Chick-Fil-A is a popular fast food restaurant known for its chicken sandwiches and signature waffle fries. The waffle fries have an iconic shape with crispy ridges that many find delicious and addicting. However, with society’s increasing focus on healthy eating, you may wonder if these indulgent fries should be avoided or can be part of a balanced diet.
What are waffle fries?
Waffle fries are a variation on regular french fries. They are cut into a waffle shape that gives them ridges and pockets to hold condiments like ketchup or sauces. The ridges also provide more surface area for getting crispy in the deep fryer. Waffle fries were invented in the 1950s by the Potato Chip Company in Ohio as a unique spin on french fries. Their popularity grew through the late 1900s, likely due to their fun shape and crispy texture.
Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries specifically are fresh-cut potatoes that are soaked in a sweet tea and lemon juice blend, then dusted with powdered sugar before being pressure fried in canola oil until crispy. This process gives them their distinct taste and texture. They have become an iconic menu item at Chick-Fil-A restaurants since their addition to the menu in the 1990s.
Nutritional profile of Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries
When evaluating the healthiness of any food, looking at its nutritional information is key. Here is the nutrition data for a standard “small” order of Chick-Fil-A waffle fries (approximately 137g):
Right away this tells us the waffle fries are high in calories, fat, and carbs compared to many other sides like a salad or fruit. The high sodium is also concerning for those monitoring their blood pressure.
Are the ingredients unhealthy?
To understand if Chick-Fil-A’s recipe makes their waffle fries less healthy than other fried potatoes, let’s look at the ingredients list:
Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Sugar, Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Spice
The vegetables oils used for frying can add a lot of fat, but canola oil is considered one of the healthier high-heat cooking oils. The sugar and salt also boost the calories and sodium numbers. But overall, the ingredients are typical of fried potatoes at any restaurant. The use of fresh potatoes instead of processed potato products is a good sign for nutrition.
Are waffle fries healthy compared to other sides?
To get more context, let’s compare Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries to some of their other popular side dishes:
|Small Waffle Fries
|Small Kale Crunch Side
|Small Fruit Cup
|Mac & Cheese
|Small Side Salad
Compared to nutrient-dense options like the fruit, salad, or kale side, the waffle fries are clearly higher in calories, fat, and carbs. The only menu item measured that is comparable is the mac and cheese in its high amounts of fat, carbs, and calories.
So within Chick-Fil-A’s own menu, the waffle fries are one of the least healthy options.
Other healthier swaps
If you want fries but are looking for better nutrition, Chick-Fil-A does offer some substitutes and ways to upgrade:
-Instead of the full size, order a small or kid-size waffle fries. This shrinks the calories, fat, carbs down to 160 to 220.
-Substitute extra pickles instead of fries to get a crunch with way fewer calories.
-Choose a side salad or fruit cup and use just a couple waffle fries pieces on top.
-Order a grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried and pair it with a healthier side.
-Ask for fries with no salt to cut down the sodium.
-Get fries “well done” for an extra crispy texture with less absorbed oil.
-Dip in ketchup instead of creamy sauces to save calories.
Nutrition pros and cons of waffle fries
Looking specifically at nutrients, here are some of the main pros and cons of waffle fries:
-Provide energy from carbohydrates – the 46g carbs supplies glucose.
-Contain some vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium.
-Offer antioxidants from ingredients like potatoes and oils.
-Vegetable oils provide healthy fats, albeit high in omega-6s.
-Have more fiber than typical fries due to skin-on potato pieces.
-No artificial ingredients or highly processed potato products.
-High in calories, 340 per serving, mostly from fat and carbs.
-High in fat at 14g, from vegetable oils. Few healthy fats.
-Contain 46g net carbs, almost entirely from starchy potatoes.
-Low in protein at only 3g per serving.
-Loaded with 310mg sodium, 13% daily value.
-Minimal nutrients like vitamins, minerals.
-Fried preparation creates oxidized oils and acrylamide concerns.
Health impacts of regularly eating waffle fries
The nutritional pros and cons lead to some clear health impacts if waffle fries are eaten often:
Potential positive effects
-Provide energy for cells and brain function.
-Spice ingredients may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
-Fresh potatoes offer more nutrition than processed potato products.
Potential negative effects
-Weight gain from high calorie loads.
-Increased risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
-Higher blood pressure from sodium and low potassium.
-Inflammation from oxidized oils and advanced glycation end products.
-Lack of fiber, vitamins, minerals can negatively impact digestive health, immunity, energy levels, and more.
-Frequent acrylamide exposure may raise cancer risk.
The bottom line is regularly choosing waffle fries could contribute to developing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, digestive issues, fatigue, and other problems in the long term. The high calorie and sodium content are of most concern with frequent consumption.
Are waffle fries suitable for any diets?
Here is a breakdown of how waffle fries may fit into popular diets:
Not suitable – too high in carbs at 46g per serving.
Not suitable – contains vegetable oils, salt, and sugar not allowed.
Not suitable – has added sugars and processed vegetable oils.
Low carb diet
Not suitable – high carb side with 46g carbs.
Low fat diet
Not suitable – high in total fat and low in healthy fats.
Low calorie diet
Occasional – workable in moderation but high cal count at 340 calories.
Low sodium diet
Not suitable – very high in sodium at 310mg per serving.
Suitable – contains no animal products, though fried in shared oil.
Suitable – waffle fries themselves are gluten free.
Occasional – overall eating pattern focuses on healthier options.
The bottom line is waffle fries are not truly suitable for most healthy diets due to their high carb, fat, and sodium content. Following keto, Paleo, Whole30, low carb, low fat, or low sodium diets would require swapping the waffle fries for better options.
Healthier fry alternatives
If you want a crispy, fried potato side but are looking for better nutrition, consider these options:
Cut regular or sweet potatoes into fry shapes, toss with a little olive oil, and bake in oven until crispy. Far lower in fat and calories than deep fried. Sprinkle with spices for flavor.
Air Fried Fries
Use an air fryer to crisp up freshly cut fries with a fraction of the oil. Air frying saves calories and fat compared to deep frying.
Sweet Potato Fries
Swap white potatoes for vitamin-rich sweet potatoes. The natural sugars caramelize for delicious flavor. Bake or air fry them to maximize nutrition.
Cut raw cauliflower florets into “fry” strips and bake with olive oil until crisped and browned. Gets that crunch without starchy carbs.
Zucchini or Carrot Fries
Thinly slice and bake raw zucchini or carrots for lower-carb crispy fries. Coat with spices for lots of flavor without excess calories.
Toss bite-sized pieces of kale with olive oil and sea salt then bake until crunchy. Kale gives a healthier vitamin boost.
Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries can be enjoyed occasionally as part of an overall balanced diet. But with their high calorie, fat, carb, and sodium content, they are considered one of the least healthy options on the menu. Regularly choosing waffle fries could contribute to weight gain and increase risks for chronic illnesses if eaten in excess.
Following certain diets like keto, Paleo, or low sodium would require swapping the waffle fries for better alternatives to stay consistent with diet guidelines. Baked, air fried, or spiralized veggie fries provide similar crispy satisfaction while being lower in carbs, fat, and calories.
In moderation, Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries can be worked into a healthy lifestyle. But nutrition-conscious consumers may prefer swapping them for better options more often than not. Ultimately it comes down to balancing your total daily or weekly diet and calorie needs.