Acrylamide Alert: Another Reason to Avoid Carbohydrates

Although it is a naturally occurring chemical, acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals

Credit: Flickr/u m a m i

French fries are particularly high in acrylamide

Although it is a naturally occurring chemical, acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals

Most people already know that french fries and potato chips are poor food choices because they contain such high levels of saturated and trans fats.

But there’s another reason to steer clear of these greasy temptations: they contain elevated amounts of acrylamide – a naturally occurring chemical that forms when foods rich in carbohydrates and low in protein are processed or cooked at very high temperatures.

What makes acrylamide so worrisome is that it’s known to cause cancer in animals.

How Acrylamide Occurs

Health Canada reports that acrylamide isn’t present in food before cooking and does not appear as a result of contamination during food preparation. What’s been found is that cooking foods at very high temperatures produces a chemical reaction between an amino acid called asparagine and the naturally occurring sugars in food, resulting in the formation of acrylamide.

The effects of exposure to acrylamide on human health aren’t known, and there are currently no guidelines on safe maximum dietary limits of foods containing acrylamide.

Sources of Acrylamide

Common sources of acrylamide include cookies, breakfast cereals, bread, pastries, rolls, roasted almonds and cocoa products. French fries and potato chips typically contain the highest levels. However, acrylamide isn’t limited to fast-food or store-bought items. It can also appear in foods prepared at home.

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Acrylamide

To reduce exposure to acrylamide, pay close attention to cooking temperatures. For french fries, don’t exceed 350°F (175°C ) when deep-frying and 450°F (230°C) when baking. Toast bread to the lightest colour possible, because a dark crust has higher levels of acrylamide than the rest of the bread.

Some food manufacturers have adjusted their cooking instructions to help reduce acrylamide levels in their products.

Nationally, Health Canada is working with food processors and the food service industry to develop guidelines and explore strategies for the reduction of acrylamide in foods. 

The best way to minimize your risk of exposure to acrylamide is to limit your consumption of processed and fast foods.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.