Acrylamide in Food


Can acrylamide cause cancer – and if so, what is it doing in our food?

Acrylamide is an industrial chemical. It’s used to treat wastewater, and in the manufacture of paper and fabric. People who consume it or breathe in large quantities of it can sustain nerve damage, and studies have proven that it can cause cancer in animals.

Acrylamide can also show up in cooked food – both in processed edibles and in food you cook yourself at home. Even organic food can contain acrylamide. How is this possible? When sugar and the amino acid arginine combine at high temperatures, the chemical reaction forms acrylamide. High-carbohydrate foods like French fries, potato chips, crackers, and boxed cereals have the highest likelihood of containing acrylamide, because they’re cooked in high heat. Baking, roasting and frying create acrylamide, with frying and dry baking producing the most. Boiling and steaming don’t create the chemical. The longer you cook the food and the higher the temperature at which you cook it, the more acrylamide is likely to form.

Coffee also contains acrylamide, because it’s roasted before you drink it. And even though they’re not cooked, olives have a fairly high acrylamide content as well.

The acrylamide content of food was discovered by a team of Swedish scientists in 2002. Since then, there have been many clinical trials focusing on whether acrylamide in food can cause cancer in people. These studies have examined tens of different kinds of cancer, in areas such as the bladder, breast, colon, ovaries, mouth and throat. None of the studies has proven that acrylamide in food translates to an increased risk of cancer in humans.

While acrylamide doesn’t appear to be a significant risk, food manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce the amount of the chemical produced when they make their products. It’s still a good idea to reduce consumption of foods that contain acrylamide, but not necessarily because they may up people’s risk of cancer: fried foods and starchy foods, as well as snack products, are still unhealthy for a variety of other reasons. They may be high in fat, and often also contain chemical additives like preservatives and dyes that don’t add nutritional value and may be bad for health.

It’s also still a good idea to watch continuing research on acrylamide, so that if it does turn out to be linked to cancer, consumption of the offending foods can be reduced or eliminated as quickly as possible.


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