Nutrition-wise blog

Limit acrylamide in diet

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. June 4, 2008

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted new information about acrylamide in food and ways that we can reduce our intake of it. Yikes — has another strange chemical found its way into our foods? Apparently not. Read on.

In 2002, researchers in Sweden found the chemical acrylamide in a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods that are fried or baked at high temperatures. In large doses, this chemical has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

In response to concerns about the potential risk, the FDA began to analyze a variety of U.S. food products for acrylamide. Here's some of what they've found so far:

  • Acrylamide forms from sugars and an amino acid (asparagine — a building block of protein) found naturally in foods that are fried, roasted or baked. This chemical is more likely to increase the longer foods are cooked with these methods, and the higher the temperature. Boiling or steaming of the same foods do not typically result in acrylamide formation.
  • Plant foods such as potatoes, grain products (breads and breakfast cereals, cookies), and coffee are mentioned in the FDA release. Various forms of these foods are typically fried, baked or roasted. They do point out that acrylamide is not typically found in raw plant-based foods, dairy, animal foods (poultry, meat) or seafood.

Hmm ... it seems to me that mankind has been baking and frying foods at high temperatures for a long time. And haven't plant foods including grains, potatoes and coffee been staples? What to do?

The FDA discusses specific foods that are larger sources of acrylamide: French fries, potato chips, breakfast cereals, cookies, toast, and coffee. They do not recommend eliminating these foods from the diet. But, they've come up with some suggestions for a few of these items — namely potatoes, bread and coffee.

For potatoes, boiling or microwaving produces no acrylamide. Frying leads to highest acrylamide formation followed by roasting, then by baking. The darker the potato, the more acrylamide — so avoid cooking until dark brown. They have found that slicing potatoes and soaking them for 30 minutes before frying or roasting reduces acrylamide formation. Interestingly, storing potatoes in the refrigerator can increase formation of acrylamide during cooking.

For bread, if you toast it, toast to a light brown color and avoid "very brown areas."

For coffee, the FDA scientists have not found good ways to reduce acrylamide formation since the beans are roasted before brewing. (I hope that these scientists are working hard on this!)

My take? This acrylamide issue is something that will stay on my radar. There seems to be a commitment to continue research on this. From a practical standpoint I agree with the FDA — it's too early to eliminate a whole class of food (grain products), potatoes, and coffee from my diet. There are a few simple things I can do however.

I'll choose less processed cereals, and ones that I can cook (like oatmeal) more often. Toast — light brown. I'll continue to limit those French fries and chips (and entirely stop eating the brown crunchy ones). More often I'll boil or microwave the spuds and definitely take those taters out of the fridge (store them in a cool dark place). Maybe a lighter roast coffee.

It seems like almost every day more and more alerts like this come out. I'm reassured that they seem to reinforce similar messages: vary the diet, eat fewer highly processed foods, emphasize plant foods.

Thoughts? Confused by these food alerts? I'd like to hear your take.

33 Comments Posted

Jun. 04, 2008