Do McDonald's Fries Contain Acrylamide? (And Why You Should Care)

McDonald's fries have more ingredients than people realize, which is often a cause for concern among health-minded consumers. Even more alarming are claims, which have been shared on TikTok and elsewhere on the internet, that the chain's fries contain a chemical called acrylamide that's also present in cigarette smoke. While these assertions are rooted in fact, the truth is that acrylamide is unlikely to cause health effects when present in food.

The FDA reports that the chemical results from a natural reaction that occurs when specific foods are subjected to high temperatures. These foods include potatoes, grains, and coffee, which means that acrylamide is not exclusively limited to McDonald's French fries. Additionally, the amount of acrylamide that develops from high-heat cooking processes involving select foods is substantially lower than the concentration of the chemical in cigarette smoke. However, consumers should understand the chemical's potential impact on health to make informed dietary choices.

How does acrylamide impact your health?

It should be noted that the presence of acrylamide in food is an ongoing topic of research among numerous governmental agencies and organizations. Studies have also found a link between substantial doses of acrylamide and cancer in testing involving animals, and the chemical is characterized as a likely human carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens.

When it comes to the levels of it that are found in food, there's no association between the chemical and increased cancer risk among humans. Despite this lack of evidence, the FDA encourages manufacturers, producers, and purveyors of food to take active measures to reduce the concentration of acrylamide. The FDA is also continuing its study of it in food to determine whether these smaller concentrations may still result in health concerns.

While it's worth reflecting on these facts, consider that McDonald's fries are no more hazardous to your health than versions from other restaurants or even those prepared at home. Much like the myth that states McDonald's burgers don't rot because of chemicals (the real reason has to do with moisture levels), claims about the chain's fries being overtly hazardous to your health should be taken with a grain of salt.

Tips on avoiding acrylamide in food

As explained by the FDA, two factors can contribute to a higher concentration of acrylamide — the type of food and the cooking method used. Accordingly, you can reduce your exposure to the chemical by boiling or steaming items like potatoes, as opposed to roasting and frying them at high temperatures. And because exposure to high temperatures for a prolonged period can also increase acrylamide levels, reducing cooking times is beneficial when using specific cooking methods.

When eating at McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants, you have no control over the cooking methods used or how long foods are fried at high temperatures. That's why people worried about acrylamide exposure may want to avoid these establishments. Instead, they may want to consider eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet featuring things like lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

However, remember that moderate intake of McDonald's fries and other fast-food items that may contain the chemical is unlikely to significantly affect your health. So, for the best results, avoid being one of the number of people who eat McDonald's daily.