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Acrylamide: What Is It, and Which Foods Contain It?

For me, the most fascinating segment of Morgan Spurlock's documentary on McDonalds, called Super Size Me, involved the man who has become famous for eating almost nothing but Big Macs since 1972. Don Gorske is the Guinness world record holder for number of Big Macs eaten, having passed 19,800 Big Macs as of June, 2004.

Don has eaten anywhere between two and nine Big Macs per day, almost every day since 1972, and yet, his height-weight ratio and blood tests indicate that he is in relatively good health.

What I find particularly interesting is that he reports almost never eating French fries. This is in line with my personal belief that French fries are the worst item on the menu at fast food restaurants. Sure, coca cola, processed cheese, and factory farmed meats aren't much better. But what is it about deep-fried potatoes that makes them so harmful to health?

They are loaded with trans fats, known to cause immune system depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, sterility, birth defects, decreased ability to produce breast milk, loss of vision, and weakening of your bones and muscles.

French fries are also high in acrylamide, a possible carcinogen that is found in starchy foods that have been fried or baked at high temperatures.

The World Health Organization first began to look at the dangers of acrylamide in 2002 after the publication of a study in Sweden that linked acrylamide consumption with cancer. Since then, independent studies in the United States, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and England have confirmed the link between acrylamide consumption and risk of developing cancer.

A few months after the original report out of Sweden, The Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC did its own study on the acrylamide content of the most common starchy foods in the North American diet. Their results were as follows:

Food Serving Acrylamide (mcg)
McDonalds French Fries, large 6.2 oz. 82
Burger King French Fries, large 5.7 oz. 59
KFC Potato Wedges, Jumbo 6.2 oz. 52
Wendy’s French Fries, Biggie 5.6 oz. 39
Ore Ida French Fries (baked) 3 oz. 28
Pringles Potato Crisps 1 oz. 25
Fritos Corn Chips 1 oz. 11
Cheerios 1 oz. 7
Honey Nut Cheerios 1 oz. 6
Boiled Potatoes 4 oz. less than 3
Water 8 oz. 0.12 (EPA limit)

Put another way, the amount of acrylamide found in a large order of French fries at a fast food restaurant is at least three hundred times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of drinking water.

"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.1

On June 16, 2005, the California-based Environmental Law Foundation filed notices with the state of California's attorney general against:

  • Lay's potato chip maker PepsiCo Inc.
  • Pringles maker Procter & Gamble Co.
  • Cape Cod potato chip parent Lance Inc.
  • Kettle Chips maker Kettle Foods Inc.

California law requires that companies warn their customers if their products contain known carcinogens. And acrylamide is listed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a chemical known to cause cancer.

Tests conducted by the Environmental Law Foundation indicated that these potato chip brands "far exceeded the levels requiring warning labels under California law." Specifically, they noted that "Cape Cod Robust Russet potato chips exceeded the required warning level by 910 times, while Kettle Chips Lightly Salted chips exceeded the level by 505 times."

Regardless of how this most recent legal battle goes, we are already well aware of the strong link between acrylamide consumption and risk of developing cancer. Please remember that raw or boiled potatoes test negative or very low for acrylamide. Acrylamide is formed in substantial quantities when starchy foods are fried or baked at high temperatures.

The bottom line is that we should minimize consumption of French fries and potato chips. So the next time that circumstances lead you to McDonalds, do yourself a favor and be like Don Gorske. Have a Big Mac and skip the fries. Better yet, have a salad from their lighter choices menu.

1. Press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest on June 25, 2002

Related Posts:

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on Acrylamide

Top Twenty Acrylamide-Rich Foods


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I really like baked potatoes/ sweet potatoes. I presume the acrylamide content for these would be higher than for boiled. I wonder if preparing potatoes/ sweet potatoes in their skins would protect them?

Thanks so much for posting this. I've heard all sorts of abstract ideas on why fried foods are so bad for you, as most people have, but I never really understood the particulars. I do try to eat a healthy plant-based diet, but recently I was thinking that I could make french fries if I just fried them in a healthy cooking oil, like olive oil, instead of using something like lard (which is what I've heard McDonald's uses). I thought that then I'd just have a combination of potatoes and olive oil, so what's the big deal? Now I really know what the big deal is. Thanks again, and thanks for all of the truthful, straightforward information you continue to provide to all of your readers, even when the truth goes so strongly against conventional beliefs.

Frying with olive oil (or otherwise using it at high heat) is not advisable as it is a fragile oil and easily damaged, resulting in negative effects on the body. Coconut oil or (pastured) butter is better. Or lard! As for lard, I understand McD's discontinued using that decades (or so) ago when it became (wrongly) demonized in the industry-driven push to vegetable oils. Now most restaurants use soybean or canola oil for fries which are very much worse for several reasons!

