How potatoes can increase the risk of cancer cell growth
-by Dena Schmidt
A recent campaign launched by The Food Standards Agency of the UK is warning the public about cancer risks from overcooked potatoes. Potato chips, French fries and well-done roasted potatoes are some of the biggest offenders, but other foods cooked at high temperatures can be problematic as well. Why? Because eating too much of these foods can fuel cancer cell growth due to their acrylamide content.
But, that’s NOT the only health concern. Other foods that pose a risk include packaged crackers, cookies, dry cereals, toasted nuts and peanut butter. Food such as canned black olives, prune juice and roasted cocoa beans also contain acrylamide, as do over-grilled foods that become dark brown or black.
Cancer-causing acrylamide forms due to chemical reaction
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also flagged these foods due to their acrylamide content. Acrylamide is highest in fried foods, especially fried potatoes. The cancer risk occurs due to “the Maillard reaction” caused by high heat which leads to the formation of harmful acrylamide.
Acrylamide arises in certain carbohydrates, proteins and starchy foods exposed to intense or prolonged heat during processing or cooking. It forms when simple sugars like glucose – exposed to high temperatures – react with the amino acid asparagine.
Studies have established the link between acrylamide and cancer risk in rodents as well as in people during a major review published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2014. The review determined that persons who consumed the highest amounts of acrylamide were more likely to get cancer.
Sweet potato chips pose highest risk for triggering cancer cell growth
While the Maillard reaction is what gives potato chips and fries their taste and crispiness, it can contribute to cancer cell growth. Acrylamide is also present in bread crusts and many foods that are roasted, including nuts. However, sweet potato chips have the most acrylamide at around 4,000 ppm. (Regular potato chips are still high, but contain about half that level.)
While people have been eating these foods for years, the acrylamide compound was located in 2002 when it was determined a chemical reaction takes place when certain carbohydrates, proteins and starchy foods are heated. It was designated a probable carcinogen after research confirmed a correlation with cancer cell growth.
Additional motivation to cut out fried and processed potatoes and other foods
Potato chips and French fries are already on most peoples’ list of foods to avoid or eat only in moderation. Increased awareness about their potential to contribute to cancer cell growth will likely cause even more people to think twice before indulging in these foods.
Other ways to reduce acrylamide consumption include striving not to overcook meats, potatoes and grilled foods at home. While dark browned or blackened foods have an appealing flavor, they come with risks to your health.
Instead, consider steaming, boiling or lightly sautéing foods to minimize acrylamide exposure. In addition, avoid eating heat-processed foods like crackers, packaged cookies, graham crackers and boxed cereals like corn flakes.
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