We all know that French Fries aren’t the healthiest snack out there. They’re fried, they’re salty, and they offer little in the way of nutritional value. Of course they cause weight gain, high cholesterol and blood pressure. I can (hopefully) live with that. But causing cancer--well that’s enough to make me not want to super-size my next value meal.
We can’t even blame a sinister chemical additive cooked up by the corporations. It turns out the culprit is a substance known as acrylamide, a carcinogen that occurs naturally when potatoes are fried, baked or roasted. Lesser amounts are found in cereal, crackers, and some cooked vegetables.
The theory is that at high temperatures an amino acid known as asparagine combines with glucose, a natural sugar, to become the dangerous toxin. The FDA states high doses cause cancer in lab mice and have documented cases of nerve damage in humans who had prolonged exposure due to their occupations. That fry cook job at the fast food joint just got a little less desirable, if that’s possible.
Admittedly, the amount of acrylamide consumed in a serving of fries is negligible, but it is still unsettling to know it’s there. California, citing Proposition 65 enacted in 1990 which requires warning labels on potentially cancer causing products such as lead paint and fertilizer, is considering legislation to require the labels on french fries and potato chips. Naturally, this idea is being met with some resistance. One can only assume that branding “may cause cancer” on the side of happy meals is going to hurt sales. The FDA opposes labeling for the time being, pending the results of their own investigation.
Ironically, the solution may be an object that has its own association with cancer: the microwave. Studies have shown that introducing microwave radiation to potatoes prior to frying them drastically reduces the amounts of acrylamide. Blanching prior to cooking as also been shown to reduce the amounts of the compound.
Many people feel that this is just another case of people getting all worked up over nothing. These days one would be hard pressed to think of anything that hasn’t been alleged to cause cancer at some time or another. It seems impossible to avoid them all. After all, we have been eating fried potatoes for a few hundred years now, and we're not likely to stop.