Cancer Risk from French Fries

Cancer Risk from French Fries
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The association between cancer and the consumption of deep-fried foods may be due to carcinogens formed at high temperatures in animal foods (heterocyclic amines and polycyclic hydrocarbons) and plant foods (acrylamide).

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the latest study on “[d]ietary patterns and breast cancer risk among women,” those eating healthier had only a quarter of the odds of breast cancer, whereas less-healthy eating was associated with up to nearly eight times the odds of breast cancer. Included in the unhealthy pattern were deep-fried foods, which have previously been linked to breast cancer, as well as pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, oral and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the voice box.

No deep fried foods?! What’s a Southern belle to do? Well, instead of deep-frying, how about “the ‘traditional Southern’ [diet] characterized by high intakes of cooked greens, beans, legumes, cabbage, sweet potatoes and cornbread [which] may reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer significantly.”

What about the “Consumption of Deep-Fried foods and Risk of Prostate Cancer”? We didn’t know, until now. They found that eating French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and doughnuts was associated with about a third greater odds of prostate cancer, and after stratifying for tumor aggressiveness, found even slightly stronger associations with more aggressive disease, suggesting that regular intake of deep-fried foods may contribute to progression of prostate cancer as well.

What’s in fried foods that’s so bad for us? Just heating oils that hot can “generate potentially carcinogenic…compounds,” and then “known carcinogens,” such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, form when the muscles of chickens and fish are cooked at that temperature. And, deep-fried plants can form different chemicals, like acrylamide.

I did a video about acrylamide back in 2008, suggesting it’s a probable human carcinogen. Since then, a study has suggested pregnant women may want to cut back on French fries to protect the growth of their baby’s body and brain, and based on a study feeding people a little bag of potato chips every day for a month, it now seems acrylamide “may cause…inflammation” as well—which may explain its purported role in cancer progression.

Acrylamide intake has been associated in some studies with endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer, lung cancer; tied also to kidney cancer, and esophageal cancer. But, how much cancer risk are we talking about? We didn’t know, until now.

An “excess lifetime cancer risk assessment” for French fries. They picked on French fries, because they comprise by far the greatest percentage contribution of acrylamide to the diets of children. They estimated that at most, one or two boys and girls out of every ten thousand would develop cancer eating French fries that they would otherwise not have gotten if they hadn’t eaten French fries. So, it’s not as bad as eating something like fried fish, or fried chicken—but, how much is that saying, particularly for female hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer?

Now, the level of cancer risk associated with French fries in both boys and girls depends for how long and hot they’re fried at. In Europe, the food industry swore that they’d self-regulate, and “control…fry…times” to decrease acrylamide levels. But, they apparently didn’t. No subsequent change in acrylamide levels in French fries.

Researchers continue to urge that “the cooking temperature should be as low [as possible] and the cooking time should be as short as possible while still maintaining a tasty quality.” Wouldn’t want to reduce cancer risk too much—might not taste as good!

Blanching the potatoes first reduces acrylamide formation, but potato-chip companies complain that not only will it muck with the flavor, but reduce the “nutritional properties,” by leaching away some of the vitamin C. But if we’re relying on potato chips to get our vitamin C, acrylamide is probably the least of our worries.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Michael Bentley and Daniel Y. Go via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the latest study on “[d]ietary patterns and breast cancer risk among women,” those eating healthier had only a quarter of the odds of breast cancer, whereas less-healthy eating was associated with up to nearly eight times the odds of breast cancer. Included in the unhealthy pattern were deep-fried foods, which have previously been linked to breast cancer, as well as pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, oral and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the voice box.

No deep fried foods?! What’s a Southern belle to do? Well, instead of deep-frying, how about “the ‘traditional Southern’ [diet] characterized by high intakes of cooked greens, beans, legumes, cabbage, sweet potatoes and cornbread [which] may reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer significantly.”

What about the “Consumption of Deep-Fried foods and Risk of Prostate Cancer”? We didn’t know, until now. They found that eating French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and doughnuts was associated with about a third greater odds of prostate cancer, and after stratifying for tumor aggressiveness, found even slightly stronger associations with more aggressive disease, suggesting that regular intake of deep-fried foods may contribute to progression of prostate cancer as well.

What’s in fried foods that’s so bad for us? Just heating oils that hot can “generate potentially carcinogenic…compounds,” and then “known carcinogens,” such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, form when the muscles of chickens and fish are cooked at that temperature. And, deep-fried plants can form different chemicals, like acrylamide.

I did a video about acrylamide back in 2008, suggesting it’s a probable human carcinogen. Since then, a study has suggested pregnant women may want to cut back on French fries to protect the growth of their baby’s body and brain, and based on a study feeding people a little bag of potato chips every day for a month, it now seems acrylamide “may cause…inflammation” as well—which may explain its purported role in cancer progression.

Acrylamide intake has been associated in some studies with endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer, lung cancer; tied also to kidney cancer, and esophageal cancer. But, how much cancer risk are we talking about? We didn’t know, until now.

An “excess lifetime cancer risk assessment” for French fries. They picked on French fries, because they comprise by far the greatest percentage contribution of acrylamide to the diets of children. They estimated that at most, one or two boys and girls out of every ten thousand would develop cancer eating French fries that they would otherwise not have gotten if they hadn’t eaten French fries. So, it’s not as bad as eating something like fried fish, or fried chicken—but, how much is that saying, particularly for female hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer?

Now, the level of cancer risk associated with French fries in both boys and girls depends for how long and hot they’re fried at. In Europe, the food industry swore that they’d self-regulate, and “control…fry…times” to decrease acrylamide levels. But, they apparently didn’t. No subsequent change in acrylamide levels in French fries.

Researchers continue to urge that “the cooking temperature should be as low [as possible] and the cooking time should be as short as possible while still maintaining a tasty quality.” Wouldn’t want to reduce cancer risk too much—might not taste as good!

Blanching the potatoes first reduces acrylamide formation, but potato-chip companies complain that not only will it muck with the flavor, but reduce the “nutritional properties,” by leaching away some of the vitamin C. But if we’re relying on potato chips to get our vitamin C, acrylamide is probably the least of our worries.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Michael Bentley and Daniel Y. Go via flickr

Doctor's Note

For my 2008 video, see Acrylamide in French Fries.

For more on heterocyclic amines, see:

There are things we can do to counteract the effects of these carcinogens, though:

I touch on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke and Is Liquid-Smoke Flavoring Carcinogenic?

Certain fats may play a role in breast cancer survival, as well; see Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, & Chicken and Breast Cancer Survival & Trans Fat.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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