For years, experts have been trying to figure out the so-called French paradox. Why, if the French eat such rich food, do they tend to stay lean, while the waistlines of us diet-conscious Americans are growing faster than Justin Beiber's savings account?
Well, in France, they eat a wide variety of foods—fats and carbs, yes, but also plenty of fruits and vegetables, and lots of lean meat. But when French food makes its way to America, things tend to go haywire. Le French bread? Pure carbs. Le French toast? Pure carbs with lots of sugar and grease. Le French dressing? Pure fat, mixed with water and magically tinted the color of Tang.
And the worst offender of all: Les French fries.
We've become so addicted to the crispy, salty, tender treats that nearly half of all potatoes harvested in the country wind up in the deep fryer. (And we eat an average of 130 pounds of taters, per person, every year.) But not every fry is created equal. While no one will ever accuse les frites of being a health food, there are some you can enjoy with relative impunity—and others that deserve an all-out French Resistance. Take a look at the best and worst French fries in America, compliments of the forthcoming Eat This, Not That! 2013: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution.
Five Guys Fries (Large)
71 g fat (14 g saturated)
213 mg sodium
Five Guys lands on this list for no other reason than its egregious portion size. In terms of calories, it would take more than six small orders of McDonalds' fries to equal one large order from Five Guys. It's great that the chain fills its fryers with pure peanut oil, but until it offers reasonable portions, Five Guys will remain firmly entrenched on this side of the list.
Cheesecake Factory Sweet Potato Fries
3 g saturated fat
1,521 mg sodium
Think you’re saving yourself some calories by opting for sweet potatoes over standard spuds? You’re not. A side of these fries will you run you 400 calories more than their regular counterpart. In keeping with the chain’s gargantuan portions (hey, it didn't finish first on our Worst Restaurants in America list without reason), this side dish contains nearly as many carbohydrates as 1.5 cans of Pringles.
Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with Chili and Ranch
144 g fat (69 g saturated)
5,920 mg sodium
Not surprisingly, the namesake of these fries, Texas, is among the top five most obese states in the nation. (Similarly, if you should happen to come across Mississippi or West Virginia Fries, those should be avoided as well.) Essentially a plate of nachos that replaces chips with fries, this appetizer is far and away the most damaging on Chili's menu. It would take 22 of the chain's deep-fried mozzarella sticks to match the calories on one plate, and the sodium toll will likely leave you bloated with water retention.
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TGI Friday’s Parmesan Steak Fries
49 g fat (10 g saturated)
630 mg sodium
Steak fries tend to fall on the healthier side of the french fry spectrum. The thicker cut allows for a higher ratio of spud to oil. But not at Friday's. Here, ordering steak fries over standard fries will more than double your fat intake—in fact, two-thirds of these calories are supplied by pure fat. That's how each hulking order manages to pack in more calories than an entire meal ought to.
Jack in the Box Seasoned Curly Fries (small)
16 g fat (1 g saturated)
614 mg sodium
Its menu once clotted with trans fats, Jack in the Box has made a concerted effort in recent years to cut down on dangerous oils. What remains is a dramatically improved side dish lineup, including your best option for a novelty fry. Just be sure to stick to a small order—each portion upsize tacks on an additional 150 calories.
TGI Friday’s Seasoned Fries
23 g fat (4.5 g saturated)
650 mg sodium
TGI Friday's, the titleholder for Worst Steak Fries, nearly redeems itself with this classic version, the most reasonable you're likely to find at a casual dining chain. Be careful though: These might be surprisingly benign, but few of Friday's entrées follow suit. Choose your meal wisely—I recommend the Petite Sirloin—or you'll more than recover the calories you saved on these damage-free fries.
POUND-PACKING PATTIES: A decent side dish doesn’t grant you free reign when it comes to your entrée. Not even the most reasonable side of fries can make up for the dietary damage wrought by the 11 Worst Burgers in America.
BEST FAST-FOOD FRIES
McDonald’s French Fries (small)
11 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
160 mg sodium
Not only are these fries "world famous," but they're also surprisingly harmless in small amounts. Downgrade from a large order to a small twice a week, and you'll drop 8 pounds within a year. I wouldn't recommend making them a regular part of your diet, but when a craving strikes, hit the golden arches and you'll emerge from the drive-thru relatively unscathed.
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