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Acrylamide in Food: Is It a Concern?

Headlines about a possible carcinogen in common foods, such as potato chips and French fries, have people emptying out their pantries in concern. While the jury remains out on acrylamide and its link to cancer, there’s likely no need to panic just yet. Smart steps, however, can reduce the potential for harm related to acrylamide exposure as researchers delve into the question more.

Acrylamide is a chemical that’s used in industrial processes, such as the creation of dyes, plastics and paper. It’s also used in the treatment of drinking water and wastewater. In consumer products, polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers are found in food packaging, adhesives and caulking. Trace amounts of this chemical tend to remain in these products.

Researchers have found acrylamide in some foods that were heated above 248 degrees Fahrenheit, but not in foods prepared at temperatures lower than this. The concern is that acrylamide has been identified as a risk for the development of certain cancers in rodents. Human studies remain incomplete. Now deemed as a “major concern” by the World Health Organization, acrylamide is under much research scrutiny to answer questions about its potential relation to human cancers.

While commonly used in industrial processes, acrylamide is also naturally occurring. The amino acid asparagine is found in many types of vegetables, including potatoes. When these vegetables are heated to a certain temperature in the presence of certain sugars, asparagine can form acrylamide. Cooking methods, such as baking, frying and broiling, have been shown to promote acrylamide formation. Boiling and microwaving seem to have a lowered impact.

Those interested in lowering their exposure will find that decreasing cooking time or blanching food before frying it can reduce acrylamide content. There are other steps people can take to help themselves, however. With the jury still out on acrylamide’s link to cancer, the medical community recommends people simple eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that contains a variety of foods. This variety can help lower exposure by keeping consumption of acrylamide-containing products lower by default.

Those concerned about cancer and possible risk factors should speak with their healthcare providers. The best advice for dietary and other changes will come from a doctor familiar with a person’s unique background.

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