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Nutrition

Acrylamide: Food precautions against a “probable” carcinogen

These days we are hearing in the different media talk a lot about acrylamide , and all as a result of a news that appeared about a court ruling in California that forces Starbucks and other coffee shops to warn of the risk of cancer in cafes. It seems that acrylamide is something recently discovered but as early as 2002 scientists from the Swedish National Food Authority noted its presence in food and reported it and since then the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has investigated their efects.

Acrylamide, what is it?

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that is formed as a result of a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction during the roasting, roasting or frying of some foods, generally of vegetable origin, and for which it is necessary to reach a minimum temperature of 120ºC and low humidity.

This reaction occurs between an amino acid (asparagine) and a sugar such as glucose, fructose, or lactose. As a result, browning occurs with the characteristic toasted color in addition to providing smell and flavor to the food.

In what foods is acrylamide present?

Taking into account the conditions in which it is formed, they will be foods that contain amino acids and sugars in their natural composition and are also subjected to high temperatures. These foods are mainly bread, fried or baked potatoes, cookies, bakery and pastry products, breakfast cereals, snacks, baby food and coffee.

The acrylamide can be present in both industrially processed food as cooked at home by ourselves. For example, it is found in potato chip chips and also in home-fried or oven-roasted potato chips, or in bread bought from a bakery or in homemade bread. What does determine the concentration of acrylamide in food, whether in processed or homemade foods, is:

  • Storage conditions (such as potato)
  • Cooking method
  • Temperature reached
  • Cooking time

In addition to food, it is also present in tobacco smoke , which affects us all, passive and active smokers. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), “People are exposed to substantially more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food. In particular, people who smoke have markers of the degree of exposure to acrylamide that are three to five times higher than people who do not smoke ”.

Is acrylamide carcinogenic?

These days there is a lot of information being published in the media that links acrylamide to cancer , which are big words. With the scientific evidence in hand, what do current studies say about it?

Studies in mice have found that exposure to acrylamide, in high concentrations, increases the risk of various types of cancer, as it appears to cause DNA damage and mutations.

However, studies done so far in humans have NOT found consistent evidence directly linking acrylamide exposure through diet with the risk of any type of cancer. The evidence is limited and inconsistent and for this reason the experts of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in a scientific evaluation issued in 2015 on acrylamide in food that   more research is necessary to confirm these results in the studies made. in humans.
One of the limitations of such studies appears to be that it is difficult to determine how much acrylamide a person is exposed to.
On the other hand, the studies in mice and in humans should not be compared since according to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), “ toxicology studies have shown that humans and rodents not only have different rates of absorption of acrylamide, but also that also metabolize it differently ”.

For its part, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies acrylamide as “probable carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A) since it is not yet clear that the results in animals can be extrapolated to man.

Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Acrylamide

After reading this article, you are probably discovering what acrylamide is and are considering making some changes to your diet to reduce its presence. If so, keep the following tips in mind:

Acrylamide in potatoes

  • Keep the potatoes out of the refrigerator , in a cool, dark place at a temperature above 6ºC . Otherwise, the acrylamide content will increase at the time of consumption.
  • Wash the potatoes and soak them for 30 minutes before cooking.
  • It uses culinary techniques other than frying:  cooking in water, steam or roasting in the oven.
  • In general, moderate the consumption of French fries and more if they are “chips” type snacks since they are high in salt and tend to have unhealthy fats.  
  • Do not exceed 175ºC for frying and between 180 and 220ºC for roasting.
  • Look at its color . Cook the potatoes until they turn a light golden color.
  • Cut the potato into larger pieces to reduce the roasting surface and therefore the acrylamide content. This same advice can also be applied to bread that is to be toasted or fried. 

Acrylamide in bakery, pastry, pastry, confectionery and cookie products

  • Moderate its consumption. In addition to the presence of acrylamide, you should bear in mind that they are products with a high fat and sugar content, and therefore should not be part of your daily diet.
  • Lower the oven temperature and extend the cooking time
  • Bake until it acquires a light color avoiding an intense toast (you can also take this into account if you make homemade bread)

It is recommended to completely avoid the browning levels in the bottom row.

