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Fries Get Bum Rap

It happens constantly: news writers get all hot and sweaty whenever “bad food” news releases are dropped on their desks. Red meat is bad for you. Coffee is bad for you. Booze is bad for you. To be fair, that last one could be correct, but only if you overindulge. And isn’t that the crux? Everything in moderation, that’s the key.

So it was bound to happen sooner or later. Potatoes, specifically fried potatoes, are under fire now. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states the consumption of fried potato foods, such as french fries, potato chips and hash browns, correlates with an increased risk of death.

The study involved a group of 4,400 adults between 45 and 79 years of age. Researchers monitored these folk’s eating habits for eight years using food-frequency questionnaires. The study determined that participants who ate fried potatoes at least twice a week or more had an increased chance of dying, while those eating non-fried potatoes (so boiled or baked) were unaffected.

The results are misleading. The study was observational in nature, and researchers admitted it couldn’t be said that eating fried potatoes directly causes early death. Also, the results were concluded using information gathered from an osteoarthritis study that required participants either be overweight or have experienced knee pain or a knee injury over the previous 12 months. It’s likely that population sample itself was skewed to include adults who were obese and led a sedentary lifestyle – two factors that could influence one’s early mortality.

A ray of hope: “The consumption of unfried potatoes was not associated with an increased mortality risk,” the study noted. No word if those unfried potatoes were drenched with butter, slathered with sour cream and sprinkled with pre-shredded cheddar and bacon bits.

Speaking of bacon, people in general have become so risk-averse that we (well, not me) love to demonize food groups based on studies that seem to change with the wind. White bread – or really, all bread and other wheat-based foods. Processed meat, such as wieners and bacon. Cheese Whiz and processed cheese slices.

After some research into the topic of high cholesterol levels in people, and the role of saturated fats, I’ve learned the real culprit (don’t blame the messenger) is sugar. Sugar is added to so many foods, and as studies continue to take place, sugar is often the mitigating factor in poor health and early death results. For instance, when it comes to reducing high blood cholesterol levels, which saturated fats are always blamed for, it’s interesting to note that sugars may actually be the main culprit to high cholesterol. Indeed, a different study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that increased consumption of saturated fats actually slowed down the progression of atherosclerosis in a group of postmenopausal women.

In addition, a paper published in early 2016 in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases states that although cholesterol plaques narrow arteries, the cholesterol in our food is not the main culprit in atherosclerosis. Our body produces most of its cholesterol, but what we eat affects cholesterol too. While some foods high in saturated fats, such as processed meats, are connected to heart disease, other high saturated fat foods (such as dairy) have no such effect.

But added sugar, especially fructose, which is a component of table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and most caloric sweeteners, tends to increase total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), lower HDL (the good cholesterol) and raise triglycerides.

At the end of the day, I go back to the “everything in moderation” mantra. A well-balanced diet includes every food, including whole, fresh, raw and cooked, and yes, even some processed. After all, if you can’t order fries with that hamburger, what’s the point?

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