Healthier Fast-Food Fries?

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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.

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127 thoughts on “Healthier Fast-Food Fries?

  1. June

    Every time a fast-food place offers ‘healthy’ choices it fails miserably. Remember the McLean? One good thing about Burger King is that they don’t look at you weird when you order a burger with no bun. They actually have a button on the order screen for it.

    I like the burgers at Five Guys here. They wrap them in lettuce if you ask for no bun.

    Reply
    1. Bob Geary

      Aw, I’m jealous – our local Five Guys is happy to do bunless, but they don’t wrap it in lettuce. On the other hand, I get the full-sized bacon cheeseburger All The Way, and that would be really awkward in lettuce – maybe a full-sized slab of kale could hold it, but raw kale, no thanks…

      (But it’s a good burger anyway, even if I do have to eat it w/ a knife & fork.)

      Reply
    2. Justin B

      I think the Five Guys experience varies by location. A few months ago, if I would ask for no bun, they would just wrap up the greasy mess in the foil wrapper, as if it had a bun, and it would leak all over everything. More recently, they started putting it in a rectangular bowl with foil over the top, and that works much better.

      Reply
  2. Daci

    I sure wish the CSPI guy would give it a rest.It’s just creepy how they have been handed such a big megaphone to push their agenda over the years.

    It just never ends.

    Reply
    1. Bob Geary

      What I always say about the CSPI: What they’re doing isn’t Science, and it’s absolutely NOT in the Public Interest – but to be fair, they may well be a Center, so they’re batting .250.

      Though in retrospect, they did do me a solid all those years ago when they forced McDonald’s to make their fries less delicious, thus making McDonald’s a less appealing option to me. So thanks, CSPI!

      They made fried food less appealing all over the country.

      Reply
  3. Tate

    I am low carb but not no carb. I love fries cooked in coconut oil and dipped in flavored sour cream. I eat it frequently and am happily staying at my desired weight. What is so frustrating is that is how it use to be everywhere before the government and CSPI types ruined a good thing. In the case of the coconut oil, more of it is a GOOD thing, no weird coating required.

    Reply
  4. Jason Bucata

    I’m probably not up on my food statistics, but aren’t sweet potatoes still high in carbs, too? They’re sweet after all, so they must contain something approximating sugar. (Well, I guess stevia tastes sweet, but it’s different from sugar… hmm.)

    Maybe they’re high glycemic but not as bad as regular potatoes? A very quick Web search on the topic and and I’m already getting conflicting answers. Figures.

    I’ve tested my glucose after sweet potatoes and white potatoes. White potatoes give me a major spike. Sweet potatoes don’t.

    Reply
  5. Tate

    I am low carb but not no carb. I love fries cooked in coconut oil and dipped in flavored sour cream. I eat it frequently and am happily staying at my desired weight. What is so frustrating is that is how it use to be everywhere before the government and CSPI types ruined a good thing. In the case of the coconut oil, more of it is a GOOD thing, no weird coating required.

    Reply
  6. Jason Bucata

    I’m probably not up on my food statistics, but aren’t sweet potatoes still high in carbs, too? They’re sweet after all, so they must contain something approximating sugar. (Well, I guess stevia tastes sweet, but it’s different from sugar… hmm.)

    Maybe they’re high glycemic but not as bad as regular potatoes? A very quick Web search on the topic and and I’m already getting conflicting answers. Figures.

    I’ve tested my glucose after sweet potatoes and white potatoes. White potatoes give me a major spike. Sweet potatoes don’t.

    Reply
  7. Pat

    Sweet potatoes are great in the oven too, if you have it going for something else. Prepare as above (olive oil is OK too, and is the traditional French choice if you want to be a purist), sprinkle with “herbes de Provence”, and bake.

    I remember going into the Laurentians (summer cottage country) when I was a kid. Real French baguettes still warm from the bakery and slathered in butter. Long fat french fries, made from potatoes soaked in salt water to get some of the water out and deep fried in beef tallow (probably, I wasn’t asking when I was 8) with lot of salt (no vinegar). We knew what we were getting, there was always some teenager sitting there doing nothing but peel potatoes. Fun summer job. None of these partially cooked frozen pathetic things waiting to be finished up for a few seconds.

