No one would ever claim that French fries are as healthy as having a salad, but they seem pretty harmless overall — as long as it’s not all a person’s diet consists of. But now, new research has found a link between the junk food and a higher risk of death.
The eight-year study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed the dietary habits of 4,400 people — including how often they ate fried and unfried potatoes — who were between the ages of 45 and 79. By the end of the study, 236 people had died.
Researchers found that people who had fried potatoes (such as French fries, tater tots, or hash browns) more than twice a week more than doubled their risk of death. But they didn’t find a link between people who ate unfried potatoes and death. “The frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk,” researchers said in the study’s conclusion.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that this is a correlational study, meaning scientists didn’t find that eating fries actually killed people — just that people who died during the study were more likely to be fans of fried potatoes. But the link is definitely notable.
New York-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Beauty that she’s not shocked by the findings. “Fried potatoes are a food that provides a lot of calories, sodium, and sometimes trans fat, but contributes minimal nutrition,” she says. “They don’t actively do the body many favors in that respect.”
But, she points out, there are other things that can factor in like how many fried potatoes someone has and what else they eat as part of their regular diet. “There’s a big difference between eating 10 fries along with a salad with some lean protein, and with eating a large container of fries to go with a bacon cheeseburger,” she says.
Beth Warren, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living A Real Life With Real Food, agrees. “It seems that those people in the study who consumed fried potatoes at least twice per week were more likely to have an overall unhealthy lifestyle,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “I don’t think they died from eating French fries alone, but most likely the habit meant they also indulged in other high-risk eating behaviors.”
The study’s findings don’t mean you need to swear off fries entirely if you want to live a long life —Cording says they can fit into an overall healthy diet as an occasional indulgence. She recommends keeping it to once a month and making sure you get the kind you love when you do have it.
Warren also says it’s OK to treat yourself once in a while. “If you eat an overall healthy diet and work out consistently, your body will be able to bounce back from the poor food choice,” she says. “It only becomes more of a problem once you make it a pattern that skews your body to be more unhealthy and inflammatory.”
If you love potatoes and want to have them more often, Cording recommends roasting your own potatoes at home. Slice potatoes or sweet potatoes into wedges, toss them with olive oil and sea salt, and roast them in the oven until they’re crispy. They’re not fries, per se, but the taste is pretty similar.
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