Only 6 fries per serving? Harvard professor’s suggestion angers fried food lovers

Turns out if you want a healthy-sized portion of fries, you should only be eating six per serving, at least according to one Harvard professor.

Eric Rimm, a professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, recently told the New York Times that everyone’s favourite vegetable, the potato, is nothing more than a starch bomb. He argued potatoes rank near the bottom of “healthful vegetables” and lack nutrients found in other veggies like leafy greens.

If you take a potato, peel it, deep fry it and coat it with salt, cheese, gravy or chili, it becomes “a weapon of dietary destruction.”

He also expanded on servings and portion sizes, arguing servings of French fries at most restaurants often have as many calories as some burgers they come with. He suggested getting the smallest portion of fries possible with a salad or veggies as a side.

“There aren’t a lot of people who are sending back three-quarters of an order of French fries,” Rimm said. “I think it would be nice if your meal came with a side salad and six French fries,” he told the paper.

It was the one quote social media users decided to call him out on: How could anyone just eat six fries?

He even chimed in on some of the so-called backlash.

“Alas, the first six fries always taste the best. After that do you still feel the same? Also after finishing all 50 how does your stomach feel 30 minutes later. It’s all about portion size,” he wrote on the social media site.

On Tuesday, Rimm clarified his comments were not to suggest everyone should switch to eating six fries, but rather watch their portion intake.

“My suggestion to the NYTimes was that perhaps restaurants should offer a smaller portion size as a tantalizing option to satisfy those with a taste for fries but who don’t want the starch bomb,” he wrote on Twitter.

Good vs. bad food

Registered dietitian and blogger Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen told Global News while six fries may satisfy one person’s craving and needs, it may be grossly insufficient for others.

“What we should be focusing on, instead of making up food rules and dichotomizing food as good and bad, is learning how to listen to our bodies and eat more mindfully,” she explained.

“These restrictive food rules are contributing to our country’s health issues far more than a few extra French fries. The reality is, when we stop obsessing over limiting these alleged ‘starch bombs,’ their allure quickly fades.”

She added some days we absolutely will be satisfied with six fries, some days we will need more, and other days we may legitimately not even want fries at all. “All of those scenarios are great when they don’t consume our day with guilt and worry.”

Portion control

As Rimm said, a lot of this comes down to portion control and how much we eat when we’re eating out. Sharp said instead of focusing on portions, think about range.

“Focus on getting a wide range of satiating foods that have lots of fibre, protein and good fats in your meals. When we’re not super ravenous, we’re less likely to feel the need to overdo it on less physically satiating foods and we may feel emotionally satisfied on smaller amounts of our favourite comfort foods.”

Having said that, she added sometimes we just need a plate of fries. “Acknowledge that craving, enjoy the experience and move on. There shouldn’t be any guilt or post-fry ‘detox’ required.”

Potatoes often get a bad rep in the nutrition world, but Sharp argues they are surprisingly nutritious.

“They’re loaded with potassium, fibre, vitamin C, and even iron. If you want to get some really nutritious fats in there, I suggest slicing your potatoes into wedges or strips, coating them in olive oil and roasting them at a high heat until crispy,” she said.

“You can also add your own spices and seasonings to help you cut back on the added salt.”

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