New research suggests that French fries may be more detrimental to our health than we thought

Fried potatoes may now be linked to anxiety and depression, in addition to obesity, diabetes and heart disease

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published April 25, 2023 3:30PM (EDT)

French Fries (Getty Images / Mark Tan / EyeEm)
French Fries (Getty Images / Mark Tan / EyeEm)

Though they're tasty and quite satisfying, French fries may actually be more harmful to our health than we thought, according to a new research paper published Monday in the journal PNAS.

Fried foods, which are high in saturated fat and trans fat, have long been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But recently, a research team in Hangzhou, China found that increased consumption of fried foods, particularly French fries, was also linked with a 12% higher risk of anxiety and a 7% higher risk of depression than in people who didn't eat fried foods, per CNN.

The study evaluated over 140,00 people over the course of 11 years.

"After excluding participants diagnosed with depression within the first two years, a total of 8,294 cases of anxiety and 12,735 cases of depression were found in those that consumed fried food, while specifically fried potatoes were found to have a 2% increase in risk of depression over fried white meat," CNN wrote.

Researchers suggested that acrylamide — a chemical compound that's formed when certain foods, like potatoes, are fried, roasted or baked — is what's behind a higher risk of anxiety and depression. This was determined in a separate paper referenced in the new study, in which researchers exposed zebrafish to acrylamide, causing them to experience higher anxiety levels and a reduced ability to socialize and swim closely with other zebrafish.

Although zebrafish were believed to be chosen due to their vulnerability to acrylamide toxicity — Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the study told CNN via email — researchers noted that the findings are preliminary, considering that zebrafish behavior is not synonymous with human behavior.

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The study did find that those who consumed more than one serving of fried food regularly were most likely to be young men and younger consumers overall, hence why the risks were also higher within these two groups. Researchers added that those with anxiety or depression consuming more fried foods for comfort could also explain the link between French fries and negative mental health effects. A 2020 study, which was cited in the new study, specified that "poor nutrition may be a causal factor in the experience of low mood, and improving diet may help to protect not only the physical health but also the mental health of the population."

This isn't the first time French fries are the subject of a new health study. In 2018, the famed food sparked a heated online debate after the New York Times published an article quoting Dr. Eric Rimm, a Harvard University professor, who recommended eating just six French fries with your meal.

"Am I really a monster?" Rimm wrote in an e-mail to Vanity Fair. "A lot of tweeters in the U.K. and the U.S. act like I just caused a third world war!"

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Anxiety Depression Food French Fries Health Mental Health Well Being