Warning: Carcinogens are hiding in your favorite munchies!
Ok, but I have to confess—I occasionally crave—and eat—a few potato chips here and there. I love the extra crunchy natural-style chips cooked in healthier avocado oil or coconut oil, especially after a hard workout when I have lost a lot of sweat and am craving salt, carbs, and potassium.
However, I am seriously considering reducing the frequency of my little vice because of the latest news I’ve seen on the carcinogens in potato chips, french fries, crackers, pretzels, corn chips, cereal, and crispy crust pizza. While these foods are generally not considered all that healthy anyway, due to unhealthy fats, starchy grains that spike blood sugar, and other unhealthy processed food ingredients, now there is one more reason to at least reduce your intake of foods that are starchy, browned, fried or roasted.
Potato chips and French fries top the list of the worst offenders, with cereals, toast and cookies close behind. High temperature cooking such as frying, roasting or broiling is the worst, while steaming or boiling produces the least carcinogens.
When starchy foods are cooked and browned, a chemical compound forms that can increase your risk of cancer. The chemical, acrylamide, occurs from a chemical reaction between the sugars in the food and an amino acid. The World Health Organization stated that levels of acrylamides in some foods do pose a “major concern”, but more research is needed to determine just how dangerous this risk can be.
Acrylamide was once believed to be only an industrial ingredient in plastics and cigarette smoke. But around 2002, researchers discovered it was also in some of our foods. Previous studies have shown that high levels of acrylamide in the diet can cause neurological damage and cancer.
Some of the problems of eating foods high in acrylamide include a reduction in the body’s production of glutathione, your most powerful and important antioxidant. Acrylamide can damage genes, neurons, and cells; as well as altering the balance of your endocrine system. And this study published in the American Association for Cancer Research, linked acrylamide to double the risk of ovarian cancer at amounts as small as one serving of potato chips a day. And this study from the Netherlands of 120,000 participants found after 13 years, that acrylamides in their diet increased multiple myeloma and follicular lymphomas. This study shows the risk of kidney cancer increases by 59%. And the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found acrylamide intake increases LDL Cholesterol and raises inflammatory markers for heart disease.
Foods containing the highest acrylamide levels:
Potato chips 546 mcg/kg
French Fries 698 mcg/kg
Breakfast cereal 131mcg/kg (depending on type)
The UK takes the acrylamide issue so serious it has recently started a public health campaign, “Go for Gold” to remind people to avoid eating well-done toast, roasted and browned potatoes and chips. The controversy continues however, as some studies show that acrylamide in animal studies requires large doses to be toxic, but other scientists say that there is no minimum threshold and that all exposure creates some degree of risk.
Considering that acrylamides are found in the highest amounts in foods that you should avoid eating on any regular basis anyway, here is just one more reason to avoid these foods. Just avoid French fries, potato chips, cookies, toast and corn chips. In general, for better health, controlling blood sugar, and reducing bodyfat, it is best to minimize starchy foods like bread, cereal, and chips—but this is yet another reason to minimize them in your diet to avoid excessive exposure to carcinogens like acrylamides.
But rest easy, because if you are eating a Paleo type diet that is low in starchy fried foods, cookies, and chips, then you are on the right track. Other things you can do to protect yourself from occasional acrylamides in foods is to eat a diet high in antioxidants—like fresh, organic veggies and fruit. Tea–especially green tea–contains plenty of polyphenols to protect you, and red wine is full of another antioxidant, resveratrol, that also contains protective benefits. Incidentally, dark chocolate has lots of protective polyphenols as well. Diallyl trisulfide, a compound found in fresh garlic that has been roasted, smashed or minced, fights off the effects of acrylamides, and is a potent immune system booster as well.
Don’t forget about the powerful protective benefits of herbs and spices. Cinnamon, turmeric, basil, rosemary and oregano are potent sources of antioxidants that can help. And, according to Dr. Mercola, supplementing with N-acetyly-cysteine also can help replace your precious stores of glutathione, depleted by this harmful ingredient.
Other tips to keep the acrylamide out of your diet:
- Don’t refrigerate potatoes before cooking. Refrigeration before cooking has been shown to increase acrylamide in potatoes.
- Frying, baking, roasting and broiling are the biggest creator of acrylamide, but boiling and steaming are the lowest.
- Longer cooking times increase acrylamides.
- Go for the golden color, instead of dark brown to reduce the acrylamides you are exposed to
Bottom line: As much as you can — avoid fried, roasted or baked starchy foods… especially french fries, potato chips, and corn chips; as well as processed cereals, breads, and crackers. You can always find healthier paleo versions of baked foods that contain less acrylamides than the normal starchy versions.
Not only are starchy baked foods like bread, cookies, and cereal empty calories with very little nutrition, but they are also insulin increasing/fat-storing, cancer-promoting foods.
Herring, K. (2013). Acrylamide in foods and five ways to protect yourself. The Healing Gourmet. Retrieved from
Kirby, J. (Jan 2017). Roasting And Frying Starchy Foods Could Increase Cancer Risk, Agency Warns. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/brown-roast-potatoes-toast-cancer-warning_uk_5885bc68e4b0f94bb3042af0
Mercola, J. (2012). When you heat plant based foods you get acrylamide and cancer. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/09/when-you-heat-natural-plantbased-foods-you-can-get-acrylamide-and-cancer.aspx
National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet, (2008). Acrylamide in Food and Cancer Risk. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet