This ski season, no doubt you’ll be faced with the inevitable question: fries or salad to accompany your lunch club, burger, or grilled cheese.
Respectively, the two have assumed a devil or angel archetype, and that server-posed question is a loaded gun when it comes to making a choice in the direction of health. But let’s come clean here, 99% of us really want those salty satanic fries, and we absolve them by skiing them off that afternoon (until, of course, beers get in the way). Though many of us have assumed that ordering fries is akin to skiing in rear entry boots, the sweet potato fry is making a surprising angelic return to the health-conscious table.
How? Let’s start by defining the two. The typical restaurant dinner or side salad consists of some crunchy iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and onions. Salad dressings, we can assume, are of the ranch, Italian, or balsamic variety. Rarely are any of the ingredients organic.
In the other corner, the fries. In this competition, we’ll look at the sweet potato variety as opposed to the mighty russet. These days, many slope-side restaurants are serving the increasingly popular potato alternative, including the Lookout Bar and Grill in Killington Vermont, the Sun Valley Club in Sun Valley, Idaho, and the highly ranked Five Star Burger restaurant in Taos.
Initial guess for the healthier option? Salad, right? Well, potentially wrong. Sweet potato fries are not as infernal as one might suspect. So let’s bust this salad-is-always-better myth and explore how the salad flails while the fries finish strong.
The celestial salad actually has quite a few weaknesses including high pesticide content, members of the nightshade family, and omega 6 fatty acid content. According to the Environmental Working Group, lettuce is on the 2010 “Dirty Dozen” list. The group assessed almost 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine what fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of chemical residue. The most dangerous are the fruits and vegetables dubbed the "Dirty Dozen," which contain between 47 to 67 pesticides per serving. Lettuce has 51 pesticide residues, and of those, ten are considered known or probable carcinogens and 29 are suspected hormone disruptors.
Next problem: both tomatoes and bell peppers are members of the nightshade vegetable family (along with russet potatoes and eggplants). A group of substances found in nightshades called alkaloids can impact nerve-muscle function, digestive function, and may also compromise joint function. Athletes who experience joint pain and inflammation are wise to avoid members of the nightshade vegetable family—sorry salsa.
Lastly, Most commercial dressings contain soy, corn, or other vegetable oils that contain omega 6 fats, and are known to also contribute to inflammation. Not to mention, many times these toppers have high fructose corn syrup that has been shown to cause central obesity.
That salad is starting to look a little wilted.
Next up, the sweet potato fries. There are over 400 species of the sweet potato, and the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes is one of nature's unsurpassed sources of beta-carotene, which is converted in body to vitamin A. Vitamin A is key for immune system support and healthy vision. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and manganese as well as copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
The color-related pigments in sweet potatoes are prized for their anti-inflammatory health benefits. In animal studies, reduction of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) proteins has been shown following consumption of either a sweet potato or its color-containing extracts. Additional studies have also shown reduced inflammation following sweet potato consumption in both brain and nerve tissues throughout the body.
To top it off, unlike most other starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes are actually classified as an “anti-diabetic” food. Animal studies have found that these tubers help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve the body’s response to insulin.
Still thinking salad? The accursed sweet potato fries might, in certain instances, actually be blessing in salty disguise.
Planning lunch at the condo? Here’s a quick recipe for sweet potato fries and a healthy dipping sauce:
Sweet Potato Fries
2 large sweet potatoes, chopped into any size of French fry stick you prefer
Natural garlic sea salt
3 tbsp crushed rosemary
Freshly cracked black peppe
Place the sweet potato fries into a baking pan. Drizzle with grapeseed oil and season with the garlic sea salt, pepper, rosemary. Cook at 350F for 45 minutes, poke with a fork at 30 minutes to check how they are coming along. When they are getting tender, up the temp to 400F for 10 minutes giving them added crispness.
Greek Dipping Sauce
1 container full-fat organic Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon garlic salt
3 teaspoon dried dill weed
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon pepper
Mix all together in a bowl and dip away!
Jess Kelley, MNT is a Master Nutrition Therapist and has completed over 500 hours of nutrition education at the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado. She has a private practice in southwest Colorado called Durango Nutrition where she specializes in food allergies and hormone balance. Jess has a BA in Journalism and is currently the Managing Editor for Edible San Juan Mountains Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.