Can French Fries Be Fatal?

The title of a recent peer-reviewed paper is provocative: “Fried potato consumption is associated with elevated mortality.”  CNN’s headline is even more sensational: “Eating fried potatoes linked to higher risk of death, study says.”

What gives?

Researchers followed more than 4,000 participants and their potato consumption.  On one side were “French fries, fried potatoes, or hash browns.”  On the other side were “white unfried potatoes, including boiled, baked, and mashed potatoes and potato salad.”  236 participants died during the ensuing eight-years, and the researchers concluded that “the frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk.”

Not so fast, says the National Potato Council.  This research was merely a side exercise in a larger study of osteoarthritis.  The participants, all aged 45 to 79 with arthritis, were hardly a representative group.  And the study was purely observational.

“It is very much a stretch to brand fried potatoes, or any other form of potato, as unhealthy,” says National Potato Council CEO John Keeling.  Even the study’s authors admit “it cannot be said that eating fried potatoes directly causes an early mortality – it would require more research to draw such a firm conclusion.”  (CNN)

Nevertheless, French fry fans should be aware of acrylamide, a chemical that increases cancer risk in mice (its impact on humans is inconclusive).  Potato chips and French fries contain higher levels of acrylamide compared with other foods.  (National Cancer Institute)

Researchers in Turkey have developed a simple and rapid method for identifying low levels of acrylamide in potato-based foods.  Their method uses Agilent columns and an Agilent HPLC system coupled to an Agilent MS detector.

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