Food for thought - answers about acrylamide

In 2002, scientists at the Swedish Food Administration made a surprising discovery.1 They found a high level of a chemical called “acrylamide” in French fries and several other foods. The chemical was not an additive. And this was the first time it had been found in food.

Here’s what bothered scientists most about the discovery. Acrylamide is a chemical used in making things like plastics and adhesives. It’s also found in cigarette smoke. Concerned by this, scientists performed tests to determine if acrylamide was harmful. They found acrylamide caused cancer in lab rats when they consumed it in large doses.

For the past 10 years, scientists have worked to see if there is a link between the chemical and cancer in humans. Most of the human studies so far have failed to find a connection. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes there’s enough evidence in animals to suggest that we reduce how much we take in.2

That could be tricky. Acrylamide is found in many foods we love, like potatoes, breads, cereals, and coffee. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, up to 40 percent of the calories we consume contain acrylamide.3 This makes removing it from your diet nearly impossible. Even removing one or two of the foods won’t have much effect on your acrylamide intake. 

How to cut the amount of acrylamide in your food

Much of the acrylamide found in foods is created during cooking. That’s especially true for items that are cooked at high temperatures. This means avoiding frying, burning or charring foods is a good way to cut down. 

Here are several ways you can lower the amount of acrylamide in your diet:

  • Avoid frying, baking, roasting, and broiling when possible. Boiling, steaming, and microwaving appear to create less of the chemical.
  • According to Cancer.gov, 248° seems to be the “magic” temperature. Above that more acrylamide forms. Foods heated to less than 248° do not seem to have the chemical.
  • If you fry frozen French fries, follow the directions on the bag closely and avoid overcooking.
  • Avoid burnt toast. The darker the toast, the more acrylamide it contains. Toast your bread lightly.
  • Don’t store your potatoes in the refrigerator. Keep them in a cool, dark place.
  • Slice your potatoes and soak them for 15 to 30 minutes before you cook them.
  • Never brown any potatoes. Cook them to a golden yellow.2

Adopt a healthy eating plan

Again, research hasn’t shown a definite link between acrylamide and cancer in humans yet. But this doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Even the National Toxicology Program lists acrylamide as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”4 A carcinogen is a cancer-causing agent.

In the meantime, one of best defenses is to eat a diet consistent with the FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines include:

  • – Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • – Fat-free or low-fat milk products
  • – Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • – Foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

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