A new study found that eating fried potatoes increases the risk of an early death. A group of researchers found that people who eat fried potatoes two or more times a week double their risk of an early death, compared to individuals who avoid eating fried spuds or who only eat them once a week.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 7. The researchers said that eating potatoes that haven’t been fried was not linked to a similar risk of an early death. Dr. Nicola Veronese, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Research Council in Padova, Italy, said that fried potatoes consumption is increasing around the world, which could be dangerous.

Fried Potatoes
Eating fried potatoes more than twice a week may increase the risk of an early death. Image credit: De’Longhi.

Participants who died earlier consumed fried potatoes two or more times a week

The National Potato Council reported in 2014 that Americans consumed 112.1 pounds of potatoes per person that year. They noted that 33.5 pounds were fresh potatoes, while the remaining 78.5 were processed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also reported that the majority of processed potatoes Americans eat are French fries.

Veronese and fellow colleagues have been following 4,440 people aged 45 to 79 for eight years to study osteoarthritis. They decided to momentarily set aside their research on osteoarthritis and instead they focused on the participants’ consumption of potatoes.

Fried Potatoes
Although most people may have assumed that fried potatoes could be unhealthy, there is limited scientific data on this issue.  Image credit: Zuzka Light.

The researchers divided the study’s participants into subgroups based on the frequency on which they consumed potatoes each week. They noted that over the eight-year period of the survey, a total of 236 participants died. The team analyzed the data for each group, and Veronese and his colleagues found that people who ate fried potatoes two to three times each week doubled their risk of early death compared to those participants who ate non-fried potatoes.

Trans fats in cooking oil may also increase the risk of premature mortality

Veronese noted that fried potatoes include any preparation in which a fryer is required, such as French fries, potato chips, and hash browns. The researchers said that age or sex of the participants did not influence the results. However, they noted that men were more likely than women and younger participants were more likely than older participants to consume fried potatoes.

The study was observational, which means that the researchers only followed the behavior of a group of participants and found a link between one behavior –eating fried potatoes several times a week- and another factor –early death. As the study was observational, Veronese and his team said it cannot be said that eating fried potatoes directly causes an early death. They explained that more research would be required to state such a firm conclusion.

Fried Potatoes
“Even if it is an observational study, we believe that the cooking oil, rich in trans-fat, is an important factor in explaining mortality in those eating more potatoes,” said Veronese, according to CNN. Image credit: Zuzka Light. Image credit: Youtube.

Trans fats are known to raise the “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to the development of health adversities like cardiovascular disease. Veronese added that other important factors such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and consumption of high quantities of salt might also play a role in the early mortality of those who eat two or more portions of fried potatoes each week.

Fried potatoes contain acrylamide, a toxic chemical

According to John Keeling, CEO of the National Potato Council, the study isn’t relevant to the general population because the researchers only used data collected for an osteoarthritis study and included only patients with arthritis. Keeling told CNN in an email that potatoes are inherently a very healthy vegetable, and he noted that a medium-sized potato has 110 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and provides almost a third of the daily vitamin C requirements with more potassium than a banana.

“How the potato is prepared will impact the calorie, fat, and sodium content,” said Keeling, according to CNN.

He added that despite that, the necessary nutrients remain no matter how the potato is prepared. Keeling believes that the study is an attempt to brand fried potatoes, or any other form of potato, as unhealthy.

Stephanie Schiff, a dietitian at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York, said the danger when eating fried starchy foods –like French fries- is acrylamide. Schiff was not involved in the study.

“[Acrylamide is] a chemical produced when starchy foods such as potatoes are fried, roasted or baked at a high temperature,” told Schiff to CNN.

Schiff noted that acrylamide is a potential cause of cancer. She recommends reducing the intake of acrylamide by boiling or steaming starchy foods, as opposed to frying them. Schiff added that if you make fry foods, you have to do it quickly.

The dietitian also recommended going “lighter,” because the darker the food, the more acrylamide it may have; and to store potatoes outside the refrigerator, as the higher temperatures could lead to producing more acrylamide.

Source: CNN