They’re your cheeseburger’s sidekick: deep-fried, doused in salt and dipped in ketchup. A new study is warning that eating french fries is tied to an increased risk of a shortened lifespan.
While it’s no surprise that fries aren’t the healthiest option, a new American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study suggests that eating the side dish just twice a week is enough to increase your risk of death.
It doesn’t matter if you’re snacking on fries, tater tots, curly fries, hash browns, home fries – any variation that involves fried potatoes.
“Few studies have assessed the association between potato consumption and mortality. We investigated whether potato consumption – including fried and unfried potatoes – is associated with increased premature mortality risk in a North American cohort,” the study abstract reads.
The eight-year study followed the health of 4,440 people between 45 and 79 years old. The participants filled out food questionnaires that helped scientists figure out how often they were eating potatoes.
By the end of the eight-year study, 236 people died. The scientists said that even after they played around with over a dozen factors, potato consumption didn’t really affect risk of death.
So they decided to zero in on the types of potatoes people were eating. Turns out, the group who ate fried potatoes of any variety about two to three times a week faced an increased risk of dying.
Unfried potatoes, such as baked or mashed potatoes, wasn’t tied to an increased risk of death, though.
“The frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk. Additional studies in larger sample sizes should be performed to confirm if overall potato consumption is associated with higher mortality risk,” the study suggests.
But critics suggest that readers should take the study – but not their fries – with a grain of salt. For starters, the researchers are pointing to an association, not direct causation.
It’s also unclear if it’s the fried potatoes that caused death or if the study participants were grappling with health woes or making other unhealthy lifestyle choices.
This isn’t the first time health officials worried about french fries and fried food in general.
This year, for example, the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) warned that regularly indulging in fried, browned and burnt food could be increasing your risk of cancer.
Acrylamide, a substance that’s produced when starchy foods are cooked for too long at high temperatures, is tied to elevated cancer risk, at least in animal studies.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer lists acrylamide as a “probable human carcinogen.”
And then there are the studies warning that fast food contains excess salt, fat and empty calories.
Potatoes are packed with potassium, vitamins B6, B3 and C, manganese and fibre. While they’re nutrition powerhouses, your best bet is to make sure you’re not eating them deep fried and with a handful of condiments.
Read the study’s full findings.