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Fast-Food French Fries: Which Are Healthiest?

The 'Recipe Doctor' rates the best and worst fast-food fries.

From the WebMD Archives

There's no doubt: french fries are one of America's favorite foods. French-fried potatoes are the featured side dish at nearly all fast-food chains, and at many sit-down restaurants as well. And the selection of types of frozen french fries at your typical supermarket is mind boggling.

French fries are thought to have originated in 19th century Belgium, spreading later into France and later still into the greater part of the Western world. But you can credit American fast-food chains for making french fries a fixture in casual cuisine.

Of course, french fries are by nature pretty high in calories and fat. We are talking about deep-fried potato strips, after all. But in the wonderful world of fast-food fries, there's a big difference in how much calories, fat, and "bad fats" (saturated and trans) you'll find in a serving of french fries, based on where you buy them.

Nutritionally speaking, who makes the best and worst french fries? To find out, we compared calories, fat grams, "bad fat" grams, percentage of calories from fat, and sodium levels for the "small" or "regular" serving of french fries at 14 major fast-food chains. The serving sizes for these fries ranged from 75 grams to 125 grams, so this is also a case where size matters.

The 14 fast-food chains we looked at were:

  • Arby's
  • Burger King
  • Carl's Jr.
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Dairy Queen
  • Hardee's
  • In & Out
  • Jack in the Box
  • KFC
  • Long John Silvers
  • McDonald's
  • Sonic Drive-In
  • Wendy's
  • White Castle

The Best French Fries

Lowest in Calories:

  1. Sonic Drive-In regular fries (75 g): 220 calories
  2. McDonalds small fries (71 g): 230 calories

Lowest in Fat:

  1. Sonic Drive-In regular fries (75 g): 9 grams total fat
  2. McDonald's small fries (71 g): 11 grams total fat

Lowest Percentage of Calories From Fat:

  1. Sonic Drive-In regular fries (75 g): 37%
  2. Dairy Queen regular fries (114 g): 38%

Lowest in "Bad Fats" (saturated and trans fats):

  1. Sonic Drive-In regular fries (75 g) = 1.5 grams saturated fat + 0 grams trans fat
  2. McDonald's small fries (71 g) = 1.5 grams saturated fat + 0 grams trans fat

Continued

Highest in Fiber:

  1. Jack in the Box Natural Cut fries (124 g) = 5 grams fiber
  2. (7-way tie; all have 4 grams of fiber each):
  • Wendy's small fries (113 g)
  • Burger King small fries (
  • Arby's small curly fries (106 g)
  • Chick-fil-A waffle potato fries (85 g)
  • Long John Silvers basket combo portion (113 g)
  • Carl's Jr. Natural Cut French fries, small (116 g)
  • White Castle regular fries (106 g)

Lowest in Sodium:

  1. Chick-fil-A waffle potato fries: 80 mg
  2. Sonic Drive-In regular fries: 100 mg

The Fast-Food French Fries Health Winner

And the award for best fast-food french fry, healthwise, goes to ... Sonic Drive-In's regular fries, which are lowest in calories, fat grams, percentage of calories from fat, and total amount of "bad fats." (As well as second lowest in sodium.) The runner up is McDonald's small fries, which ranked second lowest in calories, fat grams, and "bad fats."

The Worst French Fries

Highest in Calories:

  1. Carl's Jr. Natural Cut small fries (116 g): 540 calories
  2. In & Out regular fries (125 g): 400 calories

Highest in Fat:

  1. Carl's Jr. Natural Cut small fries (116 g) = 25 grams total fat
  2. Arby's small curly fries (106 g) = 20 grams total fat

Highest Percentage of Calories From Fat:

  1. Arby's Curly Fries, small (106 g): 53%
  2. Chick-fil-A Waffle Potato fries (85 g): 51%

Highest in "Bad Fat" (saturated and trans fats)

  1. Jack in the Box Natural Cut fries, small (124 g): 9 grams (4 grams saturated fat and 5 grams trans)
  2. Long John Silvers basket combo portion (113 g): 7 grams (3.5 grams saturated fat and 3.5 grams trans)

Lowest in Fiber:

  1. In & Out fries (125 g): 2 grams fiber (tied with No. 2)
  2. Sonic Drive-In regular (75 g): 2 grams fiber

Highest in Sodium:

  1. Carl's Jr. Natural Cut fries (116 g): 1360 mg sodium
  2. Arby's curly fries, small (106 g): 791 mg sodium

The Fast-Food French Fries Health Loser

And the award for worst fast-food french fry, healthwise, goes to ... Carl's Jr. Natural Cut French Fries which are highest in calories and grams of fat. Sharing the award is Jack in the Box Natural Cut fries, which are shockingly high in "bad fats" (4 grams saturated fat and 5 grams trans fat).

Continued

A Healthier French Fries Recipe

If you really want healthier French fries, your best bet is to make them yourself. Here is a lower-fat, lower-calorie french fries recipe that could give fast-food fries a run for the money.

Parsley-Parmesan Oven French Fries

Ingredients:

4 medium (or 3 large) unpeeled russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick strips

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (canola oil can be substituted)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a nonstick jellyroll pan with canola oil cooking spray.
  2. In large zip-top plastic bag, combine potatoes with olive oil and salt; seal bag and toss to coat potatoes well.
  3. Arrange potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown, turning after 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine Parmesan cheese and parsley. When fries are light brown, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese mixture over the top and bake about 5 minutes more. Remove pan from oven; let cool for 2 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 3/4 cup starchy foods with 1 tsp fat

Nutritional Information: Per serving: 287 calories, 9 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 6.1 g fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 406 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 19%.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

WebMD Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES:

Rolland, J. and Sherman, C. The Food Encyclopedia, Robert Rose, 2006.

Arby's web site.

Burger King web site.

Carl's Jr. web site.

Chick-Fil-A web site.

Dairy Queen web site.

Hardee's web site.

In & Out web site.

Jack in the Box web site.

KFC web site.

Long John Silvers web site.

McDonald's web site.

Sonic Drive-In web site.

Wendy's web site.

White Castle web site.

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