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Which is healthier fries or mashed potatoes?

Both french fries and mashed potatoes are popular side dishes, but many wonder which option is actually healthier. While potatoes are a nutritious vegetable, the way they are prepared can significantly alter their nutritional value. This article compares fries and mashed potatoes across various health factors to determine which comes out on top.

Calorie Content

When looking at overall calorie content, mashed potatoes tend to be lower in calories than french fries. According to the USDA, 1 cup of mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter contains 237 calories. Meanwhile, a medium order of french fries from McDonald’s contains 340 calories. This is over 100 more calories for essentially the same amount of potatoes.

The reason fries contain more calories is that they are fried in oil, which adds a significant number of calories. Mashed potatoes also often contain butter and milk, but the quantities added are typically less than the amount of oil used for fries.

Calories per 100g

Food Calories (per 100g)
Mashed potatoes 87
French fries 312

As shown in the table above, an equivalent weight of french fries contains over 3 times as many calories as mashed potatoes. So if you’re looking to reduce calorie intake, mashed potatoes are generally the better option.

Fat Content

In addition to having more calories, french fries also contain significantly more fat than mashed potatoes. An order of fries has about 19 grams of fat, the majority of which comes from the frying oil. Mashed potatoes contain around 4 grams of fat, which comes from small amounts of butter and milk.

Furthermore, the type of fat differs between the two dishes. French fries contain mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from vegetable oil. Mashed potatoes get some saturated fat from butter and whole milk. Too much saturated fat can negatively impact blood cholesterol levels and heart health.

Total Fat per 100g

Food Total Fat (g per 100g)
Mashed potatoes 1.2
French fries 15

Per 100g, french fries contain over 10 times as much fat as mashed potatoes. The type of vegetable oil used can vary the total fat content of fries, but they consistently contain far more fat compared to mashed potatoes.

Carbohydrate Content

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable and complex carbohydrates make up the majority of nutrients in both fries and mashed potatoes. A medium order of fries contains about 26g of carbs, while 1 cup of mashed potatoes has around 30g.

So while fries contain slightly fewer carbs than mashed potatoes, the difference is minimal. The carbohydrate content is comparable between the two dishes when accounting for serving sizes.

Carbohydrates per 100g

Food Total Carbs (g per 100g)
Mashed potatoes 18
French fries 22

Per 100g, the amount of carbohydrates in fries and mashed potatoes is fairly similar. Both provide a good source of complex carbohydrates and energy.

Protein Content

There is minimal protein in both french fries and mashed potatoes. An order of fries contains about 3g of protein, while a cup of mashed potatoes has approximately 5g.

The small amount of protein in mashed potatoes comes from milk and butter. French fries offer very little protein on their own.

So while mashed potatoes edge out fries slightly in protein content, you would get no more than 5g from either dish. Potatoes are not a significant source of protein compared to foods like meat, eggs, and dairy.

Protein per 100g

Food Protein (g per 100g)
Mashed potatoes 1.7
French fries 0.9

As shown above, the protein content is low for both foods. Mashed potatoes provide slightly more at 1.7g per 100g versus 0.9g for french fries.

Micronutrients

When it comes to vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients, mashed potatoes tend to be higher than french fries.

Mashed potatoes with the skin on provide a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron. Vitamin C in particular helps boost immunity and heal wounds. Leaving the potato skin on retains the majority of these important micronutrients.

Meanwhile, french fries are not a significant source of vitamins or minerals, since the potato skins are removed. Frying damages and degrades many of the vitamins contained in the potato’s flesh.

Vitamin C Content

Food Vitamin C (mg per 100g)
Mashed potatoes (with skin) 13
French fries 0.7

As you can see, keeping the potato skin provides far more vitamin C compared to fries where the skin is removed. Between the two options, mashed potatoes deliver more nutritional value.

Acrylamide Concerns with Fries

Acrylamide is a compound that forms in starchy foods like potatoes when they are cooked at high temperatures. French fries and other fried potatoes contain significant levels of acrylamide due to the frying process.

Studies in animals have linked acrylamide to potential cancer risk. While most experts consider acrylamide in food to be safe for humans in small amounts, frying potatoes leads to far higher exposure than boiling, baking, or mashing.

Acrylamide levels may be another reason why mashed potatoes would be considered the healthier choice over french fries.

Satiety

Both mashed potatoes and french fries provide satiety or a feeling of fullness after eating. Complex carbs like those found in potatoes can help sustain energy levels and curb hunger.

However, adding fat can increase the satiety factor of a food. With the high fat content from frying, french fries may be more filling per calorie than the lower fat mashed potatoes.

So in terms of keeping you full and satisfied, fries may have an advantage despite their higher calorie and fat content.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.

Boiled or mashed potatoes have a moderately high GI around 70-90. Meanwhile, fries come in a bit lower at around 75 on average.

The reason fries have a slightly lower GI is because a portion of their starch gets broken down during the frying process. This helps slow digestion and absorption.

For those with diabetes or concerns about blood sugar control, fries would have a modest advantage regarding effects on blood glucose.

Cost Comparison

From a cost perspective, french fries are generally cheaper than mashed potatoes when dining out. At most restaurants, fries are available as an inexpensive side dish option starting around $2-3.

Meanwhile, ordering mashed potatoes at a restaurant increases the price. A side of mashed potatoes may cost $4-6 depending on the establishment.

When making either at home, the cost difference is negligible. Potatoes themselves are an affordable staple food. Overall, fries tend to be the cheaper option in restaurants.

Taste Preference

In the end, health factors may not outweigh personal taste preferences when choosing between french fries and mashed potatoes.

Even though mashed potatoes are often considered the healthier choice, many people simply enjoy the taste of fries more. The crunchy fried exterior and fluffy interior of fries offers a texture and flavor profile that some find irresistible.

Mashed potatoes have their own appeal too. Their creamy, smooth consistency paired with butter and seasoning is comforting for many. Preference will come down to individual tastes.

Conclusion

When considering all the nutritional factors, mashed potatoes generally come out as the healthier choice over french fries.

Mashed potatoes are lower in calories, fat, and acrylamide. They also retain more vitamins and minerals than fries.

However, the taste and textural appeal of fries may still make them the preferred choice for many. And they do have some advantages too – fries are often cheaper, can be more filling, and have a lower glycemic index.

As with most foods, enjoying french fries or mashed potatoes in moderation while balancing your overall diet is the healthiest approach. Either can have a place within a nutritious lifestyle, so base your decision on your personal dietary needs and taste preferences.