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Ask Tufts Experts November 2018 Issue

Q. Potatoes are a vegetable, so why aren’t French fries good for you? Are the nutrients destroyed in the frying process?

A. “A medium baked potato (with skin) is a good source of potassium, vitamins C and B6, and fiber. But potatoes don’t contain other nutrients, such as the carotenoids and phytochemicals found in more brightly-colored vegetables,” says Helen Rasmussen, PhD, RD, a senior research dietitian at Tufts’ Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “Peeling to remove the skin to make fries and chips results in the loss of a large portion of the fiber, further diminishing the potato’s nutritional value. In addition, French fries are typically salted. Most of us consume more than the recommended amount of sodium, and eating highly salted foods like fries makes that situation worse.”

“Deep frying potatoes to turn them into French fries does not change them that much, but it does increase the number of calories per serving, so we get less nutrients per calorie when we eat them. We each need a particular number of calories to fuel our bodies, and we also need a sufficient intake of many different nutrients. If we choose to consume something like French fries frequently and in a large quantity, we will surpass our calorie needs before we meet all of our nutrient needs, which can impact health.”

“Enjoy potatoes sometimes as part of a balanced, healthy dietary pattern. Think of them as a substitute for grains rather than vegetables when you fill up your plate. Leave the skin on, prepare them in a variety of ways, and avoid adding a lot of butter, cream, and salt. Round out your plate with plenty of colorful vegetables and other plant foods.”

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