It is classified as a "probable human carcinogen" by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. The European Food Safety Authority Panel on Contaminaints in the Food chain considers it a human health concern. A growing body of evidence is painting a clearer picture of its dangers. What is acrylamide anyway?
Exposure to acrylamide can come from various sources - smoking, second-hand smoke, ocucpational sources, toiletries, and even household items. As of April 2002, we now know it may be found in certain foods, too.
Acrylamide is a substance that forms in foods during a chemical reaction between asparagine (an amino acid) and sugars such as glucose and fructose. This is a normal part of the Maillard reaction that leads to color, aroma, and flavor changes in foods during cooking.
Its the high temperatures used for roasing, frying, and baking (starting at around 248 degrees F) that lead to its formation.
Clearly, its formation depends on many factors, including cooking temperature, length of cooking time, moisture content of food, as well as the content of asparagine and sugar in the foods.
Foods most susceptible to forming acrylamide include plant-based foods, such as potato products, grain-based foods, and coffee. It is not usually associated with meat, dairy, or seafood.
Evidence shows acrylamide may interact with cell DNA and thus increase cancer risk. Although more long-term research is needed, the growing body of evidence regarding the dangers of acrylamide increasing cancer risk moved the FDA to explored and publish various guidelines to reduce acrylamide content in foods.
What can you do as a consumer to reduce your risk and exposure to acrylamide?
Some simple tips include toasting bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown or cooking potato products or root vegetables to a golden yellow color rather than a brown. Also, avoid storing potatoes in the refrigerator. This practice can increase acrylamide during cooking.
Also, many processed or refined foods are known to be high in acrylamide. These include potato chips, french fries, cookies, and cakes. Choosing a diet that emphasizes whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help reduce your exposure to acrylamide and increase intake of cancer-fighting nutrients.
Safer cooking methods include steaming and boiling. Frying, baking, and broiling tend to produce more acrylamide. A great strategy is to use different cooking methods instead of limiting yourself to just one.
1. US Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Guidance for industry acrylamide in foods. March 2016.
2. Acrylamide Questions and Answers.