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Frozen potatoes: playing the tuber.

McDonald's has given french fries a bad name.

A large order of McDonald's fries gets 48 percent of its 400 calories from fat. What's more, it socks you with 22 grams of fat--about a third of what most people should eat in a day.

And although the switch from beef fat to vegetable oil cut the saturated fat in half, it still gives you five grams of the stuff--a quarter of your daily limit.

French fries don't have to be that bad. We found a half dozen or so with terrific numbers. They just weren't at McDonald's--or any other fast-food restaurant. Nope. They were in our supermarket's frozen-food case. (Check it out, Ronald!)

Unfortunately, most packages don't carry nutrition information, so there's no way for consumers to tell the good from the bad.

FRY ME TO THE MOON

To get the best fries, stick to ones that are:

* Bigger. Most frozen fries are "par-fried" (deep fried for a minute or two) before they're packaged. Par-frying gets rid of excess moisture, but deposits a layer of oil on the surface. That's why the bigger fries--which have less surface area per serving than the smaller fries--end up with the least fat.

Check the chart. Sure enough, other than Ore-Ida Lites Crinkle Cuts (which use less oil to begin with), the lower-fat fries tend to be the larger ones. Look for the words "wedges," "dinner," "cottage," or "steak" in the name. Stay away from "shoestrings," "twirls," or "skinny" or "pixie" fries.

* Unseasoned. Most frozen fries are only lightly salted. A typical 3 1/2-ounce serving contains less than 50 milligrams of sodium--well below the FDA's 140-mg limit for a "low sodium" food. That means they're on the bland side, which lets you season them (what a refreshing idea).

How can you tell which are the low-sodium fries? Simple. They're the ones with only a handful of ingredients: potatoes, oil (from par-frying), dextrose (makes them uniform in color), and a (probably) safe additive to keep them from turning brown.

* Baked. Most packages suggest several different cooking methods. Ignore any that add oil. That leaves baking, microwaving, or pan frying in a non-stick skillet with no oil.

(Stay away from products that tell you to microwave the fries on metallic grey surfaces--"heat susceptors"--that are part of the package. Susceptors may release potentially harmful chemicals into the food.)

While you're ignoring, don't forget to forget any label claims. McCain says its fries are "Cholesterol Free," but that doesn't make them any better than Ore-Ida's or Simplot's. None use beef shortening.

And "95% Fat Free" fries like McCain Crinkle Cuts still contain five grams of fat per serving, or more than twice the two-gram maximum for a "lowfat" food.

HASH FROWNS

Look at most boxes of hash browns and you'll think you've gone to potato heaven. McCain Southern Style Hashbrowns are typical. According to the box, they have no fat. Wow!

But wait a minute. The cooking instructions tell you deep fry or pan fry the potatoes in six tablespoons of oil. McCain's nutrition information conveniently omits this added oil.

We tried cooking McCain's and Ore-Ida's hash browns with little or no oil in a non-stick skillet, but they ended up slightly browned on the outside and more than slightly gooey and raw on the inside.

If you can't live without hash browns, try the new line of refrigerated Simply Potatoes. When we pan-fried them using the smallest amoung of oil the company reconmends, they were delicious. One (plain Hash Browns) even qualified for a Best Bite. Too bad the others were so high in sodium. Like most non-frozen commercial potatoes, Simply Potatoes use sulfites as preservatives, so if you're allergic, beware.

TRAITOR TOTS

Ever wonder what companies do with the potatoes that are too small for fries? They're ground, mixed with oil, salt, and flavorings, and shaped into nutritional hand grenades known as Tater Tots. Then they're deep-fried.

If you've never had one, check out a school cafeteria. Millions of kids probably think potatoes grow that way.

Tots are loaded with grease and salt right out of the package. McCain Tasti Taters, for example, hit the scales at 53 percent of calories from fat. And that's if you bake them.

BAKE, CHEDDAR, BAKE

Take a walk on the cold side of your supermarket. You'll see dozens of frozen baked, mashed, scalloped, nachoed, cheddared, and au gratined potato dishes that go from fridge to table after just 5 to 10 minutes in the microwave (20 to 45 minutes in a conventional oven).

Ore-Ida's and Weight Watchers' Baked Potatoes give you some broccoli or other vegetables, but don't let the pictures on the boxes fool you into thinking they're like something you'd whip up at home. Not unless you have a supply of Yellow No. 5 and 6 dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives in your cupboard.

In contrast, Soypreme's Stuff'n'Spuds start with organically grown potatoes and use tofu instead of cheese. That means less saturated--but not necessarily total--fat. Unfortunately, the tofu tasted gummy and flavorless to us.

Oh Boy!'s Stuffed Potatoes (which are mashed potatoes in little plastic tubs) top the list nutritionally. All get less than 25 percent of their calories from fat, and they use no artificial colors or flavors.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:nutritional content of different varieties of frozen potatoes
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:877
Previous Article:CSPI's (fat) savings plan.
Next Article:What, meat worry?
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