    I don’t miss French Fries eating low carb. I do miss really good French bread,and the old style fries. Patates Frites at “La Belle Province” (smoked meat restaurant chain, yum) are OK but still not as good.

    And butter! I got to eat real butter, made before my eyes from cream from a Jersey cow, last weekend. It was at a harvest festival at a pioneer museum – figures :/

    Reply
  8. Kristin

    Sure I watch my cholesterol. As a middle-aged woman I want to make sure it is high enough.

    And while I wish that McDs would go back to the tallow for frying, it is probably better for me that they don’t. I REALLY liked those original fries and the trans fats or canola oil really puts me off. I don’t need to be eating potatoes anyway.

    And on a completely orthogonal subject I posted a list of 20 benefits of grass fed butter to my FB feed yesterday. My 20 year old daughter with the white starch food habit and a strong resistance to fat (and protein and vegetables…sigh) is on my friend list. Yesterday evening I couldn’t find the Kerrygold. She had it in her room. Her excuse was “I wasn’t that hungry but I knew I needed some fat.” Hmmm. I’m not particularly a fan of just sitting down to a block of butter but if that is what it takes to get some nutrients into her I’m game.

    How about Kerrygold on a stick?

    Reply
  9. Pat

    Sweet potatoes are great in the oven too, if you have it going for something else. Prepare as above (olive oil is OK too, and is the traditional French choice if you want to be a purist), sprinkle with “herbes de Provence”, and bake.

    I remember going into the Laurentians (summer cottage country) when I was a kid. Real French baguettes still warm from the bakery and slathered in butter. Long fat french fries, made from potatoes soaked in salt water to get some of the water out and deep fried in beef tallow (probably, I wasn’t asking when I was 8) with lot of salt (no vinegar). We knew what we were getting, there was always some teenager sitting there doing nothing but peel potatoes. Fun summer job. None of these partially cooked frozen pathetic things waiting to be finished up for a few seconds.

    I don’t miss French Fries eating low carb. I do miss really good French bread,and the old style fries. Patates Frites at “La Belle Province” (smoked meat restaurant chain, yum) are OK but still not as good.

    And butter! I got to eat real butter, made before my eyes from cream from a Jersey cow, last weekend. It was at a harvest festival at a pioneer museum – figures :/

    Reply
  10. Kristin

    Sure I watch my cholesterol. As a middle-aged woman I want to make sure it is high enough.

    And while I wish that McDs would go back to the tallow for frying, it is probably better for me that they don’t. I REALLY liked those original fries and the trans fats or canola oil really puts me off. I don’t need to be eating potatoes anyway.

    And on a completely orthogonal subject I posted a list of 20 benefits of grass fed butter to my FB feed yesterday. My 20 year old daughter with the white starch food habit and a strong resistance to fat (and protein and vegetables…sigh) is on my friend list. Yesterday evening I couldn’t find the Kerrygold. She had it in her room. Her excuse was “I wasn’t that hungry but I knew I needed some fat.” Hmmm. I’m not particularly a fan of just sitting down to a block of butter but if that is what it takes to get some nutrients into her I’m game.

    How about Kerrygold on a stick?

    Reply
  11. Linda

    I continue to be amazed at what lengths the food industry will go to to deceive the public! That being said, there IS a way to have healthy (or is it healthful??) French fries. I eat very low carb, and dairy is a part of my life, so I found these fries to satisfy any vagrant craving I might have. Take a sweet potato, zucchini squash, radishes, or any other veggie that is firm and hard (no juice when cut.) For most, cut into French fry pieces or in the case of radishes or turnips, just slice. Dip in a beaten egg, then in a dish of grated parmesan cheese with fresh diced basil. The real parmesan is great, but the stuff in the green jar will work in a pinch. Fry in coconut oil and salt to taste when removed from oil to paper towels to drain. It probably would work just fine with lard or bacon fat. These brown crispy fries are far superior to any you get in a fast food joint!

