French Fries: Main Reasons Behind It’s Junk Food Reputation

French fries are served at almost every restaurant in the United States as side dishes – from burgers to steaks to fish. But are fries a healthy side option when you’re trying to get and stay healthy?

French fries and other fried fast foods are considered junk food because they are devoid of nutrition, and don’t add much value to your diet. Junk foods increase weight gain and increase risks for diseases like cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Junk food also encourages overeating.

Are you ready to find out why french fries are considered junk food? Let’s go!

1. French Fries Contain ‘Empty’ Calories.

Junk food is defined as food that has a lot of calories, but little to no nutrition. Foods like candy, soda, potato chips, and french fries have many calories but do not have much redeeming nutritive qualities. French fries contain some vitamins and minerals, but the high calories and carbohydrates outweigh any nutritional advantage you would get. 

For example, a 100 gram serving of french fries contains 297 calories, but they have very little vitamins, such as magnesium, B vitamins, or iron. The main benefit of french fries is that they taste good to many people, and therefore, can be considered comfort food.

2. French Fries Are Usually High in Trans Fats and Sodium.

French fries are high in sodium and trans fats, which increase the risk of heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure. If you are eating french fries several times per week, your risk goes up even more. Trans fats come from the oil that french fries are fried in and can cause inflammation that might cause heart diseases and other diseases.

3. French Fries May Cause Cancer.

A neurotoxin, acrylamide, is released at extremely high temperatures (like when frying in oil). Acrylamide is shown to increase your risk of cancer. This is one reason why pregnant women are advised against eating fries more than once in a while. Also, a study found that men who eat fried foods regularly have an increased risk of prostate cancer.

The FDA issued a warning about consuming too many fried foods and offered tips on how to cut down on foods high in acrylamide. 

  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions when cooking frozen fries and avoid overcooking them or burning them.
  • Cook fries to a yellow, instead of golden, color, as the golden or brown fries contain more acrylamide. 
  • If you store your potatoes in a cool, dark place, instead of the refrigerator, you will cut down on the formation of acrylamide. 

4. Simple Carbs Cause Insulin to Spike.

Simple carbohydrates that don’t contain much fiber are usually responsible for causing your insulin to go up in order to control your blood sugar levels. Insulin is the hormone that tells your body what to do with the extra carbohydrates, and if they aren’t burned up right away, it will be stored as fat in your body. French fries have little fiber, which may be responsible for higher insulin and fat storage.

Sweet potato fries have more fiber and might be a better option if you’re craving fries with your burger. If you want to cut the carbs further, try making ‘french fries’ with turnips or parsnips, as they contain fewer carbohydrates and have more fiber per serving.

5. French Fries May Increase Weight Gain.

As french fries are a simple carbohydrate, they may increase weight gain if eaten often enough. Fast-food french fries are also covered in starch and dextrose to create that crispy outer shell many people love. But those extra calories and carbs may increase weight gain, especially if you don’t hit the gym right after eating fries to use up the carbs you just ate.

6. The Low Fiber in French Fries May Encourage Overeating.

Fiber is the indigestible portion of vegetables and fruits. It is what usually keeps you from overeating and gaining weight. French fries are low in fiber, so you can eat a lot more fries and other foods before your brain gets the signal that you’re full. Many people who have an addiction to junk food often suffer from obesity and other diseases, because they never get full or stay full. Fiber is what they often need to keep from overeating. 

7. The High Sodium Elevates Blood Pressure.

French fries found in fast-food restaurants contain higher amounts of sodium, which has been linked to high blood pressure. Junk foods like french fries and potato chips contribute to higher blood pressure when consumed more than a few times per month.

However, the studies that link sodium intake to high blood pressure do not take into account the difference between processed foods using table salt versus whole foods using sea salt. When people use sea salt to flavor their meals, they are also getting the benefits of the trace minerals it has, like iodine, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. When these minerals work together, you gain the benefits of everything being in balance. 

8. French Fries and Other Junk Food Interfere With Learning and Memory.

One week of eating junk food is enough to interfere with learning and memory. The trans fats found in fried foods, like french fries, can replace your brain’s healthy fats that help you learn and remember new facts. The fats found in junk food can also impair your ability to learn new skills. 

Junk food may also affect your moods and cause depression. If you’ve been on a diet of fast food and suddenly choose to eat healthily, you may end up having withdrawal symptoms that cause you to be irritable and depressed. These symptoms may cause you to go back and eat the foods you’re used to in order to feel better again. Those addicted to fast food often have a problem giving up these foods for this reason.

9. The Oil Used for Frying Might Contain Wheat or Dairy.

Anyone who has gluten or dairy allergies must be very careful eating fried foods, as there may be traces of wheat or dairy in the oil. Restaurants don’t change the frying oil very often, which is commonly used for frying cheese curds and breaded chicken.

While this fact may not convince you that french fries are junk food, if you have allergies to wheat or dairy, this is another reason not to order fried food in restaurants.

10. French Fries Affect Normal Metabolism.

Refined carbohydrates turn to glucose in your body, and the more blood sugar you have through the foods you eat, the harder your pancreas needs to work to keep up with the new sugar coming into your body. When you have more insulin, your body’s metabolism slows down and doesn’t work like it used to. 

Your metabolism works in harmony with your pancreas, insulin production, and blood sugar. If any of those doesn’t work right, your metabolism fails to work as normal, and you gain weight. 

In closing

French fries can be an occasional treat, but they are junk food in the strictest sense of the word. If you have them once in a great while and eat an otherwise healthy diet, they won’t do much damage.

Furthermore, french fries and other junk food can be made healthy by simply swapping one food for another and healthily cooking them. For example, sweet potatoes have more nutrition per serving than white potatoes. If you bake them, they are even healthier for you. If you come up with healthy substitutes, you can still satisfy your cravings and be healthy at the same time.

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.