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  • Writer's pictureRayki Goh, MSc

Understanding the Formation of Acrylamide in Food and Mitigating Health Risks

Acrylamide, a byproduct of high-temperature cooking, lurks in everyday foods like potatoes and coffee, posing potential health risks. How can we reduce the impact on our health?


Dear Food People,


Let's have a chat about the science behind acrylamide formation. Acrylamide sneaks its way into the mix when cooking certain foods at high temperatures. Amino acids and sugars team up during a fancy process called the Maillard reaction to create this compound. It sounds like a chemistry experiment happening right in your kitchen, doesn't it?


Now, acrylamide isn't just some harmless byproduct. Studies have hinted that it might have some cancer-causing properties, which definitely raises some eyebrows among scientists and health buffs alike. But hey, don't panic just yet! We're here to break down this culinary puzzle for you and give you some tips on how to reduce your exposure without sacrificing flavour.


Acrylamide forms through a process that begins with the amino acid asparagine, commonly found in foods like meat, potatoes, and coffee. Asparagine, an amino acid found in foods like meat, potatoes, and even your morning coffee, initiates the process.


Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms in starchy food products during high-temperature cooking, including frying, baking, roasting, and also industrial processing, at +120°C and low moisture.


The main chemical process that causes this is known as the Maillard reaction; it is the same reaction that ‘browns’ food and affects its taste. When these foods hit high temperatures, asparagine joins forces with sugars like glucose or fructose, and voila, acrylamide is born.


Now, the Maillard reaction isn't all bad news. It's actually responsible for your cooked food's delicious browning and aroma. You know when you're grilling a burger, and it starts smelling irresistible? That's the Maillard reaction doing its thing, creating all those tasty compounds that make your mouth water.


But hold up. Before you start blaming all your favourite foods, let's identify the usual suspects that tend to have higher levels of acrylamide. Say goodbye to your crispy fries, crunchy chips, and that morning toast. These guilty pleasures often pack a punch when it comes to acrylamide levels.


But fear not; we've got some tricks up our sleeves to help you navigate this culinary conundrum. Instead of frying or baking your food at high temperatures, try gentler methods like steaming or grilling. By dialling down the heat, you can still enjoy all those yummy flavours without worrying about acrylamide creeping into your meal.


Oh, and here's a neat trick for reducing acrylamide in potatoes: give them a nice soak before cooking. Just toss those spuds into some water for about 15 to 30 minutes before frying or roasting them. It's like sending them to a spa retreat, but for potatoes, it's keeping them safe from excessive acrylamide formation.


Opt for whole-grain options when choosing grains. Whole-grain bread and cereals naturally have lower levels of acrylamide compared to their processed counterparts. Plus, you'll get a bonus of extra fibre and nutrients, making it a win-win for your taste buds and your health.


So, there you have it—a crash course in acrylamide and how to keep it in check. And hey, if you've got any thoughts or ideas on how we can tackle environmental or food sustainability issues, or if there's something specific you want us to cover in our future articles, shoot us a message over at dearfoodpeople.com. We'd love to hear from you!


 

Further Reading:

  1. FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), February 2022, Acrylamide Questions and Answers. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/process-contaminants-food/acrylamide-questions-and-answers

  2. National Cancer Institute, n.d., Acrylamide in Food and Cancer Risk: Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet

  3. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), n.d., Acrylamide. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/acrylamide

  4. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), n.d., Acrylamide. Available at: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/acrylamide

  5. MD Anderson Cancer Center, March 2022, 5 Facts About Acrylamide and Food and Cancer Risk. Available at: https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/5-facts-about-acrylamide-and-food-and-cancer-risk.h00-159538167.html


 

The information provided in our articles is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content on our website, including articles, is not meant to endorse or promote any specific medical treatments, products, or procedures. The information provided is based on general knowledge and research at the time of writing. Medical practices and knowledge are constantly evolving, and what may have been accurate at the time of publication may not be current or applicable today.

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