2002-08-03 / Columnists

Health and Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

Reports Confirm Carcinogens
In French Fries and Snack Chips

As parents, we try our best to make sure that our children eat right.  As a realistic parent, we know how difficult this can be at times. The outright junk food with glaring colors and huge grains of sugar encrusted on the top are immediate "no-no's". Who would have thought of the All- American French Fry as a cancer-causing culprit? Particularly when that is the #1 food on any children's menu and the ubiquitous birthday party food.

Recent reports confirm that popular American brands of French fries and snack chips contain disturbingly high levels of acrylamide. According to laboratory tests commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Swedish Government scientists, two months ago, first discovered the cancer-causing chemical in certain fried and baked starchy foods.

"The FDA has been strangely silent about acrylamide", CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said.  "It should be advising consumers to avoid or cut back on the most contaminated and least nutritious foods while more testing is done across the food supply. The FDA also should be intensively investigating ways of preventing the formation of this carcinogen."

Fast-food French fries showed the highest level of acrylamide among the foods CSPI had tested with large orders containing 39-72 micrograms.  One-ounce portions of Pringles potato chips contained about 25 micrograms, with corn-based Fritos and Tostitos containing half that amount or less.  Regular and Honey Nut Cheerios contained 6 or 7 micrograms of the carcinogenic substance.

Acrylamide in Foods: Micrograms per Serving

Water, 8oz., EPA limit 0.12

Boiled potatoes, 4 oz.    

3 Old El Paso Taco Shells, 1.1 oz.    

1 Ore Ida French Fries (from package), 3 oz.                   

5 Ore Ida French Fries (baked), 3 oz. 

28 Honey Nut Cheerios, 1 oz.  

6 Cheerios, 1 oz.

7 Tostitos Tortilla Chips, 1 oz. 

3 Fritos Corn Chips, 1 oz.

11 Pringles Potato Crisps, 1 oz. 

25 Wendy's French Fries, Biggie Size, 5.5 oz.

39 Kentucky Fried Chicken Potato Wedges, Jumbo, 6.2 oz. (est.)

52 Burger King French Fries, large, 5.5 oz.

57 McDonald's French Fries, large, 6 oz.

The amount of acrylamide in a large order of fast-food French Fries is at least 300 times more than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water.  Acrylamide is sometimes used in water treatment facilities.

"I estimate that acrylamide causes several thousand cancers per year in Americans", said Clark University research professor Dale Hattis. Hattis, an expert in risk analysis, based his estimate on standard EPA projections of risks from animal studies and limited sampling of acrylamide levels in Swedish and American foods.

Acrylamide forms as a result of unknown chemical reactions during high-temperature baking or frying.  Raw or even unboiled potatoes test negative for the chemical. CSPI is urging the FDA to inform   the public of the risks from acrylamide in different foods, and to work with industry and academia to understand how acrylamide is formed and how to prevent its formation.

There has long been reason for Americans to eat less greasy French Fries and snack chips," Jacobson said.  "Acrylamide is yet another reason to eat less of those foods."

A California attorney has formally demanded that McDonald's and Burger King place a cancer warning on their French Fries, as required by the state's Proposition 65. Burger King face a legal deadline of late June and McDonald's of early July to respond.

The World Health Organization (WHO) held a three day closed meeting in Geneva with 23 scientific experts specializing in carcinogenicity, toxicology, food technology, biochemistry and analytical chemistry convened to discuss the health ramifications of the acrylamide discovery, which has since been confirmed by the British, Swiss, and Norwegian governments.

They came up with the following statement:

"After reviewing all the available data, we have concluded that the new findings constitute a serious problem, but our current limited knowledge does not allow us to answer all the questions which have been asked by consumers, regulators and other interested parties."

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) though, has been standing on the sidelines of what is fast becoming a major global debate, according to CSPI, which has called on the agency to treat acrylamide with greater seriousness. (Excerpted from Joseph M. Mercola, D.O.)

It is no small wonder that we are seeing more chronic, degenerative illnesses in younger and younger people.  Obesity is epidemic, especially in our children. Fast, fat, foods are the culprit.  It surely is not easy to prepare "three squares" a day. In fact, I'm not sure that exists in any household anymore. We are living in a different time. Moms are working outside the home. School lunches are notorious for bad nutrition and questionable freshness of ingredients.  What with swimming, tutoring, soccer, piano and AOL after school, eating a well-balanced dinner can be a catch-as-catch-can affair 4 out of 5 nights per week.

To ensure a little damage control, it is possible to keep the refrigerator stocked with fruits, raw vegetables and healthy dips as well as yogurt (without the added fruit), cottage cheese (organic, low fat), a selection of olives and hard cheeses. Whole grain breads, muffins, nuts and nut butters are also acceptable fast foods.

It simply requires a change in conscious commitment to a better quality of life and longevity. Molecular biology bears out the fact that genetic mutations that occur in childhood through adolesence are the ones that lie dormant and are triggered later in life to cause cancer and other degenerative diseases. Whatever we can eliminate from our diet that we have information on, we should. A simple rule of thumb to follow is that the closer to nature it is, the better for you it is. The most natural and simple, the better. The least processing, the better. The longer shelf life it has, the least nutrition it has. If the package says that it can keep for 6 months to 1 year, you can be pretty sure that it is not alive and cannot "feed" your system with quality nutrition. Keep it simple, keep it natural, and keep it real. And keep smiling!! We learn something new every day and that's a good thing.  As my husband would say, "We're only mere Divine mortals".

May The Blessings Be!       

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