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New Study Links Fried Foods With Cancer - 2002-04-26

Could fried foods, like potato chips cause cancer? A new study conducted in Sweden is pointing to a link that is likely to make many people think twice before they eat that next french fry.

The Swedish study found the process of baking or frying starchy foods everything from potatoes to breakfast cereals produces high amounts of the chemical acrylamide, already known to cause tumors in laboratory animals.

Scientist Eden Tareke took part in the study. "In the experiments, raw potatoes and cooked potatoes didn't contain acrylamide. But when we fry them in forms of french fries, for example, they contain high degrees of acrylamide," he says.

Their study has not yet been subject to peer review, but the Swedish researchers believe they have in fact, established a strong link between fried, starchy foods and high levels of a probable cancer-causing substance. "I can say it's too high to neglect," says Mr. Tareke.

In fact, Sweden's equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thinks it is reasonable to conclude that as many as several hundred cancers diagnosed in the country each year can be linked to the presence of acrylamide. Here in the United States, the FDA has not yet seen the study and will not comment on the findings until it does.

But does this alleged link to cancer now mean everyone should stop eating everything from french fries to baked bread? Some experts call the findings more sensational than convincing. Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is president of the American Council on Science and Health. "There is simply no evidence in the literature that any chemical introduced in the cooking process in this way is putting us at any inflated risk of cancer," she says. "The authors are speaking totally out of speculation. Animal experiments are very important in potentially predicting human cancer risks but you certainly can't do it on the basis of just a couple of studies."

Cancer risk or not, doctors have long warned that starchy, fried foods are high in fat and cholesterol and bad for you anyway. Still, they constitute a basic food item for billions of people around the world, not to mention a multi-billion dollar staple of the fast food industry. The question is whether these findings will now convince people to change their diets.