In a perfect world, substituting French fries for almonds on a daily basis would be a simple decision, and selecting the salty, fried option would have no negative consequences. However, according
to a Harvard expert, the findings of a new study supporting this scenario should be taken with a grain of salt. This study, which was paid for by the potato industry, shows that eating a 300-calorie portion of French fries or a 300-calorie portion of almonds every day for a month doesn't make a big difference in terms of weight gain or other risk factors for diabetes.
Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that snacking on fried potato slivers instead of protein-packed almonds may not affect the scale in the short term, but this does not make the decision equally healthy. Almonds provide health benefits, including a reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol. In the long term, they are the superior method for preventing or delaying the onset of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, or their complications.
"We've learned from numerous studies over the past two decades that weight loss studies lasting less than a year are likely to produce misleading results, so a 30-day study is less than useless," explains Dr Willett. "For example, studies that last for six months or less show that low-fat diets help people lose weight, but studies that last for a year or more show the opposite."
What health-related factors were measured in the study? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the study. The researchers gave 165 adults (average age 30, 68% women) a 300-calorie portion of one of the following foods to eat for 30 days.
roasted and salted almonds (approximately 1/3 cup).HERB-Simple French Fries (Medium Serving) and spice-flavoured French fries (medium serving).
Researchers gave each participant 30 single-day servings of their food item and told them to eat it every day. They didn't tell them to change their diet or level of physical activity to make up for the 300 calories they were eating.
At the beginning and end of the month, participants had their body fat, total weight, blood sugar, insulin, and hemoglobin A1C (a longer-term reflection of blood sugar levels) measured. Five participants from each group underwent post-meal testing to assess their short-term blood sugar responses.
Weight is not the only determinant of health. Changes in the amount of body fat and total body weight were comparable between the French fry and almond groups after 30 days. After fasting, glucose and insulin levels were also measured via blood tests.
In contrast to the people who ate almonds, the people who ate French fries had higher blood sugar and insulin levels right after eating their fries.
It is tempting to conclude that there is little difference between french fries and almonds. However, it is the calories that matter. But when you look more closely, you can see that two foods that are usually thought to be at opposite ends of the healthy food spectrum are still more different than the study results might suggest.
Dr Willett notes that the consumption of French fries increased blood glucose and insulin secretion significantly more than almonds. Long-term studies have shown a link between eating potatoes and having a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, especially when compared to eating whole grains.