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Acrylamide in Chips: Potato vs Tortilla (Corn) Chips

Acrylamide in Chips

Not only do chips – whether made from potatoes or corn – add empty calories and truckloads of salt to your diet, they might also increase your risk of cancer. Chips, or crisps if you grew up English, contain a chemical called acrylamide. Acrylamide is not something that is added to chips but it is formed during the heating process when the starches in potatoes react to the high temperature.

According to data provided by the FDA/USDA, snack foods – including potato and tortilla chips – account for an estimated 25% of an average American intake of acrylamide. Potato chips alone account for about 11%. Other major source of acrylamide in modern diets include French fries, breads and bakery products, and cereals.

In the rest of this article, we compare various types of chips and crisps in terms of their acrylamide content. Note that this article only focuses on the acrylamide aspect of chips – there are many other chemicals and nutrients that also affect the nutritional profile of various corn and potato chips. However, if you really want to do yourself a favor, it is best to avoid chips altogether and snack on fresh fruit and veg instead!

Acrylamide in Potato Chips

Potato chips or crisps are a predominant part of the snack food industry in North America and many other Western countries, including Great Britain. They are made by deep-frying or baking thin slices of potato until crunchy, and then salted. When exposed to the high temperature used in the frying/baking process, the starches in potato chips start to form acrylamide.

It doesn't matter whether you snack on Pringles, Lay's Classic Potato Chips, or Grandma Utz's Potato Chips – all potato chips can add to your body's acrylamide load. However, while all chips contain acrylamide, there are significant differences between types of chips, and even between different samples. For instance, Utz's Home Style Kettle-Cooked Potato Chips scored the lowest of all tested potato chips with 117 per billion (ppb) of acrylamide, while the first lot of Utz Crisp All Natural Potato Chips contained a whopping 879 ppb of acrylamide. However, the second lot was found to contain only 433 ppb.

To put things into perspective, consider this: A one-ounce snack bag of potato chips that contain 1,000 ppb of acrylamide represents an amount of acrylamide that is just above the total average exposure by American afults.

Acrylamide in Tortilla Chips

Tortilla chips are made by cutting corn tortillas into wedges and then frying or baking those wedges. Like potato chips, tortilla chips form acrylamide during the heating process. Interestingly, however, the acrylamide levels in the tested tortilla chips were lower than in most potato chips. None of the tested tortilla chip lots exceeded 200 ppb, while values well over 200 ppb were the norm for potato chips.

Note: The acrylamide values referred to in the article above indicate acrylamide levels in individual purchased food products, and generally do not take into account unit-to-unit or lot-to-lot variation.

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