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Don’t Be So Quick to Swap Out Regular Fries for Sweet Potato Fries

After all, they’re both born from the same cauldron of grease

If there’s always one certainty about going on dates with my wife, it’s that she always orders sweet potato fries instead of French fries if they’re offered as a menu option. It doesn’t matter if they’re hand-cut, steak-cut, jullienne or waffle-style, she prefers them over the classic, presumably Idaho potato variety.

“They’re sweeter than regular fries,” my Bahamian-born better half explains in a weak defense of her decade of choosing sweet potato fries over a timeless American classic. “You know that I like sweet-and-salty foods like trail mix. Plus, I’m probably getting some vitamin A, and maybe a little more fiber.”

That seems to really be the matter at the heart of the issue: Sweet potato fries are healthier than traditional fries. Case closed.

Well, far be it from me to let the prosecution rest early, so I’m going to crack this case even more wide open than John Stockton off of a Karl Malone double team.

What is there to talk about? Everyone knows that sweet potato fries are healthier. 

Yup. Just like turkey bacon is healthier than regular bacon, right? Let’s not allow the momentum of baseless presumptions lead us astray before we’ve at least glanced at some hard numbers, okay?

On a per-100-gram basis, a run-of-the-mill sweet potato contains 90 calories, nearly 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein and a mammoth helping of vitamin A that puts a carrot to shame. However, if you take the sweet potato out of its skin, it loses more than half of its potassium and much of its fiber.

As for a garden variety Idaho potato, per 100 grams, it’s essentially equal to the sweet potato, with nearly 90 calories, right around 20 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of protein. It also loses 50 percent of its protein when you deprive it of its precious skin. 

Essentially, a side-by-side comparison shows that these two combatants are basically equal, with the sweet potato boasting the true difference maker — a dose of vitamin A four times the recommended daily value. The best the humble Idaho potato can boast is that it doubles up its competitor in omega 3s and has negligible advantages in a few other categories.

So it sounds like we have ourselves a new champion!

Don’t get carried away. We haven’t decided anything until these guys get sliced and diced, dunked in oil, fried up and served on a platter with an entire Turks and Caicos salt pond’s worth of salt. To do that, let’s compare the sweet potato and classic French fry offerings at two of my wife’s favorite restaurants — Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse.

At Chili’s, a single serving of sweet potato fries provides you with 420 oil-drenched calories, flanked by 21 grams of fat and 970 milligrams of sodium. The classic homestyle fries weigh in with 430 similarly oil-soaked calories and 26 grams of fat, but a comparatively smaller 210 milligrams of sodium.

At Outback Steakhouse, the sweet potato fries contain 445 calories and 496 milligrams of sodium with 23 grams of fat and 57 grams of carbohydrates, compared with 410 calories and 530 milligrams of sodium for the traditional Aussie fries, with 20 grams of fat and 57 grams of carbohydrates.

Huh. It seems like both of our competitors gained some weight during their transitions. 

In fairness, they did just have the shit fried out of them. What’s more, all of that frying totally nosedived their vitamin content. In fact, the frying process has been shown to remove up to 53 percent of the nutrient value from russet potatoes, and 61 percent of the nutrient value from sweet potatoes (vitamin A included).

Granted, there’s still plenty of vitamin A in those sweet potato fries, but who are we kidding? At this stage, the vitamin A is more like a consolation prize that you’re receiving for consuming greasy husks of carbs and fatty oil. I’m not knocking it; I’ve pounded down my fair share of French fries, and I have no intention of ever stopping. I’m simply under no illusions that I’m being healthy while I’m doing so, or that any food source fried beyond all recognition could ever be healthy in the purest sense of the word. 

If the presence of vitamin A is enough to tilt your purchasing power in the favor of sweet potato fries under the presumption that it’s now magically a healthy source of sustenance, then by all means go for it. Maybe all of that vitamin A will improve your eyesight just enough for you to be able to see the faultiness of your logic.