Saturday, July 10, 2010

Acrylamide and Why It's Bad

Acrylamide is a naturally occurring substance that is used in many processes, including the paper-making industry, the manufacture of permanent press fabrics, waste water treatment, and more.  Aside from people who work with the chemical, most people's contact with acrylamide occurs through food.

Acrylamide is a white, odorless, tasteless crystalline solid that forms on starchy foods during the process of baking, roasting, microwaving, or frying at high temperatures (above 120C).  In addition, the longer the food item is cooked, the more acrylamide is created.  Acrylamide is one of those chemicals that are believed to cause cancer: "Acrylamide causes cancer in rats when administered orally in high dose experiments, increasing tumors in the nervous system, oral cavity, peritoneum, thyroid gland, mammary gland, uterus, and clitoris." (Wikipedia)  

Health Canada announced in February 2009 that they were "assessing if acrylamide is a hazard to human health and whether any regulatory action needs to be taken." (Wikipedia)  Further to that, the European Chemical Agency added acrylamide to the list of "substance of very high concern" in March 2010.

Think you're safe from acrylamide?  Not so fast.  Acrylamide appears in many food items, but the worst offenders are:

~potato chips;
~french fries;                                                                             
~crackers, toast, bread, cookies;
~boxed breakfast cereal;
~corn chips and tortilla chips;
~bakery products;
~coffee; and

Please note that the longer something is cooked, the more acrylamide it contains: so bread has far less acrylamide than toasted bread.  The same is true for french fries: light-coloured french fries have less acrylamide than dark, crispy fries.

It is estimated that 20-40% of most adults' exposure comes from coffee.  The acrylamide in coffee is formed during the roasting process, so if you drink coffee, choose beans that are lightly roasted.

The FDA has analyzed a bunch of processed foods for their acrylamide content, the results can be found HERE.

This chemical is just another reason to avoid processed foods, including refined wheat and corn, and to eat raw foods when you can.  And if you needed a good reason to stop eating potato chips (even organic ones), well, this is it.

This post is a participant in Real Food Wednesday @ Kelly the Kitchen Kop!


  1. Coffee? That's very disappointing! We used to have to wear gloves to handle acrylamide in the lab. It's also considered to be a neurotoxin.
    I was glad to learn that Health Canada and the European Chemical Agency are taking it seriously. Thanks for your informative post!

  2. No kidding, coffee! :(
    I can avoid potato chips and french fries (we eat those only rarely anyway)..but coffee? I drink it daily. In case you missed it, I actually dove a little deeper into the issue the following day - so July 10th. Check it out.