By now, you’ve probably come across an article on your social feed about how French fries or fried potatoes in general are causing cancer. If not, congrats. The blissfully ignorant state of not knowing about the potential harm of over consuming fried potatoes means your life is probably less anxiety-ridden than my own (oh, and sorry for bursting that bubble of cozy comfort with this post. Feel free to stop reading right now if you’d like).
Anyways, I’ve gotten a lot of Qs about this topic, so I thought I’d address it here. As a potato-finatic and food tox and food safety enthusiast, this issue hits close to home and is one I wanted to examine for myself. This topic actually came up in food tox before I saw it trending all over social media, so I was happy to have a solid grip on the science before all the media hype surrounding it.
So, let’s dive into the nitty starchy gritty: potatoes, French fries, and acrylamide: what you need to know about the risks, and how to minimize your own.
Ps: I had been pausing blogging, not by choice, but out of circumstance, as when I tried to transfer hosting sites, my site was kind of MIA from the internet for over a week…talk about anxiety-inducing. Oy.
Anyways, now that I’ve got my site back, I’m going to work with a different company on transferring the site (because I’ve got bigger and better things planned) and in the meantime keep chugging along here.
So what’s the risk? Are my potatoes and grains giving me cancer?
Acrylamide does not appear to be of concern in raw foods themselves; it seems to be formed when certain starchy foods are cooked at high temps.
So the risk does not lie necessarily in the potatoes or grains per se, so don’t think you have to instantly ban potatoes from your household. The risk is actually from the acrylamide that develops upon high heat cooking of the potatoes (usually above 250°F).
What is acrylamide?
Acrylamide is a chemical compound found in a lot of industrial production. It’s also found in cigarette smoke. It’s also in many foods, including canned black olives, potato chips, French fries, dark browned toast, coffee, prune juice, and some breakfast cereals.
Acrylamide can also form in some foods as a result of the amino acid asparagine being heated to high temperatures in the presence of certain sugars. This is what happens when potatoes are fried in hot oil. Potatoes happen to have high levels of asparagine, hence the recent concern about french fries, acrylamide and cancer.
Baking and roasting can also lead to acrylamide formation. Generally speaking, the longer and hotter the cooking method, the more acrylamide is likely to form. Boiling and steaming do not typically lead to acrylamide formation.
So is it dangerous?
Once acrylamide is in your body, it can be converted to a glycidamide, which is a compound that can cause mutations in DNA. This can lead to replication of mutated or damaged DNA, which can lead to cancer.
However, many epi studies (like control and cohort studies) in humans haven’t lead to consistent evidence that dietary acrylamide exposure increases cancer risk. Whether or not that is because it’s very difficult to estimate the amount of acrylamide someone consumes based on verbal recollection of dietary intake, and/or because there really isn’t a substantial risk remains unclear.
The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” based on experimental animal studies, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the WHO) has classified acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen,” again based on animal lab data.
But some toxicologists argue that humans and rodents absorb acrylamide at different rates, and that these results may not fully translate to humans.
Can I Cook Potatoes Without Creating Acrylamide?
Yes! There are various methods you can use to prepare the beloved potato with minimal risk of inducing acrylamide production.
First, make sure you are storing your potatoes properly. Keep them in a cool, dry place rather than the refrigerator, which can lead to development of sugars that increase rates of acrylamide formation upon cooking.
When it comes time to prep your potatoes, you can use methods other than frying to cook your potatoes. Steaming, microwaving, and boiling potatoes leads to far less acrylamide formation compared to high temperature frying.
If you’ve got a hankering for French fries, blanching your potatoes or soaking them in water for 15 minutes before frying them can reduce acrylamide development. Drying out your potatoes in a hot oven after frying them can help reduce acrylamide formation.
And, as always, when cooking at high temps, use an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado oil or sunflower oil (olive oil usually isn’t high enough for frying).
If you smoke, you’re exposed to way more acrylamide via cigarettes than French fries, so if you’re concerned, you should probably worry about smoking first and foremost.
For the rest of us, there seems to be biologically plausible data to support that acrylamide might increase the risk cancer. But, that said, changing up your cooking methods of your spud buds can help lower your risk.
We live in a toxic world, and they key to staying healthy and sane is to ensure you don’t expose yourself to too much of a toxin at once. So don’t freak out about every potato in your life as an inevitable dooming entity, but rather, enjoy your potatoes, and strive to make informed decisions when cooking them to lower your acrylamide risk.
Happy potatoing! If you have questions or comments, leave them below, or hit me up on Instagram.