The Problem with Acrylamides

Food, it keeps our human machines running. Without it, we’d be dead. But if food is so precious, how come so many edibles are loaded with dangerous compounds? Need examples? Consider mercury contamination of fish, or what about PCBs found in animal fat, trans fat ring a bell, and let’s not forget pesticides on produce. In fact, you only have to look at the recent E. coli outbreak to realize that in many cases food is our worst enemy. Did I mention the obesity epidemic too?

So this next report shouldn’t surprise you. It’s about acrylamides. Know what they are? No? Well you’re not alone, according to Libby Quaid of the Associated Press not many people do. They also don’t know just how dangerous these compounds reportedly are and that they can be found in many of the foods we feed to our children. More from the article:
Acrylamide turns up in all kinds of tasty foods, including french fries, potato chips, breakfast cereals, cookies and crackers. But it's difficult for consumers to figure out how much acrylamide is in a particular meal or snack…


… Acrylamide also forms in plenty of other starches, like the toasted oats in Cheerios, the flour in hard pretzels or even the sweet potatoes in Gerber Tender Harvest organic baby food.

But compared with other worrisome chemicals in food, such as mercury in fish or benzene in soda, relatively little is known about how acrylamide forms, how it affects people or what to do about it. High levels of acrylamide in food were first reported by Swedish researchers in 2002.
Hopefully your attention is thoroughly piqued. Now, for more on acylamides check out this section of Disease Proof Your Child. According to Dr. Fuhrman acylamides have been linked to both breast and uterine cancer. Read on:
Not only do processed foods and fast foods often contain dangerous trans fats and other additives, but they also can have high levels of acrylamides. When processed foods are baked and fried at high temperatures, these cancer-causing chemical compounds are produced. Many processed foods, such as chips, french fries, and sugar-coated breakfast cereals, are rich in acrylamides. Acrylamides also form in foods you bake until brown or fry at home; they do not form in foods that are steamed or boiled.


There was worldwide alarm in the scientific community in 2002 after researchers announced that many of the foods children eat contain high levels of these potent cancer-causing compounds. Acrylamides cause genetic mutations, leading to a wide variety of cancer in lab animals, including breast and uterine cancer. It has not been definitively shown that acylamides are a major factor in the development of human cancers, but most cancer experts working in this field presume that it does.1 This offers another reason to avoid consumption of overly heated and processed foods.
Okay. I don’t know about you, but hearing that something “might” cause cancer is enough to make me seriously limit my exposure to it. If not avoid it altogether. In Disease Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman offers some advice for avoiding acylamides when cooking at home. Time to get out your steamers:
Steaming vegetables and making soups is called water-based cooking. Water-based cooking is the preferred way to cook because you can avoid cancer-causing acrylamides that are created when foods are browned by baking or frying.


Never eat browned or overly cooked food. Burnt food forms harmful compounds. If by accident something is overcooked and browned, discard it. Avoid fried food and food sautéed in oil. Experiment with low heat cooking to prevent nutritional damage to the food and the formation of dangerous heat-generated compounds.
1. Konings EJ, Baars AJ, van Klaveren JD, et al. Acylamide exposure from foods of the Dutch population and an assessment of the consequent risks. Food Chem Toxicol 2003; 41(11):1569-1387.
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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jonathan - January 3, 2007 11:36 PM

So is stir frying veggies for a few minutes with a tiny bit of oil out of the dangerous?

Will - January 4, 2007 10:00 AM

What about the Harvard-Swedish study that is supposed to be an answer to the study that is listed above that indicates that levels of acrylamide are not high enough to cause certain type of cancers?

Michael - January 5, 2007 1:31 PM

Hi Will. Do you have a link to this study?

Will - January 5, 2007 2:48 PM
Michael - January 15, 2007 12:35 PM

I think the problem may be that there are likely comparing people who are eating the stabdard American diet with a lower level of acrylamides to a similar diet with high acrylamides. The risk may not change much when you are comparing to an unhealthy disease-prone diet.

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