November 28th, 2014 in Blogs

I was recently asked to answer some questions about acrylamide for US magazine Today’s dietitian (article here). I had previously written a short piece for my Facebook page about acrylamide and given the question of acrylamide had reared its head again I thought it might work as my first blog.

So what is acrylamide and why do I think you should know about it?  Acrylamide is a chemical used industrially to make polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers that are used in the manufacture of papers, dyes and plastics to name but a few.

Acrylamide is also a naturally occurring chemical compound that appears or develops in foods that have been cooked. It occurs in baked, fried, grilled and toasted foods but not in foods that have been boiled or steamed. They are prevalent in starchy foods such as potatoes, grains and breads that have cooked to high temperatures and usually browned…the darker the browning the more acrylamide in the food.

What does it do? As a toxic by-product of the cooking process it has been shown in lab tests that it can cause cancer in animals.  Acrylamide might also cause neurological damage with high and frequent exposure. The other main source of acrylamide exposure to humans is cigarette smoke.

Although the ‘experts’ are saying that there is no direct evidence to suggest that it causes cancer in humans they are suggesting that it would be prudent to minimise our exposure to acrylamide (read that as “better safe than sorry”!).  The old adage “the dose makes the poison” rings true here – if we are exposed to trace elements of acrylamide in manufactured products (including food wrapping) as well as higher levels of acrylamide in foods then how much is our dose?

So how do you avoid or minimise acrylamide consumption? This is relatively easy… avoid or significantly reduce the following foods:
• Potato crisps
• Hot potato chips / French fries
• Baked goods (including sweet biscuits)
• Roasted potatoes (cook until only lightly golden and eat less of them)
• Heavily toasted bread (toast only very lightly)
• Coffee
• Wheat-biscuit style breakfast cereals

And…opt out of using plastic and, quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.

When you think about it, the foods listed above are foods that are best eaten in small quantities and should be considered treat foods as part of a balanced diet.

Eat well – stay well.

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