly-sliced, peeled sweet potatoes
- Fry the sweet potatoes until they’re crispy
- Dump them on some paper towels and let them cool a bit
- Add salt to taste
No hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose or soy flour required.