Another Way French Fries and Potato Chips Will Kill You

french fries
french fries
Flickr/Consumer Update released last Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration suggests people try to reduce their consumption of acrylamide, which is found in well- and over-cooked foods and has been linked to cancer in animals. It is likely that it causes cancer in people, too, according to the FDA.

Acrylamide is found in plant-based foods such as potatoes, grains and coffee -- in other words, chips, cereals, crackers, breads and many other foods. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet.

While acrylamide probably has been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting and frying foods, it was only in 2002 that scientists discovered the chemical in food. Since then, the agency has been actively investigating the effects of acrylamide, as well as potential measures to reduce it.

In the FDA's testing, by far the highest levels were found in french fries (Popeye's were the worst), then in potato chips, but some high levels were found in baby foods, too, especially the sweet potato varieties. Hershey's Cocoa also tested very high, as did Folgers and Taster's Choice instant coffee (about half as high as the cocoa, though). Pretty much off the charts was Postum Original Caffeine Free Instant Hot Beverage (powdered, not brewed), whatever that is.

Left, good fries. Right, bad fries.
Left, good fries. Right, bad fries.
FDA.gov

Since much of the acrylamide found in foods is generated during the cooking process -- especially when items are fried, overcooked or burned, avoiding frying or otherwise burning or charring foods is an effective way to cut down. Never eat burnt toast! (But don't worry about your grilled steak -- acrylamide does not form, or forms at very low levels, in dairy, meat and fish products.)

To reduce consumption of acrylamide, the FDA suggests we fry foods as little as possible; avoid overcooking; boil and steam food instead; keep food cooking temperatures below 248°F, at which point acrylamide starts to form; toast bread to no more than a light brown color; and never brown potatoes.

You can't spell acrylamide without "cry."

In case this article did nothing but make you crave french fries, see "10 Best French Fries in Los Angeles."


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