The healthy fare at McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) has received a lot of attention, and with good reason. Healthy food has been an important part of the fast-food purveyor's renaissance, a revival reflected in the stock's nearly 18% gain in the past year alone. What's more, healthy choices burnish McDonald's image as the firm's traditional entrees have come under fire with the wider recognition of America's obesity problem. The company recognizes the financial and image value of healthier cuisine, and so it continues to roll out offerings like its new fruit and walnut salad.

But whereas healthy entrees make good business sense, McDonald's drive to reformulate its vaunted french fries may not be so astute. The firm is now testing fries with lower trans-fatty acids, according to Crain's Chicago Business. The fry experiment is McDonald's effort to make good on its pledge made in September 2002 to switch to cooking oils with a lower trans-fat content. There is one problem with this noble cause, however -- reproducing McDonald's classic french fry taste with healthy oil will be extremely difficult. The food outfit itself acknowledges the challenge.

And changing the fries may not even be worthwhile. Sure, McDonald's spuds are a far cry from being diet-friendly -- a large bag of fries contains 24% of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat. But consider some of the other entrees. The Quarter Pounder With Cheese, for instance, provides 59% of the daily allowance of saturated fat, while for the Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese, the saturated fat measure reaches 93%. Clearly, McDonald's traditional chow is not now -- nor likely will ever be -- health food, no matter what happens to the fries. If customers want to eat healthy, they can pick from items like fruit, salads, and yogurt. And given these new choices, it seems to make sense just to leave the burgers and fries alone rather than sacrifice taste for small health gains.

McDonald's has to be praised for going out of its way to provide customers with healthy fare. But when it comes to monkeying with a venerable staple, the best move may be no change at all.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.