Made in your kitchen
Acrylamide is a neurotoxin and human carcinogen, found in very common food items. It is generated in heat-processed foods high in carbohydrate, such as snack foods, potato crisps, breads, cereal products, and coffee.
There is high inter-individual variability in the metabolism of acrylamide, making some people more sensitive to acrylamide's carcinogenic potential.
Routes of exposure
Acrylamide is generated from food components when heated, as a result of a chemical process known as Maillard reaction. When temperatures rise above 248 F (120 °C), acrylamide is generated from an interaction between an amino acid, primarily asparagine (the major amino acid in potatoes and cereals) and sugars such as fructose, glucose and maltose. Elevated baking temperature and extended baking time increase acrylamide levels in the product. The crust holds the majority of the acrylamide, being exposed to the highest temperatures and low moisture content.
Acrylamide is generated when coffee beans are roasted. A study found that instant coffee have 100% more acrylamide than fresh roasted coffee, while coffee substitutes had 300% more. With that said, coffee has some pretty strong antioxidants and has actually been linked with a reduced risk of some types of cancers.
Acrylamide is also a component of tobacco smoke, and is also used in cosmetic additives, including creams, body lotions, and shampoos. It has various industrial applications, like wastewater treatment, clarification of drinking water,and in gels used for laboratory techniques.
Smokers have been observed to have higher levels of acrylamide in their blood than non-smokers, and so do persons with higher consumption of some foods such as potato crisps, crispbreads, cakes and coffee.
Acrylamide is metabolized in the body to form the epoxide glycidamide (GA), a genotoxin. GA is a strong DNA-reactive metabolite, inducing damage to DNA and promoting cancer.
Acrylamide caused neurotoxic, genotoxic, and reproductive effects to animals, and neurotoxic effects to exposed workers. Acrylamide induced significantly increased incidences of thyroid follicular cell tumors, scrotal sac mesotheliomas, mammary gland fibroadenomas, and lung adenomas to rodents, depending on routes of treatment.
Acrylamide has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and characterized as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans”.
Exposures to acrylamide in workplaces and daily ingestion of acrylamide from consumption of high-temperature processed foods have been of great concerns.
How to reduce the risk from exposure to acrylamide
New legislation is set to require food business operators to put in place simple, practical steps to manage acrylamide within their food safety management systems.
To reduce your consumption of acrylamide when preparing food at home, aim for a golden yellow color or lighter when frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods. Acrylamide forms at temperatures above 248 F (120 °C), and its levels rise depending on duration and temperatures. Keep frying to a minimum, as it produces the most acrylamide of all cooking methods. Boil or use the microwave when possible. Don't burn or char foods on the grill. The same goes with toasting your bread.
If you bake, let your bread dough proof longer. It allows the yeast to ferment and reduce the amount of asparagine in the dough, so less acrylamide is made.
Do not store raw potatoes in the fridge, because it can lead to the formation of more free sugars in the potatoes and increase overall acrylamide levels. Raw potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 42.8F (6°C).
You may choose fresh roasted coffee and avoid instant coffee and coffee alternatives. However, there's no need to stop drinking coffee if you enjoy it, as its benefits outweigh this disadvantage.
And lastly, eat less snack foods, cookies, cakes, potato crisps and French fries.