    Those sound pretty good.

    Reply
  12. Jean

    French fries originated in Belgium. When we visited Bruge, we ate them there. I don’t know what they fry them in, but they are unbelievably delicious. That was before my low carb days, but I would definitely make an exception for them if I ever visit again.

    Reply
    1. Sif

      They use beef tallow (in most of the frit shops anyway). When we visit Brussels, we eat fries every day, and my eczema goes away. It’s great.

      Reply
  13. Peggy Holloway

    I was waiting for you to take this on. 🙂 I was wondering about what the “batter” is that they use. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  14. Linda

    I continue to be amazed at what lengths the food industry will go to to deceive the public! That being said, there IS a way to have healthy (or is it healthful??) French fries. I eat very low carb, and dairy is a part of my life, so I found these fries to satisfy any vagrant craving I might have. Take a sweet potato, zucchini squash, radishes, or any other veggie that is firm and hard (no juice when cut.) For most, cut into French fry pieces or in the case of radishes or turnips, just slice. Dip in a beaten egg, then in a dish of grated parmesan cheese with fresh diced basil. The real parmesan is great, but the stuff in the green jar will work in a pinch. Fry in coconut oil and salt to taste when removed from oil to paper towels to drain. It probably would work just fine with lard or bacon fat. These brown crispy fries are far superior to any you get in a fast food joint!

    Those sound pretty good.

    Reply
  15. Jean

    French fries originated in Belgium. When we visited Bruge, we ate them there. I don’t know what they fry them in, but they are unbelievably delicious. That was before my low carb days, but I would definitely make an exception for them if I ever visit again.

    Reply
    1. Sif

      They use beef tallow (in most of the frit shops anyway). When we visit Brussels, we eat fries every day, and my eczema goes away. It’s great.

      Reply
  16. Peggy Holloway

    I was waiting for you to take this on. 🙂 I was wondering about what the “batter” is that they use. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  17. Jonas Larsson

    The secret lies in tampering with the frying process,be it through the ‘secret formula’ or any other.Fast foods got to re-engineer,it’s business at the end of the day.Business for the future man.

    Reply
  18. Jonas Larsson

    The secret lies in tampering with the frying process,be it through the ‘secret formula’ or any other.Fast foods got to re-engineer,it’s business at the end of the day.Business for the future man.

    Reply
  19. ethyl d

    Just went to dinner last night at a local ‘sort of’ French restaurant that cooks its fries in duck fat.

    That sounds delicious.

    Reply
  20. ethyl d

    Just went to dinner last night at a local ‘sort of’ French restaurant that cooks its fries in duck fat.

    That sounds delicious.

    Reply
  21. gallier2

    @Jean

    traditionnally in Belgium they use beef tallow for the fries and exclusively potatoes of the bintje variety.

    Reply
  22. Hilary Kyro

    In response to the missing macro-nutrient mystery: you could retain the mass and lower the calories by adding or keeping more water in the product with the shellac.
    I’m old enough to remember the beef tallow fries. Not only did they smell and taste much better, they left you feeling satisfried. There was always enough to share.

    Reply
  23. Hilary Kyro

    In response to the missing macro-nutrient mystery: you could retain the mass and lower the calories by adding or keeping more water in the product with the shellac.
    I’m old enough to remember the beef tallow fries. Not only did they smell and taste much better, they left you feeling satisfried. There was always enough to share.

    Reply
  24. goomee

    Burger King is giving away a free order of these shellac fries this weekend-at least in the Chicago area. I might get an order just to see what I can do with them.

    I assume eating them isn’t on your list of experiments.

    Reply
  25. goomee

    Burger King is giving away a free order of these shellac fries this weekend-at least in the Chicago area. I might get an order just to see what I can do with them.

    I assume eating them isn’t on your list of experiments.

    Reply
  26. Justin B

    As someone who does better with a few potatoes in my weekly diet than not, I tend to prefer them to be cut into strings and fried, over whole or mashed. Stories like this tarnish the reputation of the poor, misunderstood fry.

    Reply

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