What is Acrylamide? French Fries and Your Health!

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

What is acrylamide in foods like french fries and bread?What is Acrylamide? The most basic food such as bread, biscuits, potato chips and French fries (that are eaten by millions around the world everyday) contain alarmingly high quantities of acrylamide, a substance believed to cause cancer.

This report came from a study carried out of Stockholm University, jointly with Sweden’s National Food Administration, a government food safety agency. The report explained that the heating of carbohydrate-rich foods, (such as potatoes, rice or cereals) formed what is acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen.

The research was deemed so urgent, that the scientists decided on taking the unusual step of releasing it to the press, in July 2002, before the results were even officially published in an academic journal, in order to warn the general public.

At the press conference, scientists highlighted exactly what is acrylamide and revealed that French fries sold at everyone’s favorite fast-food restaurants such as Burger King and McDonald’s contained about 100 times the one microgram per liter maximum permitted by the World Health Organization for drinking water. (One milligram, or 0.001 grams, contains 1,000 micrograms). Furthermore, an ordinary bag of potato chips contains up to 500 times more of the substance using this same criteria as set by the WHO. This information certainly sounds very scary.

Fast-food French fries showed the highest levels of acrylamide among the foods tested by an independent agency, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI had tested, with large orders containing 39 to 72 micrograms. One-ounce portions of Pringles potato crisps contained about 25 micrograms, with corn-based Fritos and Tostitos containing half that amount or less. Regular and Honey Nut Cheerios contained 6 or 7 micrograms of the carcinogenic substance.

What is Acrylamide? How Much is in Your Favorite Foods?

Acrylamide in Foods: Micrograms per Serving
Water, 8 oz., EPA limit 0.12
Boiled Potatoes, 4 oz. < 3
Old El Paso Taco Shells, 3, 1.1oz. 1
Ore Ida French Fries (from package), 3 oz. 5
Ore Ida French Fries (baked), 3 oz. 28
Honey Nut Cheerios, 1 oz. 6
Cheerios, 1 oz. 7
Tostitos Tortilla Chips, 1 oz. 3
Fritos Corn Chips, 1 oz. 11
Pringles Potato Crisps, 1 oz. 25
Wendy’s French Fries, Biggie, 5.5 oz. 39
KFC Potato Wedges, Jumbo, 6.2 oz. (est.) 52
Burger King French Fries, large, 5.5 oz. 57
McDonald’s French Fries, large, 6 oz. 72

What is acrylamide and what are the effects of french fries that contain it?Acrylamide is a colorless and crystalline solid in nature. It is possibly a medium hazard form of human carcinogen. It induces gene mutations and has been shown, in animal tests, to cause benign and malignant stomach tumors. Acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food especially at high heat (as in oven-baked or deep-fried). This discovery is new. It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food.

Deep fried food should be avoided as much as possible. In addition to acrylamide, it is prepared using, and therefore contain a high concentration of, trans-fat. Trans-fat is a special kind of polyunsaturated vegetable oil that has been transformed, under a heating process, into a solid form at room temperature. Trans-fat is used for most deep-frying and extensively used in processed food. It has been shown to cause cancer in many studies.

Steaming is a better choice. If you wish to deep fry, use saturated oil such as palm or coconut oil rather than polyunsaturated fat such as corn oil or mono-unsaturated fat such as olive oil as the heat changes the chemical structure of the oil into trans-fat – the worse kind of fat you can ever consume.

What Do French Fries Contain?

  • Starchy potato which behaves like a sugar in your body and contributes to diabetes.
  • Acrylamide, a proven carcinogen.
  • Trans-fat, the worst type of fat and which also can lead to cancer.

The importance of a balanced and healthy diet cannot be stressed enough when it comes to the maintenance of health and staving off possibly debilitating conditions. Having dietary habits that are not conducive of an efficiently working gut and microbiome can lead to aggravating symptoms of the neuro-affective response in the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress responseSM complex. The microbiome, gut and brain axis is an important pathway that is responsible for the regulation of the supply of neurotransmitters in the body. Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages throughout the body to position the mind in a balanced state between alertness to deal with stress, and rest. An example of a neurotransmitter is norepinephrine, which is what tells the brain to be alert. Over activation of norepinephrine can lead to symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety and insomnia.

What is acrylamide