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By: Katie Burns   Date: 2/8/12

 

Some days, it seems one can’t turn on the television without hearing some story attempting to scare us about our food: whether it has to do with salt, sugar or even low levels of naturally occurring chemicals, these types of stories are part of our reality.   

Since it was discovered in food in 2002, there have been several waves of media attention devoted to the compound acrylamide.  It’s easy to become fearful of your food, especially when there are complicated names involved. However, in the case of acrylamide, there’s really no cause for concern.  Here are a few facts so you can understand the “story behind the story.”


What is acrylamide anyway?

Acrylamide is not something that is added to food.  It forms naturally when certain starch-rich foods are baked, fried, toasted or roasted; foods such as coffee, toasted bread, cereals, whole grains, crackers, chips and fries all contain some level of acrylamide.  It forms during the cooking process, whether that occurs during production or when you cook foods in your home.  So eliminating one food will not completely eliminate acrylamide from your diet. 

What’s the Big Deal about acrylamide?

While acrylamide has likely been in food since humans began cooking, it wasn’t discovered in food until April 2002.  Like many things, this unknown chemical compound interested and prompted consumers and scientists to find out more about acrylamide.  The issue was elevated slightly more when people confused the difference between industrial acrylamide and the naturally occurring dietary acrylamide that forms when you make toast.  These two types of acrylamide are very different and should be evaluated very differently based on the overall amount and type of exposure. 

Industrial acrylamide is used in the pulp and paper processing industries and is also used as a sealant in grout and tunnel work.  Acrylamide is also used as a flocculent in water treatment systems.  

Do I really need to worry about dietary acrylamide?

No.  At the current low level of exposure, dietary acrylamide is not a health concern. What is much more important is to focus on eating a healthful diet that includes lots of different types of foods.  It’s highly recommended that we follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; opt for lean protein; and drink low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

If you really want to further reduce your exposure to acrylamide through your diet, Julie Jones, PhD, expert in nutrition and food science, recommends the following when cooking food at home. 

Remember the Golden Rule:  Avoid cooking your foods until they are dark brown.

Skins are in:  Potatoes that have their skins on when they are cooked in the microwave or boiled tend to have lower levels of acrylamide

The Heat is On:  Heat foods at the proper temperature and don’t overcook them.  Remember to cook to a safe internal cooking temperature to ensure your food is safe to eat. 

 

In short, enjoy your food.  Still have questions about acrylamide?  Let us know.  We want to hear from you. 

 

Resources: 

·      IFIC Foundation “Acrylamide Resource Page”

 

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