Yes, There's Actually an Exact Amount of French Fries You Should Eat—but It's Not 6

We’re officially joining the throngs of fired-up online commenters: Six French fries is just not enough.

Last week, a Harvard professor told the New York Times that six–six!–measly fries might be a more reasonable serving size of everyone’s favorite starchy delights. “I think it would be nice if your meal came with a side salad and six French fries,” said Eric Rimm, ScD, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Naturally, Twitter lost its mind.

The backlash even prompted Rimm himself to enter the fray and defend his statement.

Here at Health, we can see where he’s coming from. Restaurant portion sizes are huge, and fries are certainly not the healthiest thing you could be ordering. We’re not about to give the green light to eat a mound of fries daily (as much as we wish we could). But six just sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? We have questions.

Is six fries really a portion?

Whether you order them in a restaurant or defrost the frozen kind at home, you probably end up with way more than six fires on your plate. As one fries fan on Twitter pointed out, some of us could easily put down six fries in a single bite.

But what officially constitutes a portion size? There’s good news and bad news here. While you can safely eat more than six fries in a sitting (yay!), you really can’t go much higher than that (boo!). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a French fries serving at a measly 10 strips, which clocks in at around 200 calories. That’s a far fry–I mean, cry–from a large order at McDonald’s, with its 497 calories.

Can you eat more sweet potato fries?

So they’re trying to take away our regular fries—but at least we have sweet potato fries, right? The orange variety is constantly praised for having vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and a lower calorie count. And while all that may be true of the good ol’ sweet potater, it’s not enough to make up for the processing, frying, and added salt (and sometimes even sugar). Sidenote: Does anything?!

However, those vitamins and minerals do earn you at least a couple extra bites: The USDA’s standard reference for sweet potato fries serving size? Twelve. Win!

What if you air-fry or bake your "fries"?

There are plenty of ways to enjoy potatoes without dousing them in oil and frying them to a crisp. In fact, one of this year’s trendiest cooking methods—air-frying—is also one of the best ways to replicate that fry texture we all love while cutting back on calories and fat.

“Air-frying saves calories because rather than submerging foods in oil, the machine produces a crisp, crunchy texture by circulating hot air that contains fine oil droplets,” Health contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, told us in a previous interview.

While there’s no official USDA stance on air-frying yet, this air-fryer French fries recipe we love from Pickled Plum serves up a half a potato’s worth of sticks for 239 calories.

Baking and grilling your spuds also seriously cuts down on the oil that would otherwise be used to fry ‘em. Try our Grilled Sweet Potato Fries or Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges for a more-satisfying-than-six fix. 

Are potatoes even healthy?

Sass told us she eats potatoes once a week, and there’s no denying that when cooked and prepared mindfully, taters can be part of a healthy diet. Even the white varieties contain potassium, B vitamins, and fiber. But cooking methods matter, even if you’re staying far away from the deep fryer.

Remember the last time the internet got all upset about someone trying to take our fries away from us? They told us fries cause cancer.

The truth is a lot more nuanced than the headlines. Roasting starchy foods like potatoes at high temperatures can produce a chemical called acrylamide, which is thought to be a “probable human carcinogen.” (Acrylamide is also formed during the coffee-roasting process.) This is a good argument to make roasted potatoes and French fries (sigh) occasional side dishes in favor of healthier daily cooking methods like boiling and poaching.

Of course, if you’re really concerned about starchy potatoes, you could swap them out entirely. Whip up our Baked Zucchini Fries or Crunchy Avocado Fries and join us for at least, well, 10?

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