Coconut oil and butter are high in saturated fats and should therefore be avoided altogether. In general, it's probably better just to avoid fried foods altogether as a group.

I "just say no" to fried foods. Yes they taste great but you pay a price... Fried foods are difficult to digest, cause heartburn and other stomach upset, and are too high in fat for a healthy diet.

I'd also be interested if you would elaborate on the "negative effects on the body" that you attribute to "damaged" olive oil.

yes coconut oil has 'some' saturated fat but it has been tested and found to be very healthy You need some saturated fat and this is the very best kind. I have been using 2 to 4 tablespoons a day for almost 2 years I have more energy and am losing weight '18' pounds, it makes me less hungry and I feel more peaceful. Sometimes when hungry I eat a tablespoon of coconut oil and soon my hunger is gone..

Hi there,

I have to comment on you post regarding coconut oil. I think you may have got your facts wrong here. Virgin coconut oil that is raw is actually a very good and digestible fat. Yes,you're right about it being a saturated fat, but as it's a vegetable saturated fat of the Middle chain fatty acid family it does not cause digestive, cholesteral, or heart problems. Unlike animal saturated fats, or long chain fats.

Hope this helps you to differenciate between all the misinformation that's out there on saturated (animal) fats versus the good guys.
Kind regards


Who says that Saturated fat are to be avoided? coconut oil is a God sent (like most natural food) nutrient with exceptional properties. And because it is saturated, it does not oxidize and therefore does not create free radicals.

There is plenty of evidence (see Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes) that saturated fats are not the cause of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Saturated fats are more stable and less likely to go rancid, they are important building blocks for body and brain.

People looking at diet, nutrition and health continually make several errors, but the one I;ll mention right now is they don't differentiate between plants and animals fed their natural diet versus those fed an industrial diet. So for example one of the best fats for you is what I call "righteous lard" lard from pigs fed a natural diet rather than GMO corn/soy, in other words pasture raised. also butter from pasture raised dairy cows, both of these are packed with Omega 3s.
Why has fish been recommended for so long as very good for you? because its was one of the last wild food resources. I have yet to see a credible comparison between wild fish and farm raised fish in terms of their nutrient values.

How often are we told not to eat the skin on chickens? And yet the skin is packed with nutrients, especially if you can get pasture raised chickens. I don't believe in taking supplements for health, because I think if we eat a natural diet, of other animals and plants fed their natural diets, we get everything we need. (Except we need sunlight for endogenous vitamin D.)

Taubs in his book mentions that researchers had realized after the fact that in making assumptions about the hunter gatherer diet, they failed to take into account that they were eating all parts of the animal, including bone marrow.

And Michael Pollan points out the errors of reductionist thinking that have driven so much of dietary, nutrition and health advice....

It's a good option to simply avoid fried food.However if you did consume it , it is a fact that oils that are high in saturated fat are healthier for frying simply because saturated fat has a higher breakdown point - where trans fats are formed.

"As for lard, I understand McD's discontinued using that decades (or so) ago when it became (wrongly) demonized in the industry-driven push to vegetable oils."

It was also because of the highly-publicized un-covering of the fact that they used beef lard in their french fries, even in India, where Hindus specifically are forbidden from consuming cows. Many had assumed that the fries were safe, and McD gave them no warning otherwise. That's beyond just "culturally insensitive". Try to imagine how you'd feel if you found out that the fries had been cooked in dog fat!

DR. KIM, I LOVE YOU! However, I find this article on acrylamide foods to be somewhat unresearched. It doesn't fall into line with other statistics. And we should agree that statistics can and do all lie, in some way, as they are always incomplete by their nature! For instance, statistics on coffee drinking show that nations whose coffee consumption is highest also have longest life spans. Finland and Sweden are listed as such! Trans fats are produced by high heating of poly-unsaturated vegetable oils, such as canola and all others, often touted as the best oils in which to fry. On the other hand, coconut oil and palm oils, are saturated fat oils that to my understanding do not produce trans fats! It is assumed then that frying in these oils would not be unhealthy! I don't know the mechanisms related to acrylaminde; but I know that today's truth is tomorrow's lie! That margerine is healthier than butter is classic! The opinions related to chocolate and coffee keep changing. My personal belief is "moderation in all things" is best! Combine that with proper amounts of daily exercise, and you have my own recipe for long life! Animals were not designed to be sedentary by nature! Survival is meant to take physical effort! I would appreciate relpies by knowledgeable folks, especially Dr Kim!