Acrylamide-Should We Worry?

October 15, 2020

Someone wrote to me on Facebook asking about acrylamides. I confess that my first response was acryl-a-who? There seems to be more and more “stuff” out there for us to worry about when it comes to our food. And while some of it is legit, some of it isn’t worth our stress.

For me, acrylamides falls into the latter category. But here is what I discovered. Now it’s up to you to decide of it’s worth your worry.

Let’s take it from the top. What is an acrylamide? Acrylamide is a white, odorless crystal chemical that manufacturers use in several industrial and chemical processes, including the production of plastics, textiles, dyes, and paper, as well as the treatment of drinking water.

Acrylamide is also present in caulk, certain adhesives, food packaging, cigarette smoke (yet another reason not to smoke).

And according to the American Cancer Society, “acrylamide is a natural byproduct of the cooking process of certain types of starchy food at high temperatures. Acrylamide also occurs in coffee beans as a byproduct of the roasting process.”

The bad news about acrylamide is that prolonged exposure of high concentrations can damage the human nervous system and even cause cancer (although no human studies have been conducted). The good news is that this is generally only a risk to those who have the misfortune of working in an industrial setting where the chemical is used and they are exposed to it a lot.

So what has this to do with food?

Acrylamide is found in certain foods and when cooked in a certain way. For instance, it’s found in: breakfast cereals, packaged baked goods such as bread and cookies, potato chips and commercial French fries.

It’s also found in coffee, but in low concentrations depending on the roast: dark roast contains the least amount of acrylamide.

The big question is should we worry?

In the end, we should try to avoid any additive that can be remotely linked to disease, be it cancer or any other disorder. That said, we live in the real world and we can’t avoid every single pitfall that the modern food world has laid in our path. It’s another reason to stay strong and healthy.

So if you’re enjoying the occasional serving of French fries or small cups of espresso a couple of times a week, there’s no need to stress over acrylamide in my view, after doing some research. If you are living on a diet of packaged foods, buckets of coffee and French fries are a food group, then you might want to worry that the acrylamide in food can contribute to your risk of disease.

Experts summarize by saying that: “Although there are concerns that acrylamide may be carcinogenic, most research suggests that coffee and potatoes may actually protect against a number of different cancers and other conditions, and that drinking coffee in moderation and enjoying potatoes cooked at home would be generally safe.”

Go for dark roast coffee; skip packaged baked goods and cereals; tore your potatoes outside of the fridge (this keeps acrylamide low). And if you love potatoes, roast them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt. Skip right on past packaged, commercially produced foods.

Hope this helps you understand more about what’s in your food. It was a total learning experience for me.