Wendy’s “Natural Cut” Fries. Indeed?

Wendy’s is touting their new natural cut fries as a tastier alternative to McDonald’s. And the “Natural” with “sea salt” makes it sound really healthy too. But, as always, cheap food comes at a price. BNET’s Melanie Warner spoke with Wendy’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ken Calwell , who had this to say:

“People are saying they want high integrity ingredients, things their grandmother would have used, that don’t look like they came out of a chemistry lab. But they’re also saying I’ve got a family to feed and can only afford to spend about $4 on my lunch, and I’ve only got about a minute or two to eat it.” Read more on BNET…

So what are the health tradeoffs for these fries?

What you need to know:

This the ingredient label for a medium order of fries:

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, corn), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (to maintain natural color). Cooked in Vegetable Oil (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor [vegetable], citric acid [preservative], dimethylpolysiloxane [anti-foaming agent]). Cooked in the same oil as menu items that contain Wheat, Egg, Milk, and Fish (where available). Seasoned with Sea Salt.

If you are wondering why all the different oil types – it’s just a question of price. Whichever oil is the cheapest for Wendy’s to buy, is the one that will be coating your fries. What we don’t understand is why use hydrogenated oils for frying.

Nutrition Pros:

The potatoes are not peeled. This adds about 1 gram, or 2.5% of your daily value of fiber to a medium serving. Skipping the peeling process also shaves a few cents off of the cost to Wendy’s.

Nutrition Cons:

43% percent increase in sodium compared to the previous Wendy’s version. That’s 500mg (more that 20% of the daily max) in a medium serving of fries.

The calorie count is 420 for the medium size. That’s BEFORE the burger and the soda. Luckily, each packet of ketchup is only 10 calories.

To keep the fries from browning when frozen, they are coated with dextrose (a type of sugar from corn) and sodium acid pyrophosphate. Both are safe, but lead to the question why freeze the fries in the first place? Well, the process for making fries is to fry them once at a central location, then ship them to your local neighborhood Wendy’s where they are kept frozen until you order them. Then they are fried again.

The frying oil includes dimethylpolysiloxane, a chemical that prevents the oil from foaming after repeated use. Its’ a type of silicone (used in silly putty too) and not considered toxic, according to the World Health Organization. And yet, other countries have found other ways to prevent foaming oil.

To summarize, the image presented to consumers is that of an all “natural” product. In practice, we see it gets quite a lot of help from a chemistry set.

[Shout out to Juliette for suggesting this post.]

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  • Dave Schy

    Wow, bummer! Those fries were #1 on my list natural, healthy foods that I should try today.
    I guess I will just move on to #2, the new Arby’s Angus Beef Three Cheese and Bacon Sandwich.

  • FrugalArugula

    One might also inquire as to why there’s the mysterious “natural flavor” in these. Aren’t fried potatoes in salt and oil already delicious enough?! I mean I’d add some cayenne or black pepper, maybe some garlic, but that’s disclosable right?

    This reminds me of the tactics described in The End of Overeating. Great book for anyone who does find this sort of deception unnerving. You’ll never want packaged food again after this book. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1605297852/ref=wms_ohs_product_T2

    I was suspect of these fries from the beginning, so props to Juliette and fooducate for this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenleebow Ken Leebow

    Whether it’s Wendy’s or Micky-Dees, I would take this bird-brain’s advice … http://bit.ly/fDDUte

  • Zach

    I agree with most of this post; however, this sentence seems needlessly inflammatory: “The potatoes are not peeled. This adds about 1 gram, or 2.5% of your daily value of fiber to a medium serving. Skipping the peeling process also shaves a few cents off of the cost to Wendy’s.”

    Can’t we just say the Wendy’s did something slightly good (for once)? I understand that we must bash Wendy’s on principle because it is a fast food chain, but in this case not peeling the potatoes is the exact right thing to do from a nutritional perspective, and to be a credible source for food-related information Fooducate needs to put the same standard on all food sources.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      If leaving the skin on would add a few cents to the cost, Wendy’s probably wouldn’t do it. What does that tell you about the chain’s motive?

