Another Reason to Stay Away from Potato Chips

Organic Buenos Aires staff

Research has discovered that acrylamide, a potentially neurotoxic chemical that causes cancer, is created when foods that are rich in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures.

This makes potato chips and French fries some of the worst culprits. However, any protein or carbohydrate cooked above 120ºC, regardless of whether it’s baked or fried, toasted or grilled, may contain acrylamide.

The chemical is produced when the food forms a brown or yellow crispy coat. This might make the potato or sweet potato tasty, but it also turns what was once a healthy food into a cancer causer.

The Link Between Acrylamide and Food Was Only Discovered Recently

Acrylamide was originally believed to only be found in products not designed for consumption, such as plastics, cosmetics, cigarette smoke, and in very small amounts in water treatment facilities. However, in 2002 researchers discovered acrylamide in our food as well.

The discovery was made after researchers investigated why so many people were showing up with dangerously high levels of acrylamide, despite having not knowingly been exposed to the chemical. They believed the chemical may have been formed in foods cooked at high temperatures.

They found moderate levels of acrylamide (5−50 μg/kg) in protein-rich foods that had been heated, and much higher levels (150−4000 μg/kg) in carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potato and beetroot. Meanwhile, the levels were almost undetectable in unheated or boiled foods. Foods such as potato chips, bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, coffee, and snacks were all found to contain acrylamide.

Potato Chips May Contain 900 Times the Legal Limit of Acrylamide

While many foods contain acrylamide, the highest levels of the chemical are found in starchy plant-based foods that have been heated, such as potato chips. While a glass of water contains about 0.12 micrograms of acrylamide, which is about the legal limit, a small serving of French fries can have 60 micrograms of acrylamide, 500 times the legal limit.

A packet of potato chips, on the other hand, can contain anywhere up to 900 times the legal limit. Many packets of baked chips were found to have three times the level of acrylamide as fried potato chips, despite being generally regarded as the healthier option.

What Types of Cancer Does Acrylamide Cause?

Acrylamide has been linked to breast cancer, postmenopausal endometrial and ovarian cancer, and has been found to increase the risk of several other types of cancer, and has been declared most likely carcinogenic. Nerve damage and other neurological problems have also been linked to acrylamide.

How Can You Reduce Your Exposure to Acrylamide?

  • Eat the majority of your foods raw or lightly cooked.
  • Boil or steam your vegetables and other foods known to produce acrylamide, rather than frying or baking them.
  • Don’t cook your foods for too long, as longer cooking times increase acrylamide.
  • Soak raw potatoes in water for 15-30 minutes before roasting them.
  • Take your food off the pan or out of the toaster before it gets too dark. The darker brown it is, the more acrylamide it contains.
  • Avoid overcooking your food!

You might also want to have a read of this article on reducing exposure to chemicals and carcinogens, on Microwave Health Hazards.