How easy it is to develop a taste for french fries and potato chips. Who doesn’t delight in some fries and ketchup or some potato chips as a snack? Unfortunately these universal foods have a very dark side to them in terms of their effect on health. Potatoes are an important food source for many people and they are the 4th largest food crop in the world.
Both can be labeled “junk” food, but why? First, let’s look at the source of the fries/chips, as they are both made from the same raw Russet potato, and some economics. When you buy a potato, it may cost $1.00/pound in its raw state. As soon as that raw potato is somewhat processed to turn it into a fry or a chip, the nutritional value plummets and the cost per pound skyrockets. A pound of raw potatoes that sell at the market for $1.00/pound climbs to $ 2.00/pound as a french fry and climbs to $4.00/pound as a potato chip. Each step along the way to becoming a chip, robs the potato of nutritional value. In essence, we end up paying more for less. That is simply the economic issue, but the dark side lies in the damage that these processed foods can do to the body.
Processed potatoes cooked at high heat contain byproducts that are known carcinogens and trans fats linked to a number of health conditions. Recent research has now found a potential link between fried potato consumption and increased risk of death. This risk is introduced because in the processing of the potato, transformational changes occur to the nature of the potato starch. There are several forms of carcinogenic compounds that form as a result of making fries and potato chip processing. Let’s take a closer look at four types of carcinogens that can form while potatoes (and many other foods) are being processed:
- Acrylamides – This chemical is created when starchy vegetables, especially potatoes, are baked, fried, toasted, or roasted at temperatures of 212 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. As the carbs are cooked, the sugar combines with asparagine, an amino acid, and forms acrylamide. A sign of that is the darker brown color these foods have when cooked at these temperatures. This chemical has been proven to increase cancer risk, and affect the nervous system as well. Acrylamide is also found in coffee, cereals, crackers, breads and dried fruit, to name a few. In fact, it may be found in up to 40 percent of calories eaten each day.16
- Heterocyclic amines (HCA) – These detrimental compounds are formed from over-cooking food at high temperatures, thus charring the food. Any overcooked fries/chips potentially contain HCAs even though they are more commonly found on meats.
- Charred food contains AGE’s, advanced glycation end products, which form free radical in the body and can lead to cancer. Glycation occurs when food is cooked at high temperatures, which is done to sterilize it from pathogens. Sugar combines with protein to produce these end-products that accumulate in the tissues. The result of high concentrations of AGEs in tissues leads to low level chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and kidney failure.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) – These carcinogenic compounds are formed when smoke from the oven, gets into the air while cooking at high temperatures. These carcinogens then penetrate the food and you consume them. If you are smoking meats, vegetables, or even cheese on the grill or in a smoker, your vegetables will be impregnated with these cancerous carbons. In the plant where the chips are being manufactured the concentrations are even higher because of continuous processing. As a result the chips are getting large concentrated doses before they’re even packaged.
If the above wasn’t enough to make you rethink your food choices, trans fat products are often used to fry the potatoes and chips, adding another layer of risk. here are two types of trans fats; one is made by hydrogenating vegetable oil in a chemical process and the other is found in natural meat products and has no harmful effects on your health. Needless to say, something so delicious can be so innocently deadly. That doesn’t mean that eating these foods from time to time will wreak your health, but near daily consumption of foods that contain these harmful ingredients will have an effect over time. If eating potatoes in some form is an unbreakable habit, and if eating for holistic health, then I suggest you consider either yams or sweet potatoes as a substitute, but beware of overcooking, and also consider a plain baked potato, although the sugar content is quite high.