|Can french fries really be bad for one;s health or can they still be considered a treat?|
|Pity the embattled French fry. Shunned for political reasons-the War on Terror begat freedom fries. Then the low-carb revolution, spurred by bestsellers like The South Beach Diet, really heated up, casting the poor potato as a villain.
And finally, a 2002 Swedish study found that frying or baking starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes at high temperatures produces acrylamide, a white, odourless chemical said to cause cancer and reproductive problems in laboratory rats fed high doses.
Killer carbs? Not so fast. It's all just a question of dosages, says Dr Jeffrey Bernstein, executive director of the Florida Poison Information Center/University of Miami-Jackson.
"In toxicology everything is a poison. You can die if you drink too much of water. Too much Oxygen destroys the lungs. Everything causes some problem if you live on it exclusively."
For example, fish's Omega-3 fatty oils are beneficial but fish has mercury in it. "You can't live solely on fish without developing a problem," Bernstein says.
"Would I advise people to stop eating French fries? No, that's silly. They would end up substituting something else with another chemical," Bernstein says. "A diet should be varied-fruits, vegetables, starches, proteins, fats."
The German government is encouraging chefs to alter cooking methods to lower acrylamide levels in potatoes. Some others want US governmental intervention regarding acrylamide. Bernstein acknowledges that more study needs to be done on acrylamide's impact on French fries.
Scientists who studied the data with Manson concluded that although acrylamide may harm workers who are exposed to it, the amount in a typical American diet is too low to pose a danger. The human body is also resourceful at combating toxins like acrylamide. Take cyanide, the favourite badguy concoction in spy movies.
"The person bites the capsule and is dead in seconds," Bernstein says. "With a huge dose that happens, but we all eat cyanide in small amounts. It's in B12 vitamins and in our bodies. A lot of people whack themselves with shots of B12" and we have enzymes in our body that take care of the cyanide, he said. "These are chemicals that are bad in big doses, probably not bad in minute doses."
Acrylamide is used in treating water and waste and making glue, paper, plastics, grouting agents, cosmetics and permanent-press fabrics. It's in cigarette smoke and, as the Swedes discovered, many cooked foods, from breakfast cereal and coffee to taco shells and bread. The highest levels are found in starchy foods that are fried or deep-fried, like French fries.
German chefs have looked at how to lower frying temperatures while preserving the crispness that gives a French fry its snap.
But it really all comes down to discipline. French fries should not be a staple of anyone's diet, Bernstein says. They are a treat and should be taken as such.