Fact: The potato is the most popular vegetable in the United States. So I suspect you won’t be very surprised to learn that Americans eat loads of french fries, the vast majority cooked in that sizzling oil at fast-food restaurants. They actually eat an estimated 4.5 billion pounds a year, or about 30 pounds a person. French fries may taste good to many people, but scientists agree they are not very good for you.

 

Not only has eating large quantities of fried food in general been linked to heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, lowered ''good'' cholesterol and obesity, but researchers have shown a connection between cancer and acrylamide, a chemical compound created by deep-frying or cooking some foods in certain ways. In fact, both the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer regard acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen.”

 

Now, however, there may be a way to reduce the amount of this compound in fries and other foods, according to researchers.


Although acrylamide forms naturally when certain french fries and other foods are cooked, Donald S. Mottram and colleagues still found a way to attack the problem. For the first time, they were able to connect changes in natural potato components (glucose, fructose, amino acids, moisture) that are formed during preparation and cooking with the amount of acrylamide created. The team also developed a computer model to better predict ways of reducing acrylamide levels in cooking.

 

The commercial process of making french fries involves selecting potatoes, sorting and cutting them, adding sugar, blanching, drying and freezing them. Then, they are fried up at a restaurant. The researchers studied many of these steps to figure out how they contribute to acrylamide formation. It turns out that minimizing the ratio of fructose to glucose (two simple sugars humans can use for energy) in cut frozen potato strips used to make french fries can lower the levels of acrylamide that end up in this fast-food staple.

 

The scientists reported in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that, armed with this new information on how preparation and cooking can promote differing amounts of acrylamide in french fries and other foods, they should be able to make changes in the preparation and cooking process that will cut down on the levels of this compound.


“Kinetic Model for the Formation of Acrylamide during the Finish-Frying of Commercial French Fries,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

 

Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

 

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