California is currently the only state in the U.S. that forces the companies to disclose if their product contains a cancer-causing chemical right on the package and that includes everything that is manufactured. This make for an interesting food shopping trip.
On my last vacation, I picked up a bag of Spicy Chile & Lime Potato Chips by El Sabroso. Besides a usual list of chemicals and food dyes found in non-organic chips, there was a warning on the bottom of the bag.
“This product contains acrylamide, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.”
Except, acrylamide is nowhere to be found in the ingredients list. How is that possible?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has reviewed this chemical and confirmed that it is carcinogenic. It is also a reproductive toxin.
It is found in biggest quantities in potato chips, french fries, and other foods that require cooking potatoes at a high temperature.
Acrylamide: How Bad Is It?
Acrylamide, described by the NCI in “21st Century Understanding Cancer Toolkit,” is known as a chemical usually found in industrial products, as it is used to make polymers, to treat water, and to create food packaging. But when the scientists tested certain foods, to their surprise, they found this chemical. It was found only in foods cooked above 120C (248 F). When the same foods were cooked at lower temperatures, there was no acrylamide in them.
The scientists do not yet fully understand how exactly the chemicals forms, but the current theory is that an amino acid asparagine (found is large quantities in potatoes) forms acrylamide when heated.
It is mostly found when the food is fried, baked, and broiled, and less so when it is boiled.
Acrylamide is labeled as a “major concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Acrylamide and Cancer
Multiple animal studies have shown carcinogenicity of acrylamide. Rats had increased levels of cancer when exposed to this chemical.
A study in the Netherlands found that acrylamide increased the risk of breast cancer on postmenopausal women.
Acrylamide and Neurological Damage
Industrial and agricultural workers who are exposed to acrylamide were found to be at risk for neurological damage.
“Subchronic exposure to this chemical causes neuropathies, hands and feet numbness, gait abnormalities, muscle weakness, ataxia, skin and in some cases, cerebellar alterations,” states a 2013 article in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
How Can I Reduce My Exposure When Cooking Potatoes?
To reduce amounts of acrylamide in cooked potatoes, it is recommended to blanch potatoes before frying, decrease cooking time, postdrying them (drying in a hot air over after frying) or cook at lower temperatures.
When searching Google, some people have posted that they have successfully cooked potatoes under 120 C but it took between 2 and 3 hours.
If you do not have 3 hours, when frying potatoes, do not let them turn brown – it is the brown pieces that contain the most acrylamide.
The FDA recommends to store potatoes in a dark place, and never in the fridge. Storing them in the fridge will increase the amount of this chemical when cooking.
Ideally, it is best to avoid eating potato chips as much as possible, as all of them, even baked ones, are cooked at high temperatures.
Other Foods Containing Acrylamide
The Swedish National Food Administration found that acrylamide is formed not only in cooked potatoes, but also in breads, cereals, dried fruits, and coffee.
According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 40% of calories consumed by an average American on a daily basis contain acrylamide.
When making toast, FDA recommends toasting lightly toasting the bread instead of waiting for it to turn brown.
Where Else is Acrylamide Found?
- Acrylamide is also used to treat water and sewage.
- Polyacrylamide is used in producing refined sugar, and acrylamide may be found in the final product.
- Acrylamide is found in cigarette smoke.
- It is used in industrial and agricultural procedures.
As you can see, the research is clear on the damage this chemical can do to your body over time. We’re all human and we all love our favorite foods, but if you eat a lot of potato chips, this information could make a huge difference in your health to say the least. Feel free to adjust your diet accordingly (if need be).