The Power of the Potato

I am extremely lucky to have a family roast dinner every Sunday and fish and chips every Friday lunchtime but in the light of the recent potato scandal this may change.

The Food Standards Agency, who research about food safety and nutrition-related diseases in order to make the UK population’s food as safe as possible, have noticed a link between cancer and foods full of starch that are cooked at high temperatures. New Scientist magazine have suggested that this is due to ‘sugars and amino acids reacting together’ on heating to release chemicals. The chemical that the FSA are most concerned about currently is acrylamide which is said to be a carcinogen (causes cancer). There is no scientific evidence for this link in humans, however acrylamide does not seem to be a very healthy chemical to be ingesting.

Acrylamide is C3H5NO which is prop-2-enamide and decomposes without heat to form ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, putting it on the US’s list of extremely dangerous substances. It is clear why we should not be ingesting this dangerous substance from what we know from basic GCSE knowledge that carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which binds irreversibly to haemoglobin, in turn preventing oxygen forming oxyhaemoglobin and therefore causing cells to respire anaerobically. Ammonia is also a very unpleasant, pungent smelling gas (at school we only use dilute ammonia in chemistry lessons due to its smell and it also being known as an ‘extremely dangerous substance’.)

In the body acrylamide is thought to cause damage by converting to another compound causing DNA mutation during transcription. This can lead to uncontrollable divisions of cells in the body in numerous locations. [Please read my skin cancer blog for more detailed information about a particular cancer.]

The FSA’s hypothesis that acrylamide causes cancer derives from their study of giving water containing different concentrations of acrylamide to rats and mice in laboratories. The results from this were that several cancers were caused however we do not know if this is the same in humans as it would be unethical to do the same test on humans.

Interestingly, as waste water is treated with this chemical, it has been estimated that one glass of water contains around 500 times the amount of acrylamide as one portion of roast potatoes! Perhaps we should be worrying about our water intake instead!

This leads me to believe that we do not have to cut out roasted potatoes, baked jacket potatoes and fried chips all together but should reduce our intake or cook them at a lower heat and for less time in order to significantly decrease the amount of acrylamide entering the body. The FSA’s official advice is to ‘go for gold’ in colour of starchy foods, check the packaging for recommended cooking instructions and to not keep raw potatoes in the fridge releasing more sugars that could bind to amino acids making acrylamide when heated.


Emily Buchanan


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *