When asked what your favorite vegetable is, do you answer "french fries"? If you do, you're not alone.
In the U.S., one of the most commonly consumed vegetables is the potato, primarily in french fry form. While french fries are made from a vegetable, they can contain a lot of added fat. For example, a 5-ounce serving of typical drive-through french fries can pile on between 350 and 500 calories, 22 to 25 grams of fat and a possibly of 440 milligrams of sodium.
Studies show that we start our love affair with french fries as early as preschool. Fried potatoes were the most commonly consumed vegetable by kids as young as 2 and 3, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Having kids this young choose this fat-laden vegetable can only bring on more troubles later in life. Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that consuming potatoes, including fries, chips, boiled and mashed forms, caused additional weight gain over a four-year study period. And which potato food took the "prize" for the most weight gain (3.5 pounds) over the four years? Yes, the french fry.
Moreover, since we eat so many of them, we're doing so at the expense of other vegetables. When we don't eat a variety of vegetables (such as dark green, leafy or yellow/orange vegetables) we miss out on important nutrients that benefit our health and decrease the risk for several chronic diseases.
I'm not saying you need to give up potatoes completely. White potatoes are a healthy food choice, providing vitamin C, potassium and fiber. But when they're served with added fat, whether drizzled with melted butter or fried in oil, this food choice has some negative health consequences related to heart disease and weight gain.
If you find it difficult to give up this favorite side-dish, try a two-step approach to making "healthy fries."
First, pass up white potatoes in favor of other root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, jicama, parsnips, turnips, or a member of the squash family, such as butternut squash. Sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash are high in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash are also high in vitamin C and potassium. Jicama, turnips and rutabagas are also an excellent source of vitamin C and parsnips provide vitamin C and folate. Additionally, they all contain some fiber which can help you feel full for a longer period.
Second, bake your fries in the oven, seasoning them with herbs and spices and with a drizzle of olive oil, instead of frying them in oil. I like using several combinations of herbs and spices depending on the taste I want. Some of my favorite combinations to use with root vegetable or squash healthy fries are: rosemary or oregano; chili powder and ground cumin; garlic powder and onion powder. For a sweeter taste, sprinkle with cinnamon and a sugar substitute.
Experiment with different vegetable and spice combinations to come up with your own flavorful and delicious "healthy fries."
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.