Koslo's Nutrition Solutions

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are the new “natural-cut fries with sea salt” recently unveiled by Wendy’s a healthy choice?

If you know me then you know I am not a fan of fast food at all. Fast food items are generally loaded in calories, contain lots of fat, and have far too little vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But I am one of those realist dietitians and I know people sometimes resort to fast food on those hectic days and want to provide some guidance on whether these new spuds count as a good choice in a sports diet.

So the new fries. After 41 years, Wendy’s fast food chain has redesigned their French fries, launching their natural-cut fries in markets around the US in November. Why the change and are they any healthier? The fast food chain has been changing its menu to focus on what they call “real” ingredients in order to appeal to foodies. I hate to ask the obvious question but what kind of ingredients were they using before? Regardless, the chain is responding to consumer demand for more natural foods with simple ingredients and names that can be pronounced. So I guess this would qualify as a step in the right direction, however, let’s first examine these new fries in more detail before we make a final decision.

The new fries contain the skin of the potato and are made from 100 percent Russet potatoes, compared to the old version which used a blend of potatoes. Leaving the skin on is how they got the name “natural” however, be aware that the FDA has not approved a legal definition for this term in the way that it has terms like “low fat”, so “natural” can mean many things. The new fries are also topped with sea salt, another term that can mean a lot of things. Any salt can be called sea salt since it all comes from the sea, but if it is full-spectrum sea salt it will contain more minerals. I don’t know if Wendy’s is using the mineral rich salt or not so it is hard to tell if this makes any difference. The cooking oil has also changed and is combination of vegetables oils which does not contain any trans fat so this is another step in the right direction.

What about nutrition content? The new fries have more calories (420 for a medium vs. 410 for the old recipe) and more sodium (500 mg vs. 350 mg) and one more gram of fat. So while the ingredients may be less processed, for the majority of Americans the bottom line comes down to calories in versus calories out. So before I would get too excited about having a healthier version of fries available on the go, I would use the time spent sitting in the drive through line to swing by the grocery store and pick up a bag of organic potatoes and make my own oven fries. If that isn’t possible, stick to their baked potato without the stuffing and instead top it with their chili which would make a perfect lunch for any health conscious athlete.

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