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French fries, kids, and breast cancer

by Dr. Randy


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 3-5 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. These are all foods recommended for young children in 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 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-imflammatory effect, and for adequate hormone production. It is recommended that at least 50 percent of children’s dietary fat should be saturated fats.

Michels KB, et al. Preschool diet and adult risk of breast cancer. International Journal of Cancer 2005 (Aug 10) Epub ahead of print.