Acrylamide: A Cancer Causing Agent In Your Food?
When you hear that eating certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, decreases your risk of cancer, there is a pretty good chance you will start incorporating them into your diet. On the flip side, if a particular food may cause cancer, you will most likely steer clear of it. Acrylamide is a compound that falls into the latter category. Acrylamide, a chemical compound used primarily for industrial purposes, was discovered in certain foods in 2002. Read on to learn which foods typically contain acrylamide and if the scientific research supports steering clear of all acrylamide-containing food sources.
NUTRITIONAL FACTS AND FIGURES
Acrylamide is a compound that is not added to foods but forms as a result of an unknown chemical reaction during high-temperature baking and frying.
The following is a list of known acrylamide-containing foods in order of decreasing levels of acrylamide:
Potato chips and other snack chips
The highest levels are found in starchy foods (such as potatoes, and grain products) that have been fried, roasted, or baked for long periods at high temperatures. The level of acrylamide in these foods appears to be positively correlated with the duration of heating. Elevated levels of acrylamide have been found in home cooked foods, as well as pre-cooked, packaged, and processed foods. While it is not known at exactly what temperature acrylamide is formed, the compound has not been found in foods prepared at temperatures below 120 degrees Celsius, including boiled and steamed foods.
How dangerous are acrylamides?
Although acrylamide has not been shown to cause cancer in humans, extensive research has not yet been conducted on the health consequences of exposure to low levels of acrylamide in foods. Studies on laboratory animals have shown that high levels of acrylamide cause cancer, and acrylamide has been found to cause nerve damage in people exposed to very high levels at work (such as municipal sewer repair involving chemical grouting).
Further research is needed to determine whether the present levels of acrylamide found in foods are carcinogenic in humans and if other foods also contain acrylamide. Despite the need for further research, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) under the World Health Organization has classified acrylamide as “probably carcinogenic to humans” on the basis of the evidence from animal studies.
Should you avoid all foods known to contain acrylamide?
At the present time, the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization do NOT recommend any drastic dietary changes on the basis of the acrylamide content in foods. Rather, they promote eating a well-balanced, varied diet rich in high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains and low in saturated fat and trans fat (which cuts out most fried and highly processed foods from the diet).
Acrylamide, a known cancer-causing agent in animals, has recently been discovered in a number of foods. So far, the highest levels of acrylamide have been found in starchy foods (such as potato and grain products) that have been cooked for long periods at high temperatures. Although the national and world health organizations do not believe that there is a need to take drastic measures of eliminating all acrylamide containing foods from your diet, there are some simple ways for you to minimize your chances of exposure.
To decrease the levels of acrylamide that may be present in your food, follow these tips:
- Cut down on or completely eliminate chips and French fries in your diet
- Avoid overcooking or using extremely high temperatures when cooking food (However, do not undercook foods, which can lead to foodborne illnesses)
- If you are going to fry foods, fry to a light, rather than dark, golden brown
- Scrape the darker crumbs off toast and other baked items before consuming
- Store potatoes at room temperature in a dry location and soak/rinse cut or sliced potatoes before frying or baking.
- Eat a wide variety of foods in moderation!