French fries and potato chips are among the most popular foods on earth, for the very food reason that they taste really good. But while we might think that these popular snack foods just contain three ingredients – potatoes, oil, and salt – in reality there’s a chemical compound that’s created when potatoes are fried in hot oil, and it might be really bad for you.
Acrylamide is a chemical that’s mainly used in industrial processes like plastic production, and is also found in cigarette smoke. In 2002, it was discovered that when starchy foods are cooked at temperatures above 250 degrees, acrylamide forms because of a chemical reaction the sugars and amino acids in the food. Because more acrylamide is produced when the starch is cooked at high temperatures for longer periods of time, French fries and potato chips contain more acrylamide than other foods, according to Cancer.org.
So what are the negative side effects of ingesting this chemical? While “there are currently no cancer types for which there is clearly an increased risk related to acrylamide intake,” according to the site, it has been found to increase the risk of several types of cancer in lab rats and mice when given in very high doses. For this reason the World health organization has called it a “probably human carcinogen.” The national Toxicology Program and the Environmental Protection Agency back this opinion up.
If you’re looking to avoid ingesting acrylamide, it’s suggested that you roast or bake potatoes (which creates less acrylamide than frying) or boil them or microwave them with the skin on (which doesn’t create any acrylamide at all). Soaking sliced potatoes in water for up to a half hour before frying has also been shown to decrease acrylamide levels, and storing potatoes in the refrigerator has been shown to increase them. Also, the darker brown the fry, the more acrylamide, so make sure they don’t get past that golden color.