By Rick Fromm
By Rick Fromm

     I write today in defense of one of my oldest and dearest “friends” that has been the subject of so much bad publicity of late it’s a wonder anyone will have anything to do with them.

I firmly believe this continuing negativity should be confronted head on, but those who are willing to stand up and be an advocate for this much maligned entity are few and far between. As a proud supporter of the popular product, I understand there are certain risks involved but feel – at least for my money – that the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

What in God’s name am I talking about? It’s perhaps the most well known dish in American history: the French fry. The bad-mouthing of French fries has gotten out of hand and it’s time fried-potato enthusiasts rise up and defend their golden brown, taste-treat delight.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the continual barrage of disapproval about the French fry, here is some pertinent information you might find useful – or not:

    According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, French fries, along with other types of fried potatoes, increase our risk of mortality over the years. Other types of potato preparations didn’t seem to have the same risks involved, which suggests there’s something intrinsic about the fried-ness of French fries that makes them not just unhealthy, but actually (well, potentially) deadly.

   In the study, the team of researchers from England, Italy, Spain and the U.S. looked at data from 4,400 people between 45 and 79 years of age, and followed their dietary patterns and health over eight years. By the end of the study period, 236 of the participants had died.

Eating more potatoes in general didn’t do anything bad in and of itself — but when the type of preparation of the potatoes was taken into account, the team found that fried potatoes of any kind, including French fries and hash browns, twice a week or more did increase the mortality risk. And it increased it by twofold.

     What is it about fried potatoes that might contribute to mortality risk? It could certainly be the amount of trans fats in French fries, which are known to pose a serious health hazard, or the amount of salt, which, although there’s more debate about it these days, seems to be linked to heart risk. And it could be a domino effect: The authors suggest, “A higher consumption of fried potatoes could increase the risk of other chronic diseases, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, which are also powerful risk factors for [cardiovascular disease].”

   While researchers are still sussing out just what about French fries and other types of fried potatoes makes them so risky, it may be wise to limit them, and see them as an unhealthy once-in-a-while indulgence, rather than a staple, according to the study.

As with many things, that last statement seems to be the key: Everything in moderation. If you’re going to enjoy a few fries, just eat a few – not three pounds of them. That “moderation” guideline seems to be an important key to all our dining habits. In other words, don’t eat 15 slices of bacon, limit yourself to three.

I remember my first introduction to French fries. I was a young boy of perhaps 7 or 8 years old, and my older sister would occasionally let me tag along with her. One of her favorite haunts was an old-fashioned soda shop located just a couple blocks away on the west side of Decatur, Ill.

The young teen-age girls – and boys – would meet there on a regular basis to flirt, gossip and talk about school, the future and where life would take them. The proprietor served ice cream, milk shakes, hamburgers and assorted other soda-fountain morsels. But by far the most popular snack of choice was an order of fries and a Coca Cola (or cherry coke, or vanilla coke). I may have been a pre-pubescent kid still wet behind the ears, but when I had a full order of delicious fries and Ketchup, the beautiful young girls would flock around me. Power to the French fry.

From that day forward, my love affair with fries was well documented. From a 10-cent bag of fries at McDonald’s to a plateful of the potatoes at my grandfather’s candy store and short-order restaurant, I was hooked – big time.

Throughout the years, I’ve sampled just about all of them: Waffle Fries; Belgian Fries; Tater Tots; Standard Cut; Garlic Fries; Curly Fries; Shoestring Fries; Crinkle-Cut; Cheese Fries; Chili Fries; Steak Fries; Chips (British), Sweet Potato Fries (although they kind of make me gag) and just about anything else you can combine with fries.

It would seem that with all the bad publicity of late, the only logical thing to do would be to give up fries all together – but that’s not going to happen. Sure, I can cut back in my consumption, but taking them out of my diet all together? Fuhgeddaboudit.

If French fries turn out to be the thing that kills me, so be it. Fry me up another batch before I change my mind.

And while we’re on the subject, what place in Decorah or Winneshiek County serves the best, most succulent fries? No contest: La Rana in Decorah. Succulent and Al dente.

Take it from an expert who’s dying one wonderful fry at a time.