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Potato Chips an Obesity Dilemma or Healthcare Hazard?

Monday, March 08, 2010
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"Ten year old Varun will never finish his packed school lunch of chapatti and subzi unless it is accompanied by a pack of potato chips," complains his mother. Varun and many kids his age feast on this popular snack. A child's birthday party is incomplete without chips on the menu. Packets of potato chips and crispies are gobbled up for no one can eat just one.

Anita a college student living on campus swears, "I survive on chips and crispies specially during exams." The tangy flavors add spice to an unappetizing meal served in the cafeteria. Chips are the only readily available snack on and off campus and they are cheap, perfect for my budget.

How many of us grab a bowl of chips to de-stress. Most varieties of chips have a way to satiate the mind into a false belief of feeling pleasure, when in fact the body is being harmed. This sense of pleasure could be true, as chips are rich in carbohydrate and release "serotonin" when consumed, thus being a great stress buster. Many find the crackle of chips awfully pleasing and chips are simply irresistible.

Potato chips have always topped the "junk foods" list. It is well accepted that chips are empty calorie, high on fat and devoid of any vital nutrients. The high salt and trans fats increase the risk of heart disease. The new improved vacuum pouches are now labeled "trans fat free". But there is one more component that worsens the unhealthy food status of chips, "acrylamide".

`Acrylamide' is produced when carbohydrate rich foods are cooked at very high temperatures as in deep fat frying, microwave cooking or baking. The acrylamide content of a single pouch of potato chips is 500 times more than maximum level allowed in drinking water.

 A recent study by Naruszewicz et al, 2009 suggests that long term consumption of chips or foods high in acrylamide may cause inflammation and contributes to early development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The other health hazards associated with continual intake of acrylamide are-

•    Increase in generation of free radicals that damage cells.
•    Damage to DNA can increase the chance of developing cancer.
•    Damage to nerves, resulting in numbness and loss of muscle control.
•    Synthesis of advanced glycated end products (AGE's). These are formed when glucose binds with protein, fat or carbohydrates. The glycated nutrients can no longer be used by the body and are excreted from the body.

Locally made chips available in every nook and corner could be even more dangerous. Chips are fried in already oxidized oil that is re-used for weeks at a time. The acrylamide levels could be still higher. Thus, long term intake of acrylamide will certainly take a toll on your health.

Although potato chips taste great they are not your healthiest option for snacks. Here are a few healthy crunchy foods that could be a great substitute for chips
•    Home made baked chips. Try chips made with sweet potatoes as well.
•    Popcorn in varied flavors dressed with spices, or fresh herbs.
•    Small fistful of nuts-peanuts, cashews, dates.
•    Groundnut, sesame or roasted chana chikkies or granola bars (Check label for calories and fat content)
•    Homemade rice flakes chivda with nuts.

So, before these chips chip away at your health, learn to curb your craving for them. Remember, you always have a choice - so choose foods that won't stir up the regret factor in you once you've eaten through the bag or bowl.

By.Geetanjali Kelkar

1.    Naruszewicz M. Downar DZ, Kosmider A, Nowicka G, et al(2009) Chronic intake of potato chips in humans increases the production of reactive oxygen radicals by leukocytes and increases C-reactive protein: a pilot study. Am J Clin Nutr,  89:773-777'
2.    Exon JH. A review of the toxicology of acrylamide. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev, 2006;9:397-412

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User Comments

22 September, 2010 | Menoquil Menopause | Reply

Menoquil Menopause Awesome article, I am a big fan of this website, keep on posting that great content, and I'll be a regular visitor for a long time...looking for the next one....keep it up!!!

30 June, 2010 | Manish | Reply

Manish Potato chips are known to be high fat, high sodium and empty calories product but acrylamide content, another hazard of potato chips was never in limelight. This gives one more reason to health conscious people to avoid it.

05 June, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani Acrylamide content can be reduced by decreasing cooking time, by blanching potatoes before frying them.

04 June, 2010 | Shilpa | Reply

Shilpa Hi,
Being a health conscious person, I usually avoid potato chips as these are universally known to be very high in salt as well as fat. But acrylamide content is something which I m hearing for first time. Now I have one more reason to say no to potato chips…!!

28 March, 2010 | Mishi | Reply

Mishi Hi,Thankyou Nutritionvista team you have opened my eyes on potato chips and french fries and I will let my freinds also know about this information.Thankyou

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