I read this article that other day with an outrageous headline: ‘”Eating fried potatoes linked to higher risk of death,” study says.’
First of all, everyone one of us is at risk of death because, guess what? We’re mortal! But the article says:
People who eat fried potatoes two or more times a week double their risk of an early death compared to those who avoid them, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found.
But then it also says:
The study is observational, meaning the researchers simply tracked the behavior of a group of people and found an association between one behavior — eating fried potatoes — and another factor — early death. Because it is an observational study, Veronese [the principal investigator of the study] and his co-authors note it cannot be said that eating fried potatoes directly causes an early mortality — it would require more research to draw such a firm conclusion.
But he thinks the preparation of fried potatoes leads to all sorts of unhealthiness. Of course, there are “other factors” that could lead to the result besides the fact of eating fried potatoes.
The CEO of the National Potato Council (who knew this vegetable had its own council?) wasn’t about to take these findings at face value (whatever the face value is):
National Potato Council CEO John Keeling said the “study isn’t relevant to the general population” since the data was collected for an osteoarthritis study and includes only patients with arthritis. “Potatoes are inherently a very healthy vegetable,” said Keeling in an email. He said a medium-sized potato is 110 calories, has no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and provides nearly a third of the daily vitamin C requirement with more potassium than a banana.”How the potato is prepared will impact the calorie, fat and sodium content,” said Keeling, however the basic nutrients remain “no matter how it is prepared.”
Based on the data in the study, Keeling said, “it is very much a stretch to brand fried potatoes, or any other form of potato, as unhealthy.”
And another researcher, Susanna Larsson, was quick to note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with eating potatoes. And in any case:
“Fried potato consumption may be an indicator of a less healthy (Western) dietary pattern which is associated with increased mortality,” said Larsson, who also conducted a studyof potato consumption. Her study did not find an increased risk of cardiovascular disease linked to eating potatoes.
The article goes on to mention acrylamide:
Acrylamide is “a chemical produced when starchy foods such as potatoes are fried, roasted or baked at a high temperature,” explained Schiff in an email. The browning process is actually a reaction that produces this chemical one shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and considered toxic to humans, said Schiff. Acrylamide is also a potential cause of cancer, she said.
“You can reduce your intake of acrylamide by boiling or steaming starchy foods, rather than frying them,” said Schiff. “If you do fry foods, do it quickly.”
So the plot thickens. It’s not potatoes per se, or even fried potatoes. It’s starchy foods fried too quickly.
I like fried potatoes. In fact, on Friday I had a craving for fresh cut french fries that for various reasons went unmet for 24 hours. On Saturday I was visiting my parents in Haliburton, Ontario at the same time as two other family members of french fry eating age (I mention that because there was also a baby). They have a great place in town called Baked and Battered, and it serves incredible chips (it’s a fish and chip place and bakery).
I could have bought just enough to satisfy my craving. But I know people. And what I know about people is: most of them (maybe not my mother) LOVE fries as much as I do. So if I had bought just enough to satisfy my craving, my craving would not have been sufficiently dealt with because I would have had to share and, upon sharing, would have ended up with less. So I bought the large.
The large wasn’t just big. It was huge (for a box of fries). I would call it “family size.” It turns out I made a good call because when I brought these fries home to have with our lunch, everyone, including my mother, devoured them (I had the most, being the one with the craving who bought the fries). They were lip-smackingly fantastic. And we had a family bonding experience over them.
And that was awesome. And not a single one of us thought about increasing our risk of mortality. You know what I call that headline about fried potatoes and increased risk of mortality? Food alarmism.
When Sam and I talked about it the other day I said something like: don’t eat french fries right before you go sky diving or you’re screwed.
Here’s the thing. Fries aren’t going to kill you. Like with most things we eat, it’s good to diversify. You don’t want your entire diet to be made up of fries. But you don’t want your entire diet to made up of any one thing, even lettuce or kale or blueberries.
Food alarmism is in itself damaging because it encourages us to be fearful of one of life’s great pleasures. I like potatoes in all sorts of forms and preparations, including fried potatoes. And I know loads of other people who feel the same way. And to them I say: enjoy! And while you’re at it, enjoy some other foods too!
What’s the most annoying “food alarmism” you’ve encountered lately, either in the headlines or in your day to day interactions with people you know?