How Unhealthy Are French Fries Compared to Sweet Potatoes

How Unhealthy Are French Fries Compared to Sweet Potatoes

French Fries vs. Sweet Potatoes: Calories and Nutrition

French fries and sweet potato fries are both popular appetizers and side dishes. However, sweet potato fries have some advantages over traditional French fries.

French fries are a staple at many restaurants, including bars and fast food joints. This versatile food appeals to people of all ages. However, concerns about their calorie and sodium content have led many to view them as unhealthy.

In response, some restaurants have started offering sweet potato fries as a healthier alternative. But are they really better?

Read on to discover the differences between these two beloved foods.

French fries are crispy, golden brown strips of potato seasoned with salt and spices. They are incredibly popular in the United States, with the average American consuming 34 pounds of French fries each year.

The origins of French fries are still debated among historians. Some believe they were invented in France, while others claim they originated in Belgium.

Today, most French fries are made using Russet potatoes, specifically the Russet Burbank variety. American potato growers produce billions of pounds of these starchy vegetables annually. In fact, one-third of all potatoes produced in America are turned into frozen French fries.

How are French fries made?

The process of making French fries involves a few simple steps:

  • Peel the potatoes.
  • Slice them into long strips.
  • Dry the potato strips.
  • Season with salt and spices.
  • Deep-fry or bake until crispy.
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You can find French fries at your local grocery store or order them fresh-made from restaurants. They come in various shapes, such as curly, steak-cut, and shoestring, each offering a different texture and level of crispiness.

Fast food restaurants typically deep-fry French fries in oils made from canola, corn, peanut, soybean, or sunflower. These oils are partially absorbed by the fries during cooking, which can add harmful saturated fats to the meal. Oven-cooked French fries have slightly less fat than deep-fried versions.

What sets French fries apart from sweet potato fries?

As the name suggests, sweet potato fries are made using sweet potatoes instead of Russet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are actually edible roots with dark skins and bright orange insides.

The process of making sweet potato fries is similar to that of French fries. Cooks or manufacturers typically slice, peel, blanch, dry, and fry sweet potatoes.

How many calories do French fries contain?

French fry calorie counts vary depending on portion size, preparation method, and added condiments. Here are the approximate calories for typical portions of fast food fries made with vegetable oil:

  • Small serving (71 g): 222 kcal
  • Medium serving (117 g): 365 kcal
  • Large serving (154 g): 480 kcal

Depending on your age and activity level, a serving of French fries can make up a significant portion of your daily calorie needs. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend that women aged 19-30 consume 1,800-2,400 calories daily, while men in the same age group should consume 2,400-3,000 calories.

Using these guidelines, a large serving of French fries would account for approximately 25% of a woman’s daily calorie requirements and 16% of a man’s. To avoid excessive calorie intake, it’s important to stick to modest portions when indulging in French fries.

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Adding condiments to French fries can also increase the calorie count. Here are the calories in one serving of common French fry dips:

  • Barbecue sauce (2 tbsp): 69.9 kcal
  • Honey mustard (2 tbsp): 130 kcal
  • Ranch dressing (2 tbsp): 140 kcal
  • Ketchup (17g): 20 kcal

Opting for low-calorie ketchup as a dipping sauce can help reduce calorie intake while enjoying French fries.

What nutrients do French fries contain?

A small, 71 g serving of fast food French fries contains the following nutrients:

  • Protein: 2.44 g
  • Fat: 10.4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 29.4 g
  • Fiber: 2.7 g
  • Sodium: 149 mg

French fries are high in carbohydrates, which provide energy but can contribute to high glucose levels and type 2 diabetes if consumed excessively.

They also contain a significant amount of fat, including both monounsaturated fats (4.24 g) and saturated fats (1.66 g). While monounsaturated fats can benefit heart health, saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels. It’s important to limit consumption of foods high in saturated fats for the sake of cardiovascular health.

Additionally, French fries are high in sodium. Excessive sodium intake can lead to increased blood pressure, stroke risk, and calcium depletion from bones.

While French fries do offer some essential vitamins and minerals due to their potato base, the high levels of carbohydrates, fats, and sodium make them an unhealthy food choice.

QUESTION: Are sweet potatoes healthier than French fries?

Sweet potato fries do have advantages over traditional French fries. A 100 g serving of sweet potato fries contains the following nutrients:

  • Fat: 5.95 g
  • Carbohydrates: 28.57 g
  • Calcium: 24 mg
  • Potassium: 286 mg
  • Sodium: 202 mg
  • Vitamin A: 3571 IU
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Sweet potato fries have lower total fat content than French fries and virtually no saturated fats. For those monitoring cholesterol levels, sweet potato fries can be a healthier alternative.

They are also an excellent source of vitamin A, which plays a role in maintaining eye health, immune function, and skin health. Vitamin A has also been used to treat various diseases.

However, sweet potato fries still contain similar amounts of carbohydrates and sodium compared to traditional French fries. Therefore, while they may be a healthier option than salted fast food fries, consuming them in large quantities can still have downsides.


When choosing a side dish for your burger, sweet potato fries can be a better option than regular French fries. However, it’s essential to moderate your consumption and pair fries with healthy dipping sauces to avoid excessive carbohydrate and calorie intake.

With the right knowledge, you can occasionally enjoy crispy and delicious fries without compromising your health.

Sources:, FoodData Central, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Hospitality Review, Kansas State University, Oregon State University, USDA, USDA Economic Research Service, Washington State Magazine


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