More than any other segment of the food industry, the potato industry has made the greatest improvements in the fatty acid profile of its products, including French fried potatoes.
Although the oils used to cook today’s fries are now predominately all-vegetable oils that contain primarily mono- and polyunsaturated fats, French fries are still often incorrectly cited as a source of trans fat in popular media and scientific publications alike. The dramatic reduction in the trans fat content of French fried potatoes was recently confirmed by two new studies published in Preventing Chronic Disease (1,2).
Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University analyzed the calorie, sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat content of popular menu items served at three national fast food chains between 1996 and 2013. They found that while the average calorie, sodium, and saturated fat content stayed relatively constant across most menu items, there was a marked and consistent decline in the trans fat content of French fries.
In fact, the researchers noted that when assessed per 1,000 kcal, the trans fat content of French fries, independent of fast food chain, declined in the last decade to become virtually undetectable (2).
These changes are documented by three more key government studies summarized in Food Technology. These studies were also acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in its recent notice on the proposed rule on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status of partially hydrogenated oils. In addition to transforming the nutrient profile of cooking oils, innovations in food technology are continually improving the nutrient profiles of all forms of the white potato to ensure that this already nutritious, affordable, and popular vegetable continues to align with dietary guidance.
The most recent available consumption data show that French fries are consumed in amounts well within current dietary guidance and that they contribute important nutrients while providing a very small proportion of calories, saturated fat, and trans fat to the diets of Americans (3). Today’s French fries are prepared with healthier oils, are consumed in moderation, and can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Urban LE, Roberts SB, Fierstein JL, Gary CE, Lichtenstein AH. Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Energy, Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content, United States, 1996–2013. Prev Chronic Dis 2014 Dec 31;11:E229.
- Urban LE, Roberts SB, Fierstein JL, Gary CE, Lichtenstein AH. Sodium, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat Content Per 1,000 Kilocalories: Temporal Trends in Fast-Food Restaurants, United States, 2000–2013. Prev Chronic Dis 2014 Dec 31;11:E228.
- Storey ML, Anderson PA. Contributions of White Vegetables to Nutrient Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2010. Adv Nutr 2013 May;4:335S-344S.