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Eating French fries regularly could kill you, new study reveals

french fries

A new study brings some ominous news for the junk food lovers. According to the study, consuming two to three portions of French fries or potato chips every week could send you to an early grave!

It is well known that French fries – the mouthwatering, crispy treats are actually very unhealthy. They are deep-fried in unsaturated fats and then smothered with salt and pepper. Therefore, some folks might think it would be a healthy option to fry them in good oil (such as olive oil) and not use any salt. After all, potatoes cannot be so unhealthy. But, “No,” say the researchers. They advise you to eat potatoes boiled, baked or steamed but not fried.

french fries

The researchers reached their findings after analyzing data of more than 4,400 adults in the U.S.

Co-author of the study Luigi Fontana, of Brescia University Medical School and CEINGE Biotecnologie Avanzate – both located in Italy – and colleagues reported their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

french fries
Any type of fried potato, such as has brown can cause early death (Image: Creative commons)

Some previous research have labeled potatoes as unhealthy. Last year, a study found that consuming four or more portions of potatoes each week may increase high blood pressure risk.

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The researchers of this new study believe the effects of potato consumption on mortality has not been studied thoroughly. So, they sought to investigate this by recruiting 4,440 American adults. The participants, whose age was between 45 to 79 years at study baseline, were a part of the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) cohort study. All subjects were followed up for an average of 8 years.

french fries
Potato chips are bad as well (Image: Creative commons)

The participants completed a food frequency questionnaire, which the researchers used to determine their overall weekly potato intake, as well as their consumption of fried and unfried potatoes each week.

A total of 236 of these participants died during the 8-year follow-up.

Those who died were the participants who consumed the most fried potatoes. And it wasn’t only French fries that were found to be the principal reason for early death, but any type of fried potatoes such as, potato chips, hash browns and tater tots were found to be fatal.

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Tater tots were found to be as bad as French fries (Image: Creative commons)

Overall, adults who consumed around 2-3 portions of fried potatoes each week had twice the risk premature death, compared with participants who did not eat fried potatoes. At the same time, consuming more than 3 portions further heightened this risk.

However, no link was found between consuming unfried potatoes and risk of early death.

french fries
Researchers advise you to have baked potatoes instead of fried (Image: Creative commons)

“The frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk. Additional studies in larger sample sizes should be performed to confirm if overall potato consumption is associated with higher mortality risk,” the authors write.

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It is important to note that the study produced only a link between eating fried potatoes and an increased risk of death; study however, does not suggest that fried potatoes, themselves, are the culprit. Other variables, like poor eating habits and lifestyle choices, may be in play. Still, the authors believe the results offer food for thought.

french fries
Boiled potatoes will do no harm, say the researchers (Image: Creative commons)

Is Acrylamide responsible?

While, the researchers could not explain why fried potatoes may cause early death, some experts point to a compound called Acrylamide. Acrylamide is a chemical compound that was discovered in some starchy foods in 2002. This compound forms in starchy foods fried at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), but not in foods cooked below this temperature. US government health agencies have termed it a carcinogen because it has been shown to cause tumor formations in the thyroid, adrenal glands, and the lungs. Previous studies have found higher levels of acrylamide in potato chips and French fries compared with other foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that acrylamide levels in foods pose a “major concern” and that more research is called for to determine the risk of dietary acrylamide exposure.

french fries
Acrylamide is a compound that causes cancer. The compound forms in starchy foods, such as potatoes fried in high temperature.

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Should you stop eating French fries?

Potatoes are the most consumed vegetables in the U.S., and perhaps in many countries across the globe. Unfried white potatoes contain a good amount of fiber, vitamins and micronutrients, and are relatively healthy, write the authors. They say the nutrients in these potatoes “could have counterbalanced the detrimental effects of their high glycemic index.” On the other hand, fried potatoes typically contain lots of fat and added salt.

Until then, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recommends 3 to 5 servings of vegetables each day. While potatoes are included in their list, they advise people to prepare these vegetables in low fat and not fry them.

So, the next time you’re asked “Do you want fries with that?” you may want to consider your answer carefully.

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Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who has been writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. A voracious eater, Salahuddin only dines at restaurants that offer free refills on rice.