French Fries, Kids and Breast Cancer
French fries have appeared in the medical research news once again. This time a large study examined the correlation between breast cancer incidence later in life and a list of 30 foods eaten during the preschool years. Interestingly, the food with the highest correlation to breast cancer was french fries.
For one additional serving of french fries per week consumed during ages 3 to 5 years, the risk of breast cancer increased by 27 percent. The other notable findings were reduced risks of breast cancer for children who consumed whole milk (compared to skim and low-fat milk), butter and liver.
The study known as the Nurses' Mothers' Study included over 238,000 female nurses. The study identified 582 nurses with invasive breast cancer and compared them with 1,569 nurses free of breast cancer. Among cases, 63% were premenopausal at diagnosis, 27% were postmenopausal and 10% were of uncertain menopausal status. Mothers of the nurses were asked to complete a mailed, self-administered questionnaire on early life events of their nurse-daughter including information on foods consumed by the daughter during preschool years. Of mothers still living and able to participate, 91% completed and returned the questionnaire.
No conclusions were drawn about the possible causative factors in these foods. Frying foods damages fats as they are exposed to extreme heat. The damaged polyunsaturated oil and cholesterol release free radicals into the body that may in turn damage tissues and cells and promote disease processes. In addition, many fried foods are cooked with hydrogenated fats that are also associated with inflammatory disease and cancer.
Another problem with fried foods is the presence of a class of carcinogens called acrylamides. These are formed when starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, corn, oats, or wheat are subjected to high temperatures (above 360 degrees) for prolonged periods, as in deep-frying. French fries, potato chips, doughnuts and even oven-baked french fries contain acrylamide. This chemical is monitored in drinking water because of its ability to cause cancer.
By contrast, children need saturated fats for calcium and other mineral absorption, for improved retention of omega-3 fats, for their anti-inflammatory effect and for adequate hormone production. It is recommended that at least 50 percent of children's dietary fat should be saturated fats.
It is interesting that this study found a decreased risk of breast cancer for girls who drank whole milk (compared to lower fat milk) and who ate butter. It is important to note that consuming dairy products can cause health problems for many children. But for those children who do drink milk and eat other dairy products (yogurt and cheese), it is preferable for them to use whole milk products, as outlined my book Child Health Guide: Holistic Pediatrics for Parents (North Atlantic Books, 2005) and Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions (New Trends Publishing 2001). The best and most digestible dairy products are those that are minimally processed. Raw milk is best. Both pasteurizing and homogenizing milk cause unique problems. For a more complete discussion, see the article “Milk: Should Your Child Drink It?” at www.hpakidsorg.
French fries face the heat
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has filed a lawsuit against fast food chains and potato chip manufacturers for providing french fries and potato chips to consumers without adequate health warnings. The suit claims that acrylamide is a known carcinogen, and California's laws specifically require foods to contain warnings of dangerous ingredients. The companies named in the suit include McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Wendy's, Frito-Lay, Kettle chips and others.
California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment estimates consumers who eat french fries receive as much as 125 times the amount of acrylamide that requires a warning under current regulations, according to Lockyer. Potato chips deliver 75 times the warning level, he said. Environmental groups have filed three other lawsuits asking for warning labels on products like french fries that contain acrylamide, a chemical used to treat sewage.
In August 2005, McDonald's settled another California lawsuit for $8.5 million that alleged the fast food giant failed to inform the public about delays in its efforts to come up with a healthier cooking oil. McDonald's is still under fire in several other lawsuits that accuse the chain of causing obesity and other health problems.
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