Fact or Myth: Do Potato Chips Contain Cancer-Causing Chemicals?

This is a Fact.

The European Union conducted a 3-year long study to investigate Heat-generated Food Toxicants. The report, which was published at the end of 2007, declared that there are more then 800-heat induced compounds, 52 of which are possible carcinogens. One such carcinogen, a dangerous chemical known as acrylamide, has been shown to increase your risk of developing cancer and potentially lead to neurological disorders.

How Does This Neurotoxin Creep Into Our Food?

Perhaps the raw foodies are on to something, as acrylamide forms when we bake, fry, toast, roast or grill healthy, natural, plant-based foods at high temperatures. During cooking, sugars and an amino acid called asparagine can react to form this toxin. Starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potato chips and french fries contain the highest levels of acrylamide, but truthfully any food cooked at temperatures higher than 250 F/120 C pose a possible risk. Even coffee contains acrylamide!

According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, heated protein-rich foods contain moderate levels of the chemical (5−50 μg/kg). Foods rich in carbohydrates, such as potato, beetroot, commercial potato products and crispbread contain the highest levels (150−4000 μg/kg), while uncooked or boiled foods show miniscule levels (

When a Trace Amount Can Have Tragic Consequences

In 2003 Swedish scientists investigated levels of acrylamide in popular dietary items, such as processed potato products, bread, cereal, biscuits, cookies and coffee. potato chips and cancer Researchers approximated an average daily intake of 31 μg/kg, levels that both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organization (WHO) deem hazardous to health.

In order to put these levels into perspective, consider that the federal limit for acrylamide in our drinking water is 0.12mg per 8 oz of water. Now consider that a 6 oz. serving of french fries delivers a whooping 60 mg of acrylamide – that’s 500 times over the limit!

Potato chips and cancer is the most dangerous culprit, so dangerous in fact that the state of California sued potato chip manufacturers for not issuing a warning to consumers about the possible health risks of crunching on their favorite chips. In 2008, potato chip companies such as Frito Lay agreed to lower levels of acrylamide to 275 parts per billion (ppb), a level that doesn’t warrant a potato chips and cancer label, but is still too risky for many people’s tastes.

Still not convinced to put down the chips? A 2005 study conducted by the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) demonstrated that potato chips surpass the legal limit of acrylamide levels by as little as 39 times and as much as 900 times!

Baked chips definitely aren’t the solution; the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that they may contain 3 times the amount of acrylamide as regular fried chips do. Let’s look specifically at Ore Ida’s Golden Fries: the traditional fried version contains 107 ppb, whereas the baked version contains 1098 ppb, very clearly showing that baked does not necessarily mean better.

Acrylamide’s Link to Cancer

Labeled a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide has been linked to estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Research has also found a connection between increased acrylamide intake and postmenopausal endometrial and ovarian cancer.

Acrylamide has also been associated with nerve damage and other neurological conditions. It has been used in industrial products such as cosmetics and plastics, and workers working with the compound have developed neurological conditions.

How to Avoid Acrylamide

Fortunately the EPA and FDA regulate acrylamide in our drinking water and materials that may mix with our food. Unfortunately, there are no regulations in effect that monitor the amount of the chemical in our actual food.

Boiling or steaming your food is preferable to baking or frying, and the shorter time you cook it, the healthier it will remain. Typically, the browner and drier the food, the higher the levels of acrylamide.

Nutritionists recommend soaking potatoes for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking, in order to preserve and protect nutrients.