Beware of French Fries

Sure, we all know any food tastes good if it is deep fried in a wonderful vat of grease. What could be better than turning all our foods into versions of a french fry? Apparently, folks in California are very worried about America’s obsession with frying food, especially potatoes. We’re certainly aware that french fries are fattening and clog arteries, but recent studies have shown that these delicious grease balls also contain cancer-causing chemicals.

The state of California is in a deep legal battle to require that french fries and other specific foods carry a warning label about the evidence that the chemical acrylamide (found in many of our favorite fatty foods) can cause cancer. This chemical is not added to food to give it an extra tasty kick; it is formulated when starch-filled foods are cooked at very high temperatures. In laboratory studies, this acrylamide has caused cancer in rats and mice. Scientists fear that acrylamide may have the same effect on humans.

What does this all mean? Well, aside from the fact that California is knee-deep in legal battles, the state of many of America’s favorite foods is in jeopardy. California legislators want all food companies that market products with acrylamide to put labels on the packages that warn consumers about the cancer-causing chemical. This means that in the near future, many of our favorite products such as potato chips and french fries might be accompanied by a health warning (think of what’s on a pack of cigarettes – you get the idea.) As if getting fat wasn’t enough to worry about!

There is a large assortment of foods that contain what’s considered an unhealthy level of acrylamide. Interestingly, a generous serving of prune juice contains more of this chemical than potato chips or graham crackers. Great, now how are America’s grandparents going to stay regular? Unfortunately, there is a long list of foods that contain traces of acrylamide. Not only the above-mentioned goodies like french fries and potato chips, but also graham crackers, almonds, black olives, toasted bagels, corn and tortilla chips and microwave popcorn. Alas, the list goes on and on – vilifying our favorite foods. However, some of these foods contain such low amounts of acrylamide that they effect many be negligible.

The acrylamide issue is obviously gaining a lot of recognition and press because I discovered it in the New York Times on a two-page spread. If the Times is dedicating two pages to french fries, we know that it is big. I predict that the legal battle concerning proper acrylamide warnings is going to spread beyond California. After all, Californians are having some help consuming the ridiculous amount of fried foods the country is eating. According to the Times, “fried potatoes are a big business throughout the country. Americans spend an estimated four billion a year on fries and three billion a year on potato chips.” Ahh, so that is where all the money is going. That amount of fried food is enough to make anyone sick, whether it is from chemicals or not.

This new finding on the dangers of deep-fried foods should encourage America to stray away from saturated fats and go for something lean. If you are trying to maintain a steady weight, french fries and potato chips are not top picks. As I said in previous columns, portion control is key, so if you pop a few chips into your mouth at lunch, don’t freak out about acrylamide. However, as the famous Pringles advertisement states, “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” So, if eating a few chips is torture, find a more nutritious food to chow down on, preferably one that hasn’t been deep-fried and slathered in chemicals. Nobody wants to eat America’s next science project.