Healthy portion of fries should only contain SIX, Harvard professor declares

December 4, 2018  12:00

A portion of fries should only contain six, a Harvard professor has declared - sparking veritable outrage. 

Both crunchy and soft, coated in salty oil, little fried sticks of potato have been a source of joy for humankind since the 1700s, when (it's believed) they were first invented. 

For most, six fries is just the beginning.

But Professor Eric Rimm, of Harvard University's nutrition department, says they are 'starch bombs' and half a dozen should be our limit. After that we should sate our appetite with salad if we want to avoid life-threatening heart conditions.

Dr Rimm's comments, in an article for the New York Times this week, prompted predictable furor online, but the medical community warns he has a good point.

Heart disease rates are rising, and progress to prevent heart disease deaths has slowed.

Why? Our penchant for fatty, greasy, salty, sugary food - in monumentally vast proportions - and distaste for exercise.

In the last 25 years, the average serving size in any given establishment has doubled or tripled. Bagels are now six inches wide, not three; a medium bag of popcorn is 11 cups, not five; and a soda is 20 ounces not 6.5.

A serving of fries is meant to be capped at around 15. These days, most restaurants serve around 55.

Dr Rimm's advice is partly based on a recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Italian researchers, who found people who avoided fries altogether lived six months longer than those who indulged. 

People who ate fries two or three times a week had (unsurprisingly) higher risks of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.   

For most Americans, Dr Rimm laments, taking away their fries is no easy feat. The general perspective, he says, is: 'you'll pry them from my cold dead hand.'

And true to form, the reaction to the New York Times article was lively. 

'What kind of MAD MAN would want six french [sic] fries? I get it, they are bad for you, but eating SIX sounds like torture,' one person tweeted, adding: 'I'd rather not have them at all. But we all know that's not going to happen.'

Another said: 'This person is a monster.'

To that, another responded: 'How does one eat only six french [sic] fries and feel satisfied?!'

Lisa Moskovitz, RD, who runs the NY Nutrition Group, said that is the typical reaction she'd expect from clients - 'they'd say, "six French fries?! That's not even worth it' - but she insists it may not be as tough as it sounds. 

'For a lot of people, taste is all they need,' Moskovitz told  

'Six French fries is basically similar to the three-bite rule. We always want the first bite and the last bite - the first is the best, and the last you savor. Six French fries gives you more bit it would be a similar concept.'

However, she concedes that, for most of us 'that's not realistic' - mainly because it's so hard to resist lingering food - especially when you're leaving behind 90 percent of a serving. It feels wasteful, tempting, and amplifies the feeling that you've barely had any. 

Instead she recommends sharing a plate of fries with friends, alongside healthier foods like a salad and grilled chicken. 

Alternatively, order from the kids menu. 

'It might not feel so little if you feel you can have it all,' she says. 

At the end of the day, if you're sticking to a healthy diet and exercise regime in general, having some fries here and there shouldn't be too concerning, she says. 

Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, one half of the Nutrition Twins, concurs. 

'If the rest of your diet is healthy and you're really not splurging on things like desserts, then you really could have fries as your indulgence,' she says. 

'The problem is,' she adds, 'most people aren't doing that.' 


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