French fries and potato chips aren’t the healthiest foods, but do they cause cancer? Back in 2002, scientists found that some foods browned through frying, baking or roasting contain a known carcinogen called acrylamide.
The news put fries, chips, cereal, cookies, crackers and even coffee on the blacklist, even though most of us never stopped eating them. In fact, Americans typically get 40 percent of their daily calories from foods with acrylamides.
Now, the FDA has come up with guidelines for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of acrylamide in their products. While it’s been shown that acrylamide causes cancer, it’s only known to do so when lab animals ingest high doses of the chemical. Even in the decade since the discovery in some of our favorite foods, scientists have not been able to show that acrylamide causes cancer in humans. One recent study that looked at blood levels of acrylamide, instead of self-reported diet information, found no connection with ovarian cancer.
The FDA issued the guidelines on acrylamide because “scientists believe it is likely to cause cancer in humans as well” as lab animals. Even without conclusive studies, it’s a good idea to limit foods that form the chemical when cooked. It may not be possible, or even necessary, to eliminate foods with acrylamides from your diet, but cutting out one or two foods with it would be beneficial.
Here are tips from the FDA to reduce your exposure to acrylamide:
- Cook cut potato products, such as frozen fries to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
- When frying frozen fries, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
- Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, which can increase acrylamide during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.
- Toast bread to a light brown color instead of a dark brown color. Avoid eating very brown areas.
- Choose dark roast coffee beans, which have lower levels than light roast beans. Acrylamide forms when the beans are roasted, not when the coffee is brewed.
As for food manufacturers, the FDA has asked that they reduce the chemical, when feasible. For example, potato growers can use low-sugar varieties that produce less acrylamide and processors can decrease frying temperatures, modify ingredients and avoid certain storage practices. Several manufacturers already have been making changes.
Check out our sample menu with healthy options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between.
Read another blog post: Does sugar 'feed' cancer?