Can potato chips & french fries cause cancer?

Nothing can be as scary as knowing that enjoying some of the taken for granted popular edibles like the potato chips and French fries may expose you and your family to the risk of developing certain kinds of cancers.

There has been a spate of studies done to find out if there is a correlation between fries and human cancer ever since Swedish scientists tumbled upon acrylamide in foods. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, say that there is a link between the chemical compound acrylamide formed in foods and cancer. One may be exposed to acrylamide through the skin, inhalation or by ingestion (eating). There are several sources of contamination by Acrylamide like through water containing it, cigarette smoking, or workers inhaling it in factories because acrylamide is used in a whole lot of industries like cosmetics, oil, paper, water treatment, plastics, mining, etc, but our concern here is its presence in certain foods.

Acrylamide in foods: Acrylamide is formed when carbohydrate foods are cooked over 120 degrees Celsius. Foods cooked below this temperature are not found to contain acrylamide. Cooking methods that employ high temperatures like baking, roasting and frying seem to produce acrylamide in foods. And longer the cooking time with these methods, higher is the acrylamide content produced.

Foods that show high acrylamide contents are French fries, potato chips, biscuits, breakfast cereals, toasted bread and coffee beans.

Cancers: Making the above said foods a large and constant part of one’s daily eating pattern may be detrimental to health in more than one way, with risk for cancer being one of it. There is a positive association between high intake of such foods and risk for endometrial, ovarian, renal cell and prostate cancers.

While more researches are needed to confirm what other foods also contain acrylamide and what dietary precautions we should take, one thing is for sure. Avoid French fries potato chips or anything processed or deep fried.

5 Tips to reduce this carcinogen:

  1. Minimise eating at take – away joints where fries are part of the meal and encourage children to choose other kinds of meals. Fast foods are not healthy meals anyway.
  2. Should you want potato fries made at home, then half cook fresh potato before frying so that frying time is reduced and only fry to a light brown. Avoid using frozen potato fries.
  3. Similarly, toast bread to a light shade avoiding burnt breads.
  4. Avoid or keep to a minimum biscuits and such processed foods, while setting an example to your children by opting for fruits, oatmeal and nuts as more often eaten items on your family’s daily menu.
  5. Stick to traditional snacks and breakfast items, made fresh at home.

There may be other sources of acrylamide creeping into our body which may not be as easily eliminated. But we have a choice on the foods we eat. And here we can control carcinogens like acrylamide to a great extent.

Parvathy R Krishnan

The author is a trained Nutrition & Dietetics expert with over 20 years’ of experience in hospitals like Vijaya Hospital in Chennai and the Armed Forces Hospital and New Mowasat Hospitals in Kuwait. She is presently a member of the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India. Parvathy blogs at http://premadiet.blogspot.in/

More by this author:

Dieting tips for those at work
How to eat rice and lose weight
Image: Thinkstockphotos.com

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