Acrylamides: The Hidden Danger in Your Favorite Potato Dishes
By: Devon Mendez
Potatoes, in all varieties, are one of the most beloved comfort foods in the United States, with the average American consuming nearly 117 pounds of potatoes per year, largely in the form of frozen French fries and tater-tots. While there is little argument that these fried delicacies are a favorite of many, these delicious dishes can pose a risk to more than your waistline. This risk occurs when potatoes are cooked using high temperature cooking methods (above 248 degrees F) such as frying, roasting, or baking. When high carbohydrate foods such as potatoes are cooked at these temperatures, their natural sugars and the amino acid asparagine, undergo a chemical change that producing the compound acrylamide. While this compound is a result of a natural processes, acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is recognized as a potential carcinogenic in humans by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, the FDA recommends that individuals limit the amount of acrylamide in their diets and do their best to consume their favorite potato dishes in the safest way possible.
By following some basic food storage, preparation, and selection tips individuals can minimize their acrylamide exposure and continue to enjoy their favorite potato-based foods.
Tips to reduce acrylamide exposure when consuming potatoes:
- Soak potatoes 15-30 minutes before baking or frying to help reduce their starch content, in turn reducing the amount of acrylamide produced during the cooking process
- Limit the number of potato dishes consumed that are prepared using frying, roasting, and baking
- “Wet” prep potato dishes, such as mashed potatoes and potato salad, do not lead to a significant amount of acrylamides
- Store potatoes outside of the refrigerator
- Refrigeration prior to cooking can increase the level of acrylamide produced during the cooking process
- Cook sliced potato products such as French fries and potato slices for less time
- Longer cooking times yield higher levels of acrylamides
- Aim for lightly browned potatoes rather than dark brown when cooking
While it is impossible to eliminate acrylamides from our diets, taking small steps to reduce day-to-day exposure can help reduce any potential risk. By following the simple steps outlined above, as well as consuming a diet containing a variety of foods, individuals can significantly reduce their exposure to acrylamide. Diet diversity is especially important in children, who often enjoy foods that are naturally high in acrylamides such as French fries, tater-tots, and potato chips. As with almost anything, moderation is key, and by enjoying a healthy variety of foods prepared in a variety of ways, we can all continue to enjoy all of our favorite fried and roasted potato dishes without too much concern.