Acrylamide is a compound that is produced when many foods, particularly starchy foods, are cooked – or more importantly ‘browned’. Acrylamide has been found both in processed foods and also in foods cooked at home. The acrylamide forms when a food is roasted, toasted, grilled, or fried. Foods implicated would be toasted bread; potatoes, whether fried (chips or crisps ) or roasted; vegetables (roasted or fried as veggie crisps ); or other starchy foods like biscuits or crackers. All these foods develop acrylamide during the cooking process due to the ‘Maillard reaction’ which is the reason these foods go brown.
The longer a food is cooked or browned using one of these cookery methods, the more acrylamide is formed in the food. Very brown or burnt toast contains more acrylamide than lightly toasted bread. A recent campaign in the UK suggested that we should ‘go for gold’ when cooking our starchy foods; this is certainly one way to cut down on your acrylamide intake.
Laboratory test have shown that acrylamide can cause cancer in animals. So there is the potential that it may be harmful to humans, but the truth is that no one really knows for definite if there is a link between acrylamide and cancer. It would be virtually impossible to cut out all acrylamide in your diet, so the best approach is to reduce your exposure:
For frying, follow recommended frying times and temperatures, and avoid overcooking, excessive crisping, and definitely avoid burning;
When toasting bread, aim for a golden colour rather than brown or burnt;
Cook potato products like chips, croquettes, etc, to a golden yellow;
Store potatoes in a dark cool place but not the fridge as this would increase sugar levels (potentially increasing acrylamide production during cooking );
Fresh is best so opt for a fresh piece of fruit over a biscuit or cake.
A good rule of thumb is: Don’t burn it, lightly brown it!
Preventing cancer is all about reducing your risk. Don’t forget that by having a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of wholegrain fibres, fresh fruit, and vegetables, you’ll be making positive changes that will help to keep you well. Cutting back on crisps, chips, and fried foods is healthy for your diet but also will reduce your intake of acrylamide.
By Cara Cunningham, MINDI, community dietitian. For more information on diet and nutrition, please contact the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].