Fried Foods—A Cancer Risk?
In April 2002, the Swedish National Food Administration found that starchy foods baked or fried at high temperatures—like French fries and potato chips—contain a chemical called acrylamide, which causes cancer in rats. Further tests by the British, Swiss, Norwegian and American governments confirmed the findings of acrylamide in these foods.
Acrylamide forms during high-temperature baking or frying. Researchers have been unable to explain exactly why the formation occurs.
Acrylamide is also used in some water treatment facilities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows no more than 0.12 micrograms of acrylamide in an 8-ounce glass of water to keep drinking water safe. But recent discoveries of acrylamide in food indicate that the average adult actually consumes about 70 micrograms of the chemical per day.
Here’s a sampling of the amount of acrylamide you’ll get from snack foods:
Fritos Corn Chips
|| 11 micrograms
Pringles Potato Crisps
Ore Ida Baked French Fries
Burger King French Fries
Large (5.5 ounces) 57
McDonald’s French Fries
Large (6 ounces) 72
Not all foods have such high amounts of acrylamide. An ounce of Tostitos Tortilla Chips has 3 micrograms of acrylamide. The same amount of Cheerios has seven.
How big is the risk?
Tests have shown that acrylamide causes cancer in rats. It’s not clear what effect, if any, it has on humans. So we don’t know whether consuming high levels of acrylamide increases cancer risk. We’re not likely ever to know for sure, because it’s considered unethical to conduct these kinds of tests on human beings. It’s hard to base your decision about acrylamide on expert opinions, because these vary:
The Swedish National Food Administration, along with the U.S.’s Center for Science in the Public Interest, does believe acrylamide increases cancer risk.
- The World Health Organization says that the findings are “preliminary and limited” but says that the information we have about acrylamide now “reinforces general advice on healthy eating.”
- The Food and Drug Administration’s Web site claims that current data about acrylamide are “not sufficient for FDA to make a final determination regarding the public health impact of these preliminary findings.”
Even though there’s no evidence that acrylamide causes cancer in humans, doesn’t it make sense to limit foods that contain high levels of it anyway? It’s not as though they’ve come out with a finding that there’s a lot of acrylamide in foods that are known to be good for you. Most of the foods with high levels of acrylamide are high in saturated fats, trans fats and calories. The recent acrylamide findings provide just one more reason to keep these foods to a minimum.
The Food and Drug Administration; Center for Science in the Public Interest; The World Health Organization; The New York Times, 31 July 2002.