Does Acrylamide in Common, Cooked Foods Cause Cancer?

Acrylamide, a white, odorless but potentially cancer-causing chemical, has been found in many common foods such as potato chips, French fries, bread, rice and cereals. It appears that the chemical, which is used in the treatment of sewage and waste and to manufacture certain chemicals, plastics and dyes, is a byproduct of cooking food at high temperatures.

Why is this issue coming up now, when foods have been cooked this way for a significant amount of time? No one ever suspected the chemical would turn up in food. It wasn’t until 2002, when researchers in Sweden were conducting studies on the health risks to workers who had been exposed to acrylamide while on the job, that they discovered the connection to food. The control group for the study, people who had not had been exposed to acrylamide at work, had high levels of acrylamide in their bodies, leading researchers to look for other sources of exposure such as diet.

The researchers found, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.K. Food Standards Agency and many other countries confirmed, significant levels of acrylamide in a wide range of foods as a result of baking or frying, and it is likely that the chemical is also produced by grilling and roasting food.

While the presence of acrylamide in food has now been established, no one knows what effect this chemical has on humans when it is ingested. As written on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Web site, "EPA has classified acrylamide as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen," and according to the U.K. independent Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC), " ... exposure to DNA-damaging carcinogens such as acrylamide should be as low as reasonably practicable."

Acrylamide has also been shown to cause cancer and neurotoxic effects in animal studies, and damage to the nervous system in humans who were exposed to the chemical at work. The FDA is conducting further studies the impact of this chemical to humans. They are investigating how acrylamide is formed in food, identifying ways to reduce acrylamide levels, and studying the potential human health risk of consuming acrylamide in foods, however some feel the FDA is dragging its feet and should take more definitive action.

Many processed food manufacturers are also studying the effects of acrylamide and trying to determine how it could be reduced in their food products.

Acrylamide has been found particularly in high-carbohydrate foods cooked at high temperatures. This includes processed bread and grain-products and potatoes, all of which are not good for you even before you factor in the acrylamide--you can read more about this concept in my book The No-Grain Diet. It is not surprising that heating these foods to high temperatures causes even worse things to happen. I suspect there are even more "surprises" produced in these foods that seriously damage health and lead to the development of chronic degenerative disease.

When most foods are cooked they lose valuable nutrients due to their fragile nature. Raw foods are one of the major keys to your health. My nutrition plan emphasizes the need for at least one-third of your foods to be consumed raw. This can even be extended to protein sources such as eggs. Raw whole eggs are a phenomenally inexpensive and incredible source of high-quality nutrients that many of us are deficient in. Raw milk is another good example of a food that is beneficial in its raw state but becomes harmful after it is pasteurized.

If you are like many Americans and are consuming a diet of mostly processed foods--90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes toward processed foods--it is likely that there will be health consequences down the road. At this time there is no way to avoid consuming acrylamide if you eat fried, processed foods. But there is a bright side: you have the power to choose foods that will benefit your health, such as vegetables and healthy meats, and you have the power to change your health for the better.

Related Articles:

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