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Claim that eating french fries in moderation will lead to an early death is misleading

French fry lovers united after a viral tweet claimed people who ate fries multiple times a week were more likely to die early.

WebMD recently shared on Twitter that “people who ate french fries or hash browns 2 to 3 times a week were more likely to die early,” citing a 2017 study on fried potato consumption. 

French fry lovers united and the tweet went viral, with many claiming that this information would not stop them from eating their beloved fried potatoes. 

THE QUESTION

If you eat french fries and other fried potatoes two to three times per week, will you die early? 

THE SOURCES

  • Angela Lemond: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, CEO of Lemond Nutrition and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  • Dr. Kantha Shelke: Food Scientist, founder of Corvus Blue LLC and professor of food safety regulations at Johns Hopkins University

THE ANSWER

This is misleading.

The claim that eating french fries or other fried potatoes two to three times a week will cause an early death is misleading. 

WHAT WE FOUND

The “Fried potato consumption is associated with elevated mortality: an 8-y longitudinal cohort study,” which was originally published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2017, shows that a team of researchers “investigated whether potato consumption (including fried and unfried potatoes) is associated with increased premature mortality risk in a North American cohort.” 

Over the course of eight years, the researchers analyzed 4,440 participants between the ages of 45 and 79 years old; around 57.9% of the participants were women. The study found that 236 of the participants died during the eight-year period. According to the researchers, the results of the study showed that “the frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk.”

“Is it really the french fries or is it something else that is associated with the french fries?” Dr. Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and principal at Chicago-based Corvus Blue LLC, asked after taking a closer look into the study’s results. 

“I looked at the study. What was amusing and amazing was that many of these people had other pre-existing conditions: arthritis, diabetes, etc. It did not look into their lifestyle, which is very important,” said Shelke. “What you put into your body has a lot to do with what else you do to your body and with your body, and that was not explained.” 

Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Plano, Texas, agreed with Shelke. 

“The problem with an epidemiological study is it draws associations with behavior, not a direct causation of the behavior. So, that's really pulling two things together that may or may not be associated,” said Lemond. “What we need to see is the whole clinical picture of why these people are dying early, and so, we can't really just say it's the french fries that's killing them.” 

Shelke, who teaches food safety regulations at Johns Hopkins University, says the study was actually conducted at a time when trans fats were allowed in foods. She says that it’s possible that the french fries the participants were consuming over the eight-year period also contained some trans fats. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are four main types of fat: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are considered “heart-healthy,” while saturated and trans fat are considered unhealthy. 

“Trans fat is simply liquid oils turned into solid fats during food processing. There is also a small amount of trans fat that occurs naturally in some meat and dairy products, but those found in processed foods tend to be the most harmful to your health,” the CDC writes. “Trans fats serve up a double whammy to your cholesterol, by increasing LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (‘healthy’ cholesterol).” 

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned manufacturers from adding artificial trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), to foods in the United States. Shelke says because of this ban, “people do not have to worry about the negative implications of a helping or two of french fries.” 

When asked if french fries could be included in a healthy diet, Lemond and Shelke both agreed that moderation is key and offered some alternative methods to frying them. 

“Consuming french fries is not going to hurt you or kill you unless you did it in such a way that you excluded other good things, but if you like french fries in moderation, absolutely okay,” said Shelke. “I'm one of those people who believes that food is a part of your social life, it's part of your entertainment, and it's part of your nourishment. So, it's really important to enjoy what to eat [and] it's really important to know how to prepare it.” 

“One of the ways I love to eat a crispy potato is taking some of those smaller potatoes, either the red potatoes or the smaller white baby potatoes, and cutting them up, throwing some olive oil [on them] and putting some sea salt and maybe some garlic salt on it... you can make a nice crispy flavor without it being fried. Just be careful with how much oil you put on it,” said Lemond. 

The CDC also recommends healthier alternatives to frying foods. That list includes baking, roasting, steaming, grilling or broiling. 

More from VERIFY: Eat chocolate to lose weight? The truth behind this study

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