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Ingredients specifically in spicy chips cause cancer

What you may have heard

A story from 2013 of a 10-year-old girl with extreme stomach distress became front-page news after her physician attributed her sickness to eating spicy chips. The physician said that the harsh chemicals in these chips cause corrosion in the throat and stomach, causing stomach ulcers and potentially throat cancer.

What science tells us

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the 3 ingredients of biggest concern in spicy chips are red 40 lake, blue 1 lake, and yellow 6 lake. 

Epidemiological Evidence

Studies have shown that Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1 have no carcinogenic effects in humans, and the FDA has substantiated this claim (FDA).  There have not been studies that evaluate consumption of spicy chips and cancer risk.

Laboratory Evidence/ Supportive Evidence

There is limited laboratory evidence that shows a relationship between spicy chips and cancer. 

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Not classified

How to reduce your risk

Artificial colors are used to increase the appeal of foods that have little nutritional value, so one easy way to identify if a food product is lacking in nutrients is to look for food coloring.

There is currently no evidence that spicy chips are linked to corrosion in the throat and stomach, and by extension, there is no evidence that ingredients in these chips are linked to cancer. However, these chips are high in saturated fats (which can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood)

and LDL cholesterol (which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke) (AHA). Eating a high amount of foods low in nutrients and high in fat can also lead to obesity and extra weight, which can also raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers.

Bottom line

It is not likely that consumption of spicy chips increases cancer risk. However, these chips are high in saturated fats and should be eaten in moderation to avoid risk of heart disease, stroke, and other diseases.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 
Bunch et al.: Evaluating cytotoxicity of methyl benzoate in vitro 
Environmental Working Group (EWG): Cheetos 
Environmental Working Group (EWG): Takis 
American Heart Association (AHA): Saturated fat


July 7, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022