Currently browsing posts about: Acrylamide

Jan 28 2010

The latest on acrylamide

The fuss about acrylamide continues.  This, you may recall is a carcinogen formed when foods containing sugars and the amino acid asparagine are cooked at high temperatures.  Acrylamide is formed during the Maillard reaction, which causes baked, fried, and toasted foods to turn attractively brown and taste yummy.

Obviously, acrylamide has been around in foods for a long time.  But now that everyone knows how bad it is, what should be done about it?

A new toxicology study provides estimates for an upper level of intake that can be considered safe: 2.6 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This would be equivalent to 182 micrograms for a 70 kg human to prevent cancer.  Much higher levels are required to cause neurological problems: 40 micrograms per kg per day, or 2,800 micrograms per day for a 70 kg human.  But since you have no idea how much is in the foods you are eating, these figures don’t help much.

But maybe you don’t need to worry?  Even the lower of the toxic levels is much higher than intake levels estimated by health agencies.  The average exposure of adults to acrylamide in food has been estimated to be below 0.5 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight, which is five times lower than the upper limit considered safe.

That is somewhat reassuring but how come a European Expert Panel has unanimously decided to put acrylamide on the list of “substances of very high concern?”  This makes it sound as if acrylamide is well worth avoiding at any level of intake.

How to avoid?  A recent study points out that foods low in sugars and high in antioxidants have lower levels of acrylamide.  This translates into standard dietary advice.  Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food, and you can cross acrylamide off the list of food issues you need to spend much time worrying about.

Sep 2 2009

Acrylamide, sigh

I don’t know what to say about acrylamide.  Acrylamide is the powerful carcinogen that gets formed when carbohydrates and proteins are cooked together at high temperature, as in dark toast, French fries, and potato chips.    I just can’t figure out how bad it is, and I like my toast well toasted.  But:

Canada recently added acrylamide to its list of toxic substances.  The European Union has just listed it as a hazardous chemical “of high concern.”

The FDA, trying to figure out what to say about acrylamide, is asking for public comment:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting comments and scientific data and information on acrylamide in food. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during certain types of high temperature cooking. FDA is seeking information on practices that manufacturers have used to reduce acrylamide in food and the reductions they have been able to achieve in acrylamide levels. FDA is considering issuing guidance for industry on reduction of acrylamide levels in food products.

The FDA offers an information page on acrylamide.  This comes with a Q and A and information about avoiding acrylamide when eating or cooking.

How serious a problem is acrylamide?  Nobody knows, really, and the research is mixed. According to recent reports, Dutch investigators say that acrylamide has no relationship to brain or lung cancer.  So that’s some relief.

Update, September 3: No surprise, but surveys show the public doesn’t know much about acrylamide.  With so much uncertainty, this is a particularly tough one to deal with.

Update, September 5: Food Production Daily has produced a nifty interactive timeline of events in the history of troubles with acrylamide, since it was first suspected of being a problem in 2002.


Nov 30 2007

Bad news about acrylamide

A question posted about acrylamide asks: “I heard on the radio today that a study has demonstrated that the cooking of potatoes in oil, whether on top or in the oven, raises acrylamide to dangerous levels. In my novice readings, I have learned that traditional, more saturated fats may be more stable than the industrial veggie oils. So, to what extent are these results impacted by the frying fat?”

Acrylamide is a puzzle. It is a bad carcinogen but it appears in just about any carbohydrate-containing food that is heated to high temperature. And most foods contain at least some carbohydrate. High-carbohydrate foods, like potato chips and French fries, are prime examples of foods high in acrylamides. Food companies are working like mad to figure out ways to reduce levels in processed foods, and the European Union is also working hard on this problem. I put acrylamides in the category of things I don’t worry about much. They are in everything, especially high-carbohydrate junk foods–another reason to go easy on eating those foods.