      • http://profiles.google.com/cemetree Heidi Hall

        the sodium increase is what bugs me the most. why did they need to hike the sodium at all compared to the old version

      • Zach

        I’m not saying their motive necessarily wasn’t cost. However, if you assume that their motive is always cost, which is what you are doing, you will miss it if they ever decide to do something because it is nutritionally the right thing to do. There is enough about Wendy’s you can criticize without deriding it for doing something which every home cook should do.

        • EQuin

          It appears that Fooducate is undereducated when it comes to sea salt and seems to just believe what it reads. Sea salt is a coarse salt, much like kosher salt, and each “grain” if you will is larger than a grain of average NaCl, or table salt, which is what Wendy’s used to use and most fast food chains still use. When the grain is larger it has a larger surface area PER GRAIN, but equate that to how many grains of regular table salt it takes to match the volume of one grain of sea salt. Assume one grain of table salt is a 1mm x 1mm x 1mm cube, and assume one grain of sea salt is a 3mm x 3mm x 3mm cube. The total surface area of the sea salt grain is obviously 54 square mm (6 sides x 9 square mm/side), while the surface area of the table salt grain is just 6 square mm, 1 per side. Then how many of the table salt grains does it take to equate one of the sea salt grains? 27 (3 x 3 x 3). So the total surface area of an equivalent volume of table salt is 162!! (6 square mm/cube x 27 cubes) Three times that of the sea salt! Since the surface of the salt is what we taste when eating the fries, and assuming that the sea salt is approximately 3x the size of the table salt Wendy’s used to use, it stands reason to believe that in order for the new fries to be saltier than the previous fries, they would have to have salted them AT LEAST three times as much. I don’t know about anyone else, but of all the Wendy’s I ever ate at prior to the introduction of these new “Natural Cut Fries,” (by the way, Hardees started the same thing at least 6 months prior to Wendy’s but I don’t hear anyone complaining about their “misleading advertising”) none of them ever salted their fries at all! Wendy’s was notorious for giving you unsalted fries and throwing a couple of individual salt packets in your bag so you could salt to your soon-to-be-clotted heart’s content.

          The moral of the story? These are f***ing french fries people! Please find something a little more important to bitch about. Or better yet, learn to make your own! Cooking is a very fun activity! Family-friendly, too!

      • Zach

        Also, using this reasoning every fast food chain would leave the skins on their fries. Yet this is not the case.

  • Lauren

    While we know good intentions and a desire to promote a healthy product weren’t behind Wendy’s changes. I’m baffled that companies think consumers are so uninformed. Are we going to think these “natural” fries are healthy? Are we not able to look at the sodium and calorie count? I appreciate you pointing this out but also can’t believe at some strategy meeting someone isn’t saying “we should find a way to lower the sodium”.

  • Anonymous

    Natural-cut, meaning the style of the cut is natural. Has nothing to do with the product’s nutritional value. Who on earth expects fast food to be healthy anyway?

  • Jomiller11

    the old fries taste better

  • http://definitelynotmartha.blogspot.com Definitelynotmartha

    I find this particularly interesting given that New York Fries manages to put out consistently delicious fries that use only three ingredients – potatoes, sunflower oil and salt (which you can ask them to hold).

  • DC

    I think you are reaching to say this commercial makes the fries sound “healthy”. There is nothing in the commercial that makes me think they are trying to sell these as healthy. To me, it says we know you like fries with sea salt and some peel better so that’s what we are giving you. I don’t actually eat at Wendy’s and not one to generally defend advertising but this feels like taking issue where there really isn’t one. Now, if you want to pick on fries in general, have at it.

  • The Mediocre Cook

    I’m quite certain that the “health” aspect was the way to keep customers paying more for something that is now cheaper to produce. You no longer have the added step of peeling the potatoes and the waste associated with the peels (which the customer now eats instead of livestock).

  • http://www.fundspartnership.com/ Shelly Roberts

    Wendy’s “Natural Cut” Fries really lip-smacking. I love it amazingly. So tasty. Yummy!!!

  • Denlynnm

    french fries fried in same oil that the fish is fried in? i will never eat at wendys again, i hate fish and am allergic to it . i was aware that diners ect. did this but not wendys! yuck!