Anyone who bothers to read the nutrition facts and other information on the back of a potato chip bag in California has likely seen this caveat: “Warning: this product contains acrylamide, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity. Acrylamide is not added to the products, but is created by browning potatoes. The FDA does not recommend that people stop eating potatoes. For more information, see the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov.”
So the bottom line is, the California government thinks we should watch out if we eat potato chips, but the federal government says, “Go ahead, enjoy.” Who should we believe? Why, also, do Californians have to beware of all things fried, as it seems when you delve deeper into this issue, when the rest of the country (except in New York City) couldn’t care less if everything they eat floats in grease?
The fact is—and we should be grateful for this—California has a history of being more nutrition conscious in general. We have a longer growing season for fruits and vegetables, and a vast variety of such. The rest of the United States is envious of California’s wealth of healthy foods. We also have a reputation for encouraging and endorsing organic and pure foods. Despite the failure to approve Phttp://Proposition 37roposition 37 last November, most of us want healthy, non-GMO, natural food.
Acrylamide was found by Swedish scientists in 2002 to occur in foods that have been fried, especially for long periods and/or at high temperatures. Potatoes seem to be at the top of the list for forming this compound, although any plant-based foods high in carbohydrates, and cigarette smoke, are also prone for acrylamide formation. Previously it had been only in use in industrial manufacturing of a broad range of products. It has been known for some time, in that usage, to be a lethal nerve toxin to animals and humans. When it was discovered in food, the experiments performed subsequently produced cancer in animals. Such tumors developed were in the oral cavities, reproductive systems, thyroid gland, and nervous system. In a Danish study of postmenopausal women, higher incidences of breast cancer were reported in women with elevated levels of acrylamide in their bodies. (Olesen PT, Olsen A, Frandsen H, et al. Acrylamide exposure and incidence of breast cancer among postmenopausal women in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. International Journal of Cancer 2008; 122(9):2094–2100.)
Yet the Food and Drug Administration, in its usual display of wisdom, feels there is no reason to combat the problem of acrylamide formation in our potato chips, French fries, or other fried goodies. Some companies like Frito-Lay have been offering baked chips for a long time. Steaming or boiling foods is not known to form acrylamide, but frankly, who wants boiled fries? The very word “fries” connotes how the potato is processed. Can you, then, imagine a fast food worker asking “Would you like some boils with your order?” That would certainly get customers running out the door.
We in California are lucky that such matters are taken seriously. We do have options on our own, as well, to take the initiative and practice healthy cooking at home. Boiled vegetables are not despicable if care is taken not to drain the nutrition and taste out of them. Raw, of course, is best, although not always palatable. Few people would care for raw potatoes, for instance. With the great abundance and variety of vegetables available to us, however, we can be assured that nutritious meals are possible without risking intake of unhealthy chemicals.
For more information on the health problems associated with acrylamide, see this link from the National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/acrylamide-in-food