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Home Lifestyle Sweet Potato Fries vs. French Fries: Which Is Healthier?

Sweet Potato Fries vs. French Fries: Which Is Healthier?

Sweet potato fries have a reputation for being healthier than French fries, but you may wonder whether they’re really better for you.

After all, both kinds are usually deep-fried and served in oversized portions.

This article reviews the nutrition of sweet potato and French fries, as well as their potential health effects.

Nutrition Comparison

Detailed nutrition information is most readily available for store-bought, frozen fries.

The following nutritional comparison is for a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving — or 10–12 pieces of frozen fries — which can be baked as-is from the freezer:

French fries Sweet potato fries
Calories 125 150
Total fat* 4 grams 5 grams
Saturated fat 1 gram 1 gram
Trans fat 0 grams 0 grams
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 mg
Sodium* 282 mg 170 mg
Carbs 21 grams 24 grams
Fiber 2 grams 3 grams
Protein 2 grams 1 gram
Potassium 7% of the RDI 5% of the RDI
Manganese 6% of the RDI 18% of the RDI
Vitamin A 0% of the RDI 41% of the RDI
Vitamin C 16% of the RDI 7% of the RDI
Vitamin E 0% of the RDI 8% of the RDI
Thiamine 7% of the RDI 7% of the RDI
Niacin 11% of the RDI 4% of the RDI
Vitamin B6 9% of the RDI 9% of the RDI
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) 8% of the RDI 8% of the RDI
Folate 7% of the RDI 7% of the RDI

*Fat and sodium content may vary between different brands of either type of fries.

Sweet potato fries are slightly higher in calories and carbs but also more nutrient dense than French fries.

The greatest nutrient difference is that French fries have no vitamin A, while sweet potato fries are high in this nutrient. Vitamin A is important for your vision and immune system.

Serving Size and Cooking Methods Matter

The table in the previous chapter shows that a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of baked French fries has 125 calories, compared to 150 calories for the same serving of baked sweet potato fries.

In contrast, fries at restaurants are typically deep-fried — which nearly doubles the calorie content.

Here’s a comparison of the average calories, fat, and carbs in different size orders of deep-fried fast food fries:

Small (2.5 ounces or 71 grams) Medium (4.1 ounces or 117 grams) Large (5.4 ounces or 154 grams)
French fries
• Calories 222 365 480
• Fat 10 grams 17 grams 22 grams
• Carbs 29 grams 48 grams 64 grams
Sweet potato fries
• Calories 260 400 510
• Fat 11 grams 18 grams 22 grams
• Carbs 37 grams 57 grams 74 grams

A large serving of each kind of fast food fries has as many calories as some people need in an entire meal.

Additionally, the carb and fat content are about doubled if you choose a large rather than a small serving — regardless if they’re French or sweet potato fries.

Concerns Over Frying

Two issues that have made news headlines over the past few decades are trans fat and acrylamide in fries.

Is Trans Fat Still a Problem?

Trans fat in fries and other processed foods became a big concern in the 1990s, as studies linked it to increased heart disease risk.

Fortunately, new FDA rules ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil — the primary source of trans fat — in the U.S. food supply as of June 2018, though some may remain in the food supply until January 2020 as inventories are depleted.

Therefore, you should no longer see “partially hydrogenated oil” in ingredient lists of fries, nor should you find any trans fat listed in their nutrition information.

However, it’s likely still wise to limit your intake of deep-fried foods, as two studies suggest that small amounts of trans fat may form when oil is repeatedly used in a deep fryer.

Acrylamide Forms in Both Types of Fries

Acrylamide is a potentially harmful compound discovered in 2002 in cooked, starchy foods — including fries. In fact, fries are one of the major dietary sources of acrylamide.

It’s formed through a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and certain sugars when starchy foods are fried and — to a lesser extent — when they’re baked or roasted.

Though most studies on acrylamide levels in fries have tested French fries, this compound also forms in sweet potato fries and is what makes fries brown.

Acrylamide is classified as “probably carcinogenic” in humans. However, this is based on studies of animals given high doses of the compound.

A review of human observational studies suggests that typical acrylamide intakes are unlikely to be related to the most common causes of cancer — but more research is needed.

Additionally, food suppliers may use several strategies to reduce acrylamide levels — such as treating fries with certain additives — though this isn’t required by law.

If you’re making fries from scratch, you can reduce acrylamide formation by avoiding refrigerating potatoes, baking instead of frying, soaking potato slices in water for 15–30 minutes before cooking, and heating them just until golden, not brown.

Regular Consumption May Increase Disease Risk

French fries have come under increasing scrutiny due to new studies suggesting that higher intake may raise your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Obesity

In observational studies, higher intake of French fries is linked to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.

One study associated an additional daily serving of French fries with gaining 3.35 pounds (1.5 kg) over a four-year period.

Studies also suggest that eating French fries at least once or twice a week may double the risk of food addiction in adults and children.

These observational studies don’t prove that French fries were what really contributed to weight gain or food addiction, but they do suggest that it may be wise to limit your intake.

Type 2 Diabetes

French fries and sweet potato fries are both rich in carbohydrates, which raise your blood sugar.

The glycemic index (GI) — a measure of a food’s potential blood sugar impact — is 76 for fried sweet potatoes and 70 for fried white potatoes on a 100-point scale.

These are moderately-high values and suggest that both types of fries may raise your blood sugar similarly.

In an observational study, people who reported eating 3 or more servings of French fries per week had a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, regardless of their body weight.

Additionally, a review of eight studies linked each daily 5.4-ounce (150-gram) increase in the consumption of French fries with a 66% higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Though these studies don’t prove that fries increase diabetes risk, it may be wise to cut back on both types if you’re trying to lower your blood sugar.

Heart Disease

Some observational studies suggest that a higher intake of fried foods may increase heart disease risk — though studies haven’t been able to pinpoint French fries as a culprit.

Still, if you frequently eat fries, you may be more likely to develop heart disease risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.

In a large observational study, people who ate 4 or more servings of French fries per week had a 17% higher risk of high blood pressure, compared to people who ate fewer than one serving per month.

The reasons behind these findings are uncertain but may be related to weight gain, which may increase high blood pressure risk.

Which Type Should You Choose?

To make the best choice, it would be ideal to have studies that directly compare the health effects of sweet potato and French fries when eaten in the same quantities. However, such studies are unavailable.

Still, many people’s diets fall short of meeting the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin A. Sweet potato fries boost your vitamin A intake whereas French fries lack this vitamin.

Furthermore, you can compare the two types of fries based on what is known:

French Fries Sweet potato fries
Nutritional content Low Moderate
Acrylamide Yes Yes
Trans fat May contain trace amounts May contain trace amounts
Linked to obesity Yes No
Linked to type 2 diabetes Yes No, but high in carbs
Linked to high blood pressure Yes No

Based on this comparison, sweet potato fries may be the better choice. Still, you shouldn’t eat oversized servings of deep-fried sweet potato fries on a regular basis.

It’s possible that the lack of studies and evidence on the health risks of sweet potato fries comes from people not eating as many sweet potato fries as French fries. Moderation is likely key.

The Bottom Line

Sweet potato fries are slightly higher in calories and carbs than French fries but also high in vitamin A — giving them a nutritional edge.

Still, deep-fried fries of any kind served in over-sized portions — as in many restaurants — may increase your risk of weight gain and related health problems.

A better choice is to bake frozen or homemade fries — regardless of what kind they are. This gives you more control over your serving size and helps limit your calorie intake.

Source: HealthLine 

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