Acrylamide in coffee

Coffee is generally already roasted and ready for use and therefore in this sense we can do little except to moderate its consumption. For information purposes, the acrylamide content is higher in decaffeinated coffee and even higher in soluble coffees.

Coffee does not represent a third of the total acrylamide to which an adult is exposed each day, and according to the EFSA, a daily dose of up to 400mg a day does not pose any problem in adults.

Acrylamide in tobacco

In addition to being present in the diet, acrylamide is also present in tobacco smoke. In fact, and as I have mentioned before, according to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), smokers have markers of exposure to acrylamide between 3 and 5 times more than non-smokers. So if you are a smoker, the best thing you can do is quit this toxic and harmful habit for your health.  

How is the presence of acrylamide regulated?

When establishing your own criteria for the consumption of foods that may contain acrylamide, it may be worth knowing in general terms the regulations that are being created by different international organizations.

On an international level: 

Following an evaluation by the Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), in 2009 a Code of Practice was created in the Codex Alimentarius at the international level for the reduction of acrylamide in foods.


In the European Union:  

At European level, since 2002, work has been done to reduce the presence of acrylamide in processed foods, and for this reason the European association “Food and Drink Europe (FDE)” in collaboration with national authorities and the European Commission approved voluntary measures for industry (Acrylamide Tool Box). These measures were updated in 2014.

On April 11, 2018, Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 of November 20, 2017, which establishes mitigation measures and reference levels to reduce the presence of acrylamide in food, begins to apply .

This regulation “aims to achieve a high level of consumer protection in relation to food safety”, considering acrylamide as a contaminant according to the definition of Council Regulation (EEC) No 315/93 and, as such, constitutes a chemical hazard in the food chain.


The food products that are affected by this regulation are:

  1. French fries, other fried cut products, and French fries (chips) made from fresh potatoes
  2. Crisps, snacks, crackers, and other potato dough-based products
  3. Bread
  4. Breakfast cereals (except for porridge)
  5. Pastry, pastry, confectionery and biscuit products; biscuits, biscuits, cereal bars, scones, cones, wafers, yeast rolls and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crispbreads and bread substitutes; In this category, a salty cracker is a dry cracker (a baked product made from cereal flour);
  6. Coffee
    i) Roasted coffee
    ii) Instant coffee (soluble)
  7. Coffee substitutes
  8. Baby foods and processed cereal-based foods for infants and young children, as defined in Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council

The reference levels that have been established are as follows: 

Conclusions:

  • Acrylamide is a compound that is formed during the frying or toasting of foods rich in starch, which reaches a minimum temperature of 120ºC.
  • It is present mainly in bread, fried or roasted potatoes, cookies, bakery and pastry products, breakfast cereals, snacks, baby food and coffee.
  • The acrylamide content depends on the method, the cooking time and the temperature reached.
  • Although there are studies in mice that conclude that acrylamide exposure increases the risk of some types of cancer, human studies have not yet found consistent evidence directly linking acrylamide exposure through diet with risk of some type of cancer, and therefore more tests are necessary.
  • We cannot avoid being exposed to acrylamide, but we can reduce it by following some recommendations that are worth taking into account.
  • If you are a smoker, consider quitting, and if on the contrary you are a passive smoker, avoid surrounding yourself in a smoky environment.
  • Health and nutrition once again go hand in hand and we must value them as a set of many aspects. Therefore, take care of your health by taking care of your diet, practicing sports and avoiding toxic habits such as tobacco or alcohol. In this sense, the FDA recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, in addition to whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean meats, fish, and eggs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

EUFIC. ACRYLAMIDE ( link )

EFSA. SCIENTIFIC OPINION ON ACRYLAMIDE IN FOOD ( link )

AECOSAN: ACRYLAMIDE 

FOOD DRINK EUROPE ACRYLAMIDE TOOLBOX 2013 ( link )

FDA. Action Plan for Acrylamide in Food ( link )

ACRYLAMIDE AND CANCER RISK. NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE. NIH ( link )

REGULATION (EU) 2017/2158 ( link )

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